It all starts for real this Friday for the Red Deer Rebels.
The local Western Hockey League club wrapped up pre-season play this past weekend with 4-1 record after posting a 4-3 win over Edmonton on Friday night in Lacombe and following that up with a 2-1 shootout win Saturday night in Stettler.
Colten Mayor, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Josh Cowen and Brad Haber tallied the goals for Red Deer on Friday, while Tyson Ness scored the lone regulation goal on Saturday with Nugent-Hopkins and Daulton Siwak notching shootout markers.
“Overall, I thought our game could have been better,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin after Saturday’s game against the Tigers.
“I thought we just seemed to be still too soft on the puck. There are some areas I’d like to see us tighten up. A sense of urgency on the forecheck, getting that second guy there to support the puck, being stronger on the puck.”
The Rebels were assessed eight minors in Saturday’s tilt and Wallin says despite the steady stream to the penalty box, there was a positive that came out of that.
“Our penalty kill did a real good job,” said Wallin.
“We gave up some opportunities early, but other than that, we shut them down and our PK did a pretty good job of blocking shots, and we had some good second efforts that way.”
Meanwhile, Nugent-Hopkins, who sat out Red Deer’s first two pre-season games, came to play in the final three match ups, tallying two goals, two assists and a shootout winner over that stretch.
“I felt pretty good out there,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who was quick to deflect the praise for his performance onto his teammates.
“The team looked really good out there (on Saturday). Everybody’s is bonding well, and it looks like every got bigger, faster and stronger over the summer.”
The 17-year-old, who won the WHL Rookie of the Year award back in April, was kept quite busy this summer, being named to Canada’s under-17 hockey team that won gold at the most recent Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament overseas, and he also involved in an NHL prospect showcase in Toronto.
“I wouldn’t say the summer wore me out,” said the Burnaby native, who was recently named by TSN as one of three front runners to go first overall in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
“I got some rest time when I came to Red Deer, so that was good. It was a lot of fun to do those things this summer, and they were really good experiences. But it was nice to get into the final three pre-season games, and get myself ready for the season.”
With the pre-season schedule now out of the way, the Rebels are busy preparing for Friday’s season opener in Edmonton against the Oil Kings.
“Friday night is huge,” admitted Wallin, who has a busy week of practices scheduled for his charges.
“That’s our focus right now. The pre-season is over. It’s nice to end on a winning note, but it’s about the real thing getting started.”
With five players still at NHL training camps (Alex Petrovic, Byron Froese, Justin Weller, Darcy Kuemper and Willie Coetzee) Wallin isn’t expecting to make any more roster changes before Thursday, the date when he should know when or if those guys are coming back.
“I’m really hoping we can have everyone back by Thursday,” said Wallin, who got Andrej Kudrna back from Phoenix on Saturday and knows that the chances of Coetzee returning from Detroit are remote as he’s a signed player.
“That way, we can have one full practice with our group before we get things going on Friday.”
The Rebels, who will be in Edmonton Friday night, will play their home opener this Saturday against the Oil Kings.