You’d be hard pressed to judge fans of the Red Deer Rebels who wondered what was going on with their favourite team after the local WHL club opened 2011 with three straight losses.
It was, after all, their longest winless streak of the year, and included a 7-3 loss to Saskatoon, a 5-4 setback to Prince Albert, and a 2-1 shootout loss to Regina.
But what happened next was simply magical as the Rebels reeled off 11 straight wins, their longest streak since the 2002-2003 season, to close out January with an 11-2-0-1 record, sitting comfortably in top spot in Central Division and second place in the Eastern Conference.
“Everybody looks for reasons why you’re not having success and when things aren’t going well, it’s either you’re not working hard enough or this or that,” said Rebels Head Coach and Vice President of Hockey Operations Jesse Wallin when asked how his club was able to go on such a run after opening the year with just one point in three games.
“The fact of the matter is you need some experience and you need some depth and we’ve been working with a group here that has come to that point. They have some experience, they have some depth and you gain confidence through that. Guys like Turner Elson and Adam Kambeitz improved a tremendous amount over the course of last season and we’re seeing that this year. John Persson has taken a big step this year, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in his second year, Daulton Siwak is in his second year, and all those kids have taken steps this year and they’re good players.”
Last season, the Rebels clinched their first playoff spot in a couple of seasons in late February, and then struggled, at one point going winless in eight, to close out the regular season before eventually suffering a first round sweep at the hands of the Saskatoon Blades.
And while it might not have sat well with some fans, Wallin says those struggles were necessary to endure to get the club to where it is today.
“Its experience and maturity, that’s the biggest thing,” Wallin said.
“Last year we took a good step and I know it was disappointing to lose in the first round of the playoffs but I considered last season a big success in a lot of ways, and the steps that we took. I think a lot of the work that we’re seeing pay off this year was done by these kids last year. As disappointing as the playoffs were last year, it was a growing experience. These guys all got their feet wet and saw how the level rises in the playoffs and I think all those experiences are things that they’ve have grown from this year and hopefully pay dividends as we continue moving forward.”
It should also be noted that Wallin and the coaching staff sat down with the team hours before they kicked off the streak with a big win over Kootenay, just two days before the trading deadline, and told them no one would be moved and that the team they had was the team they would move forward with.
“I’m sure there were certain guys that were uptight, and I look at Brett Ferguson,” said Wallin when asked if the lack of movement had an impact on how the team did after the deadline.
“I think there was always the question as to whether or not Willie Coetzee would be coming back and I’m sure that weighed on him a little bit. Once January 10 hit, and Fergy’s a guy who had a pretty good month of January (nine goals and 22 points) and maybe part of that is that he was able to relax a bit. It’s not something I’ve ever spoken to him about but as a young guy, you think about those kinds of things and they weigh on your mind a bit. We’ve got a very tight knit group here and it was really important to us to keep that.”