In poker terms, a lesser team might have thrown in their chips by now.
But the Red Deer Rebels are staying at the table despite being dealt one rotten hand after another this season.
The Rebels have been forced somewhat to hedge their bets due to a mind-boggling array of long-term injuries, but they’re still wagering that they can secure a WHL playoff berth.
Certainly, general manager/head coach Jesse Wallin is downright proud of his troops for the manner in which they’ve persevered in the face of relative tragedy.
With their numbers severely reduced and minus the services of several key players, the Rebels have battled on but — while they’re only four points out — face an uphill struggle in their pursuit of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As the team prepared for a practice session in Penhold Thursday and an ensuing trip to Cranbrook for a Friday night meeting with the Kootenay Ice, Wallin admitted that the coaching staff is pleased with the overall attitude in the dressing room.
“It’s a credit to (the players) that they’ve stuck with it through thick and thin. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this season, no question about it. The number of man-games that we’ve lost and the key personnel that we’ve lost . . . the guys have continued to battle through that,” said Wallin.
“But really, they’re presented with an opportunity now. We have 19 games to go and we’re still in the mix to get to the playoffs. It would be a real testament to these players to get there, and that’s their challenge.
“With some of the things that we’ve faced and with the situation we’re in, a lot of people are probably not favouring us to get in (to the post-season) but that’s something we can thrive on.
“It’s something that the guys can really relish and to get ourselves into the playoffs would be quite an accomplishment, and of course once you’re in anything can happen.”
For the record, the Rebels are minus the services of top-four defencemen Justin Weller, who is done for the season, and Aaron Borejko, who might be in the same category after suffering his second concussion of the season last Friday.
In addition, the club lost goaltender Patrik Bartosak to a season-ending shoulder injury in November and is currently missing captain Adam Kambeitz (ankle, indefinite), winger Colten Mayor (wrist/thumb, indefinite) and rearguards Kayle Doetzel and Devan Fafard, both listed as week-to-week with upper-body ailments.
Numerous other players have been in and out of the infirmary this season.
“I know one thing — there hasn’t been another team in the league that has gone through the adversity that we have this season,” said Wallin.
“But we just have to keep grinding away and making sure that we’re just focused on playing hockey as well as we can regardless of who is in the lineup. We just have to play solid hockey, play together as a unit, play our systems and stick together. When we do that we give ourselves a chance every night.”
On a positive note, the fear that Kambeitz — the club’s No. 1 or 2 centre — was possibly lost for the season was abated somewhat following a medical assessment late last week.
“It’s promising news. At this point it doesn’t look like he’s going to require surgery,” said Wallin.
“The doctors can’t put a real timetable on his potential return, but he’s going to be in the (walking) boot for another week. When he comes out of that it’s just going to depend on where his strength is at and how soon we can get him back onto the ice, and then, of course, how he responds to skating.
“Certainly, what we were originally looking at, which was the possibility of surgery . . . it doesn’t look like that is imminent at this point.”
When and if Kambeitz returns to the active roster this season, the ‘C’ will be waiting for him. The 19-year-old hasn’t been replaced — even temporarily — as the team captain.
“I don’t believe in that. Your captain is your captain regardless of whether or not he’s in the lineup,” said Wallin.
“He’s the guy everyone looks to. Kamby is still our captain here and him being out of the lineup doesn’t change that. I’ve never believed in replacing your captain that way.”
While Fafard, Doetzel and hopefully Mayor will be back sooner than later, Borejko’s outlook is not as favourable.
“With a concussion, there’s no way to put an immediate timetable on it, but certainly given that he missed six weeks earlier in the year (with a concussion) and that this one was due to a pretty bad hit . . . well, he’s not doing real well right now,” said Wallin. “I don’t foresee him being back any time soon. We hold out optimism that he can return at some point, but it’s certainly not going to be any time real soon.”
Bartosak, meanwhile, underwent surgery for a torn labrum on Jan. 31 and should be back to normal health by the time training camp opens in August.
“Everything went very well, the surgeons were very happy with how the repair went,” said Wallin. “He had a real significant tear so there was certainly some damage done. But it was clean and the surgeons repaired it and they are very optimistic that he’ll be back to 100 per cent (next fall).”