Red Deer Rebels centre Jayden Grubbe, 17, is currently one of the top faceoff men in the WHL. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

The Art of the Faceoff: How the Red Deer Rebels are finding success in the circle

Cam Hausinger oddly turns his stick around if he has to use his forehand on faceoffs.

Josh Tarzwell still remembers some of the tricks Jadon Joseph used in practice during their Lethbridge Hurricanes days, almost three years ago.

Young Red Deer Rebels centres Ben King and Jayden Grubbe battle in practice and are constantly trying to improve in the faceoff dot.

The circle, as it’s known, is a constant source of conversation throughout any WHL game or season and for the Red Deer Rebels, in a season short on bright spots, they have found success in the dot.

Somewhat surprisingly, ahead of a pair of home games this weekend, the young Rebels are near the top of the league in faceoff percentage. They are currently operating at 51 per cent (1,469 of 2902), good for fourth in the WHL.

“Faceoffs are huge, it’s a big part of the game that is taken lightly. It determines whether you start with possession or not,” said Hausinger, who has played more than 300 games in the WHL.

“That’s most important in the game now, puck possession. You want to play with the puck. It’s a huge part of our game and we’re lucky we have so good draw guys.”

His weird quirk in the dot is something most of his teammates and opponents have never seen before. When he has to take faceoffs on his forehand, he flips is stick the opposite way, making it easier to scoop the puck back. He tried it in practice against former Rebel Brett Davis and it worked enough that he started doing it in games.

“I flip it when I can’t use my backhand to win it to the corners. It really came from I sucked at winning them on my forehand,” he said.

“I wanted to try something new and I did it in practice with (Brett) Davis and I just found I was quick at it. Throws guys off too.”

Hausinger has played both the wing and centre this season but is often called upon to fill in and take draws. He’s won 56 per cent, 216 of the 383 faceoffs he’s taken this year.

“Some people come into the draw and they give me a weird look or they’ll be like I’ve never seen that before and I win it. I think I’m better on that side than my actual backhand side, it’s kinda luck at the same time,” he added.

King and Grubbe are the Rebels primary faceoff men this season. King has taken the most faceoffs of any Rebel, with 982 between his time in Swift Current and Red Deer.

With the Rebels alone, he’s won 341 of 682, exactly 50 per cent. King said earlier this season he examines the faceoff numbers after every period and knows where he’s at throughout the game.

Grubbe, 17, watches closely too, as he and King are in constant conversation about how to get better in the circle. They try to gather information about each others’ wins and losses.

“When we come off for a shift, we kinda ask each other what that guy is doing or what he saw on the draw. Just talk about it in between periods,” Grubbe said.

“I think we watch each other when we go into a draw and we see what we’re doing and what the other guy is doing. We talk about it a lot.”

For a rookie to win 55 per cent of his faceoffs, which ranks just outside the WHL’s top 10, while taking the second-most on the team, is a big accomplishment.

“The first thing I look at after the game is how I do on faceoffs. I think it’s big for my line and having the puck. I like practicing faceoffs and getting better at it,” Grubbe said, noting he also communicated a lot with his wingers before a draw,” he said.

“I’ve added a couple new moves, practicing with Kinger and Hauser and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. Change it up a little bit, it’s been an adjustment, everyone is stronger. Have to find some new moves.”

Is there a big secret to winning?

“I kinda tell my wingers which way I’m trying to go, make sure they know to come in and help. A lot of the times it’s not going to clean and it might be in my feet or I’m tying him up. I think that’s a big help,” he said.

Tarzwell thinks most times, it comes down to something a little more simple than that.

“Just bear down, win the faceoff you get possession right off the bat. Especially in the d-zone, you don’t want to be there the whole shift. If you win the faceoff, you can get it out pretty quick,” he said.

He has played 231 games in the WHL and has filled in plenty in the dot. Just last weekend he squared off against his former teammate Jadon Joseph, who now plays for the Tri-City Americans. Even that knowledge, three years after they played together in Lethbridge, was still useful.

“He’s always been really good at faceoffs, watching him when I was there. Even against him the other night, knowing some of his tricks helped a little bit,” he said.

The Rebels are at home this weekend, with the Winnipeg ICE in town Friday at 7 p.m. The Edmonton Oil Kings will visit Red Deer Saturday, also at 7 p.m.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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