by Lisa Brown on 03/12/12 at 02:30 AM ET
Red Deer Rebels fall 5-3 to Calgary Hitmen
After watching the Edmonton Oilers suffer through injury riddle season after injury riddled season, it’s easy to see similarities and have sympathy for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. The team has been playing with their depleted roster for months now. Some games they were only short a couple of players, but other games they were down to 12 forwards and 4 defencemen. The worst part of the situation for the Rebels, who can they call up? The team does have affiliated players, but the teams they are currently playing for have the right to choose whether or not to release the players. It the affiliated player is required for games, the Rebels go without.
Currently, the Rebels are icing 13 forwards and 5 defencemen and two of those are affiliated players. You have to wonder if the backup goaltender is far off from having to take faceoffs or kill penalties.
This weekend, the Rebels played three tough games back to back. The first two were against the WHL Eastern Conference champions, the Edmonton Oil Kings in a home and home series, and the third and final game was in Calgary against the Calgary Hitmen.
Despite the depleted roster, the Rebels were in each and every game this weekend even though they lost each game by three goals. The team had excellent goaltending to thank as well as the efforts of players like upcoming draft star Mat Dumba.
Dumba sighed as he discussed his weekend. “We haven’t stopped. It’s been every night that we’ve been going hard and playing hard. So it’s been really tough on your body especially your third night playing a game though. But the boys came out and competed hard, and played hard so we’re happy with that but we’ll keep climbing as we get closer to the end of the season.”
The Hitmen came out fast and furious, quickly establishing the lead. Excellent goaltending from Brandon Glover, and stingy defencive play made the exhausted Rebels outing that much more difficult. Through sixty minutes, the Rebels were kept to only 15 shots, and only 2 made it in. 2 more of those shots came from the weary Dumba at the blueline.
There are three games remaining on the Rebels schedule and for Dumba, it is now a matter of playing for the logo on the front of the jersey and of course the scouts. The draft is 3 months away, but Dumba will not get any more chances to play to impress.
“Nobody likes to lose.” Said the equally fatigued GM and head coach of the Rebels Jesse Wallin. “It’s tough losing hockey games and we’ve had a tough couple of nights here in terms of results.”
Despite the short roster, Wallin has been impressed with the character and drive shown by his team. “We played the second half [of the season] as well as anyone.”
Knowing that your team has not made the post season, and yet getting up to play every game to the best of your ability is challenge. But the rebels have done that and more. “It’s our responsibility as coaches to keep them motivated, and that’s their responsibility as players. You have to show up for every game and they’ve continued to do that. That’s important.
“That’s the job, that’s the responsibility and no one is going to quit. We’re going to keep showing up, keep working, keep battling and that’s all we can do. There are some guys that are getting the opportunity to that they weren’t going to get with a full lineup and they have to take advantage of that and continue to improve and get better. The only way that they can do that is to make sure that they’re focussed and working and that’s what they have to continue to do.”
Despite their best intentions, these were not the results the Rebels had hoped for. Not even close. “I thought that we made some mental mistakes tonight that the guys that made them don’t normally make. We had a lot of kids that had played a lot of minutes, everyone on our team has played a lot of minutes, so I thought that some mental mistakes hurt us and then they wore us down over the course of the game. By the third period, we didn’t have much left. But I thought that our guys battled hard all weekend long.”
It’s easy to say that it was the Hitmen’s full roster that helped them along, but it also had something to do with the schedule. “They were fresh. I thought that they came out with a lot of energy, came out hard, they started the game the way they needed to against the team with a quick turnaround playing three in three nights.”
Rebel #24 Mat Dumba Hitmen #18 Jake Virtanen
For the Hitmen, this was the first home game for first round pick Jake Virtanen. Although Virtanen had played 6 games previously with the team, this was his first game in the Saddledome. To top it all off, Virtanen scored the second goal of the game. “I got a pass from Chase Clayton and scored, put it top shelf. I just saw the crowd go crazy. It was a good feeling,”
The Hitmen have now clinched home ice advantage over their yet to be determined opponents. WHL playoff hockey will begin in Calgary March 22. For the Rebels, their season is all but over, but Dumba watch continues, at least for a few more days.
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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.
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