Optimist Rebels 6 Storm 2
Every team in the Alberta Midget Hockey League experiences some turnover from year-to-year, but no team this season went through the makeover that the Red Deer Optimist Rebels did.
They have taken the term first year to the next level.
The Rebels returned just two regulars from last year’s lineup — even the head coach Doug Quinn is new to the league.
Quinn insists he knew they were going to be a good team, but just over a third of the way into the league he didn’t quite think they’d be the top team in the South Division, carrying an 8-3-2 record, following their 6-2 win over the Grand Prairie Storm on Sunday.
“I thought we were going to be very competitive,” said Quinn.
“With only a couple of guys returning I thought there’d be a little adjustment, but for the most part I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. I still think there are lots of things for us to work on and get better at.”
The Optimist Rebels had been rolling along with just one loss until last weekend when they dropped a pair of games, but as this team grows and comes together that set back could be a good thing, letting them know they aren’t where they want to be just yet.
“I thought those were a couple of games we should have won, and in both games we outshot the other team 2-1,” said Quinn.
“But when we lost, it showed that we have to play a certain style. We have to work hard and forecheck and when we get away from that then the result is we are on the losing end.”
But there is little question about the potential of this group — the key word being potential.
Returning forward Justin Faux sees a run in this team that hasn’t been experienced since their trip to the Telus Cup Midget AAA National Championship final three years ago.
“Everyone in there is pretty talented,” said Faux, who missed the first few games of the season while playing for the Olds Grizzlys of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. “Hopefully we can go all the way. I think we got the team if we keep working hard and doing what we are doing.”
Faux represents this team well.
Not only is he one of two returning players — Nathan Dennis is the other — he also leads them in scoring with 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 10 games. That’s barely enough points to appear on the league leaders list.
“We’ve got a very balanced attack . . . but we’re one of the top three scoring teams in the league,” said Quinn whose offence is averaging 4.38 goals a game, tops in the South. “We’re getting a lot of balance and a lot of contributions from a lot of different guys.”
This scoring by committee was on display Sunday as they had five different goal scorers for their six goals — Collin Valcourt, Clayton Petrie, Blair Mulder, Connor Hartley and Sam Jardine with two. It was a similar story on Friday with five goal scorers in their 6-4 win in Medicine Hat — Faux, Petrie, Brett Printz, Kirsten Odendaal and Hartley with two.
On Sunday, the Rebels actually overcame a slow start, only to turn the game on its end and route the visiting Storm.
“The first 10 minutes we could have been down a goal or two, but Mac (Engel) held us in there, allowed us to get our feet back under us and we gradually just took control of the game,” said Quinn, noting that his goalie finished with 32 saves.
Only shots by Lyndin Himer-Lewis and Adam Boytik made it past Engel. Meanwhile the Rebels pasted Storm netminder Curtis Skip with 54 shots.
The Rebels goaltending — which also features C.J. Wass — has been solid to this point, sporting the second lowest goals against average in the entire AMHL at 2.62.
Despite this start, the Rebels still have 23 games to go and several areas to work on.
“I think we need to tighten up our own end a little bit better,” said Quinn. “Our special teams prior to this weekend also haven’t been very good.”
Quinn says their season will be defined by how much the team improves from here on out.
“I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves,” he said. “Obviously I’m happy where we are but I want to be the best team at the end of the year, not the best team in November.”
l The Rebels’ next game is Saturday when they are in Edmonton to take on the Canadian Athletic Club (5-6-3) at 5:15 p.m.