It’s been over 20 years since the last time the Red Deer Rebels won the Memorial Cup but their legacy continues on throughout the organization.
During that memorable run in 2000-01, the Rebels set a franchise record after seven consecutive wins to start before their first loss. The current Rebels have nearly doubled that record with 13 wins to begin the campaign and have yet to lose a game.
With that comes high expectations and added pressure. Despite how early it is in the season, similarities are showing between the two groups.
Dallas Gaume, who served as an assistant coach on the Rebels from 1999 to 2010, said he was happy to see the Rebels break their winning streak.
“In 2001 we won seven in a row to start the season and this team’s up to 13 now that’s incredible,” he said.
In 2000-01 Gaume said they had a good mix of veteran players, including Jim Vandermeer and Ron Lupaschuk on defence. The forward group had Justin Mapletoft and Kyle Wanvig leading the way and also had a talented nucleus of young players such as Colby Armstrong and Jeff Woywitka.
In terms of similarities, Gaume sees plenty between the two teams. Both teams, he explained were built from the defensive group and built outward from there.
“We both had really strong defences and we played a really structured game,” he said.
“We had a really great group of kids that put the team first, showed up every game, and put their work boots on… We were a team that didn’t give up much easily. We didn’t turn pucks over, didn’t give up outnumbered rushes, and that’s a lot like this year’s team.”
To score against the Rebels this season Gaume said teams need to create their own offensive opportunities because the defence doesn’t give up many high-quality scoring chances. The Rebels, much like the Memorial Cup team, are deep in multiple positions and expected to win at the beginning of the season.
Picking up defenceman Mats Lindgren in the offseason really improved the blueline group, said Gaume. Goaltending was a question mark coming into the campaign but since then both rookie goaltenders Rhett Stoesser and Kyle Kelsey have been solid between the pipes.
Gaume said this team could make it to the Memorial Cup this season because anything can happen in the span of a WHL season.
“It’s a bit early to say too. A lot of things can change between now and the middle of January. You look around the league like Winnipeg obviously is very good on this side as well as Red Deer… Out west Portland and Seattle are good. It looks like Kamloops is hosting so you can probably safely assume they’re going to add to their roster.”
“There are several teams that could go to the Memorial Cup from the Western Hockey League.”
The former coach explained he loves how the Rebels are playing so far and to offer advice he said to take it one game at a time.
“They’ve played 13 games and they’ve shown up to play 13 times. They haven’t taken a night off and they haven’t really had hardly a bad period yet where they haven’t worked. I think they’re doing a great job of staying present, staying focused, and trying to get better every day,” he said.
Owner and general manager of the Rebels Brent Sutter agreed both teams were very deep with plenty of talent but was hesitant to compare the squads since they’re only 13 games in.
Sutter has been impressed with his team’s ability to win so many games in a row but he doesn’t want his them to get too far ahead of themselves.
“It’s a long year,” he said. “That year in 2001 I mean that team was dominant throughout the whole year. I don’t like comparing teams because I don’t think it’s right. We’re playing in a different era, the game is played differently now, and players think differently.”
He acknowledged the fact this team being the first Rebels group to break the consecutive wins franchise record is exciting for the players and everyone involved.
The Rebels, he added are an effective team when they play the game the right way, stay disciplined, and keep out of the penalty box. They like to play a hard, physical game which was a trait the championship team also held.
“The comparison I would say between the two groups is that we were a good team then and we’re a good team now,” Sutter said.
“We had a lot of size back then with lots of skill to go with it… That team back them proved it all year and this team will too. I truly believe this team is a good team and we’ll have a good season.”