A couple of excellent debuts, a pair of nail biting finishes and a landmark game in a new arena headlined opening weekend for the Red Deer Rebels this week.
The Rebels, who came into Friday and Saturday’s home and home set, were denied an explosive start to their 25th anniversary season as they battled to a pair of hard fought extra time losses to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“We played hard and to be quite honest you’re not sure what to expect when you have a lineup where you’re missing a lot of your veterans, but it is what it is. The kids got a chance to play and I thought some of them fared fairly well,” said Rebels’ Head Coach and GM Brent Sutter after last Friday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Oil Kings at the ENMAX Centrium.
With veteran players Jeff de Wit, Brandon Hagel, Josh Mahura, Adam Musil and Michael Spacek all at NHL camps for opening weekend, the Rebels’ crop of young up and comers knew they would be in tough as they took on the Oil Kings’ complete roster of WHL players.
And it looked like the youngsters were going to be up to the challenge, as 17-year-old rookie forward Akash Bains potted the team’s first goal of the season just three minutes into the game on a smooth give and go play with Grayson Pawlenchuck.
The Oil Kings responded quickly though and tied it up just two minutes later.
The rest of the game was a back and forth affair as Evan Polei tallied one for the Rebels with just 30 seconds left in the first period but a third period surge from the Oil Kings was too much for the group of freshman Rebels players as the Oil Kings tied it up with less than three minutes remaining to send it to overtime.
“The difference in this level and midget hockey, you can’t sit back. You’ve got to stay on your toes and keep going. They have a lot of guys in their lineup and they came at us pretty good in the last 10 and we got on our heels a little bit,” Sutter said, adding that rookie goaltender Riley Lamb was terrific for the home team.
“I thought our goalie played really well. He was awesome. Their tying goal, we had a couple of chances to get out of the zone, we were soft on pucks and the overtime goal we let our guy go and they capitalized on it.”
Eighteen-year-old Lamb came into Rebels’ training camp as the team’s number four goaltender, but after some fantastic pre-season performances the Rivers, Manitoba native worked his way up to the starting role on opening night.
And boy did the rookie deliver in his WHL regular season debut as he turned away 30 of the 33 pucks the Oil Kings directed his way to earn first star honours on the night.
“He bailed us out. The game could have easily been 5-2. Lamber played well, incredible for his first season game. So we’re looking forward to what he has to bring to us moving forward here,” added Polei.
Despite Lamb’s efforts, a quick strike by the Oil Kings on overtime sealed the deal just 26 seconds into the extra frame.
The Rebels couldn’t dwell on Friday night’s loss for long though as the next night they hopped on a bus and headed north on the QEII Hwy. to play the first official hockey game at the brand new Rogers Place in Edmonton in front of a crowd of more than 18,000 people.
After a 90-minute delay caused by a power lifter breaking down on the ice before the game, the two teams quickly resumed their tense battle from the night before.
Newcomer D-Jay Jerome had two goals and an assist while veteran goalie Trevor Martin was solid in goal for Red Deer as the Rebels nearly spoiled their opponents’ big night, pushing them to the brink before falling 4-3 in a shootout.
The Rebels are back in action on Sept. 30th when they visit the Moose Jaw Warriors to kick off a five game road trip. They return home on Oct. 5th when they host the Kamloops Blazers at the ENMAX Centrium.