by Lisa McRitchie on 02/12/12 at 07:00 AM ET
Watching a WHL game in the Red Deer Arena, the Enmax Centrium, is something completely different from a larger rink in a larger city. In Red Deer you may get funny looks as you walk through the concourse because you aren’t familiar, but those looks are always followed up with broad and genuine smiles. Red Deer is just a big little community. And everyone loves their local athletes; especially the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.
Last season, the Rebels featured first overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This season, many in the crowds sport brand new Oilers jerseys crested with Nugent-Hopkins. And then there is also Mathew Dumba, another high profile, first round draft pick. There is some exciting hockey to be seen in Red Deer.
This season, the Rebels have become the Edmonton Oilers of the WHL, worse even. The team has been absolutely decimated with injuries. After starting their season off well, the team ran into injury after injury and now will be lucky to make the playoffs. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t trying, just that their chances are not as good as they were in the fall.
Through sixty minutes of play against the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Rebels lost another two skaters. The team started with only 5 defencemen; four regulars and one associated player call-up.
And so, this situation is anything but ideal for the players, but according to Mat Dumba “It is bringing us together. It’s happened all year for us [injuries]. We just laugh at it now, it’s almost ridiculous the amount of things that have kept us down.
“We’ve stayed together as a group and we’ve gotten back up every time and that adversity and that struggle that we’ve gone through has made us stronger as a team. You can really tell with the guys, that everyone is so close. Everyone has the same goal in mind and that’s making the playoffs and we’re determined to do that.”
The Rebels had a two goal lead in the first period, but lost forward Cory Millette. From there, things got extremely difficult for the Rebels.
Each team would take turns scoring to the point where the arena announcer’s could not get through one goal announcement before another was scored. There were 9 second period goals scored in 13:06, which although doesn’t break the 14 goal WHL record, is still quite impressive.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, the scoring was far from even. While the Rebels would score 3 of those goals, the Warriors had the other 6.
Despite all of the second period scoring, the Warriors were not done yet, and managed another 2 during the final period. For the Rebels, things got even worse when forward Joel Hamilton went down with an injury. Hamilton was clearly in a lot of pain, but was not taken from the bench. In fact, long after the post game interviews the paramedics were still working with Hamilton and trying to get him off of the bench with a stretcher on hand.
“It was an exciting game.” Commented Rebel’s head coach Jesse Wallin. “There was certainly lots of action, lots of goals which isn’t typical either way. Usually we are in a lot of low scoring games.
“I thought more than anything we just made some mental mistakes. I thought that we looked like a hockey team that’s been undermanned for a while and the first thing that goes when you get worn down is your mental aspect of the game. I thought that we just made some mental mistakes where we were trying and the effort was there.”
The Rebels could have used injuries and a short bench as an excuse or reason to let up on their effort level, but instead the team persevered. “I’m proud of the way that the guys dug in and battled and stuck to the game plan and you’ve got to give them credit as well” exclaimed Wallin.
“They’re a good hockey team [the Moose Jaw Warriors] and I thought that in that second period they just came at us as well they did a good job of challenging us, putting us back on our heels. They’ve got a lot of speed on their team. They hit our blue line and threw a lot of pucks at the net and were driving our defence back that way. I thought a good hockey team played a good hockey game coming in here as well. It was a battle till the finish.”
With a high scoring, high injury game there are a lot of questions and new experiences for many players. “I’ve never really been in a game like that” explained Mathew Dumba. “It was really different but there is a lot of things that we can take away and learn from it.
“We had a bit of a mental lapse there in the second and as a team we’ve got to be more mentally strong. We lost a couple more players and it’s definitely difficult as we get more tired and the first thing that goes is your brain.
“You’ve got to stay mentally tough and tonight we saw that and Moose Jaw they responded to their adversity. We went back and forth there for a while but we just have to stay on it, we’ve got to bear down.”
For defenceman Mat Dumba, a player who is under a lot of scrutiny every single shift or every single game going into the NHL entry draft this summer, the level of stress and responsibility is especially high.
But, Dumba doesn’t seem particularly phased by it. “We’ve been playing with four [defenceman] for the last couple of games and five for the last couple of months. It’s definitely been tough.
“You play a lot of minutes, and you’re playing against every line. It’s different; I’ve never had this before in my career. And it doesn’t help with our forwards going down either. We’ve got a lot of guys and it’s not like we’re making excuses or anything but it’s a reality that we don’t have players on our line.
“We have to call up guys and other guys have to step up and play bigger roles. We need to make the most out of what we have. We’re staying together as a group and that’s the biggest part and it’s really good to see in the locker room that everyone’s still on board and we’re all working together and we have been winning games, so it’s good.”
While my last viewing of Dumba was of a dynamic and exciting player who seemed to continually be looking for that next scoring chance he would from time to time find himself out of position to be responsible defencively. Through this game, Dumba was much sounder defencively and showed not only impressive puck handling skills and great agility on the ice. Dumba continued to play big minutes along with the rest of the Rebel’s defencemen and demonstrated excellent stick awareness.
With the depleted Rebels’ roster it will be interesting to see how that alters Dumba’s status on the draft rankings.
For Moose Jaw this win was important in the race to catch up with the Edmonton Oil Kings. “I thought we got the momentum back as our forecheck created opportunities for us and the guys came in hard, but they were would turn around and have a short shift or make a soft play and they would put it behind us,” said Moose Jaw Warriors assistant coach Mike Vandenberghe. “I think the saving grace for us was the sixth goal that we got at the end of the period.”
There are a number of familiar names on the Warrior’s roster, but none more so than Eblere; Tanner Eberle.
Eberle’s teammates call him Jordan and I couldn’t help but laugh as they called him out of the dressing room to speak with me.
“It’s just kind of for fun. They know that I don’t have any of his skill. I’m more of a physical type player so it’s kind of a joke, but you kind of get used to it.” Remarked Eberle.
Eberle may not have scored the goals that his distant relative may have in the same situation, but Eberle did stand up for his teammates fighting Rebels’ Marc McCoy in the final minutes of the game. “We just have to take care of things for next game.” Said Eberle of his fight.
In the race to the playoffs, every win is important, but this one held special meaning for some. “Some of the guys on our team have never won in this building, so it’s great for us.” Eberle explained. “We’re just trying to catch up to the Oil Kings.” Which may be even more difficult than the Warriors expect.
The Rebels will now embark on a three week road trip because the Scottie Tournament of Hearts will take place in the Centrium.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
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