The Red Deer Rebels continue to be one of the Western Hockey League’s hottest teams this season.
After a strong start to the 2015-16 season, the Rebs sit atop the Eastern Conference standings thanks to a 19-8-0 record.
“From a coaching standpoint you’re never satisfied, yet you also have to be real about where you’re at and, you know, we’re sitting first in our division, first in our conference, and second overall in the league so you can’t be too hard on that,” said Head Coach Brent Sutter.
Red Deer flew out of the gates early on in the season, winning their first four games in a row, three at home and one on the road, before losing their first game of the season to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The Rebs struggled to find consistency after that, going 2-3 in the next five games and winning just one of four road games during that span.
“I think to this point we’ve played a pretty solid game. I think earlier on we lacked some consistency in our game and playing to the level that we would like to be for a full game,” Sutter said.
Red Deer has been excellent at home, which has been one of their greatest strengths.
Now at the 27 game mark, the Rebs are 10-2 at the Centrium and have outscored visiting opponents 50-26.
And while they suffered a bit of a slow start on the road, going 1-4 in their first five out trips, the young team has recovered well, posting a 9-6 road record through the first 27 games of the season.
“I think in the last week to 10 days we’ve hit our stride with that,” Sutter said.
Perhaps the Rebels’ biggest strength so far, though, has been the depth of their offense.
While newcomers Ivan Nikolishin and Michael Spacek lead the team with 40 points and 29 points respectively, the Rebs have benefited from an even spread of scoring.
Thirteen Rebels have posted more than 10 total points on the season while four of them have already reached the 10-goal plateau.
“Part of it is growth of players. They’re a year older, a year more mature, a year more in the league,” he said, adding that the team’s focus is now primarily on the defensive end.
“We want to be a four-line team, we want to be a good goaltending team and have a goaltending tandem. For the most part we’ve been able to do that. But I think there’s always areas to improve and we know as a team we can score enough goals. It’s doing the things right without the puck and playing the game the right way and making sure we don’t have to score four or five goals in order to win.”
Now, with just eight games to go before the Christmas break, and the World Juniors, Sutter said the focus remains on winning one game at a time.
“We’ve got a lot of divisional games coming up before Christmas and right after Christmas and they’re huge. We have to make sure we’re taking care of business and that our focus is where it needs to be.”
The Rebels have a tough road ahead of them in the eight games before the break.
First up, they’re off to Lethbridge this weekend for a game against the Hurricanes on Saturday night before they’re back in Red Deer to welcome the Prince Albert Raiders on Sunday.
They get a couple of days off and then they’re right back at it with a 10 day stretch during which they play six games, all of which are divisional contests.
“We don’t want there to be a let down. We’re an old enough team now that we can’t get caught up thinking about the break and how we’re playing leading into the break.”
But the Rebels’ record, especially during the past couple weeks, has them in good position for that final push. And that bodes well for a team that will be competing in the Memorial Cup in just six months.
“It’s not something we talk about. Obviously from an organizational standpoint, yes we’re hosting it and we know it’s going to be a tremendous event and a very high profile event,” Sutter said. “But from a hockey side of it we’re just focused on the process of getting better every day. We’re just hoping to stay the course that way and to keep our focus that way.”