TOUGH BATTLE - Red Deer Rebels Ryan Nugent-Hopkins steers the puck away and looks to pass during WHL action Friday night against Kelowna. The Rebels lost 0-1.

Rebels head into home stretch of regular season

Team has clinched a playoff spot but pressure is still on

The 2010-2011 season for the Red Deer Rebels is now into the home stretch.

After hosting Medicine Hat last night down at the Centrium (results not available by press time), the Rebels have just six games left in the regular season, with three of them at home.

Red Deer clinched a spot in the post-season a few weeks ago, but the coaching staff still wants to see the Rebels play like a spot is on the line.

“We’ve got to create that playoff feeling within ourselves and we’ve got to come out every game and compete like that,” said Rebels assistant coach Chris Neiszner when asked how they’ll keep the team motivated through the final games of the season.

“We don’t want to turn a switch on come playoffs, and that’s why we’ve pushed that all year. We’ve got to be ready come playoffs and the only way to get ready is to be at our best through the final few games.”

The Rebels had a bit of a light schedule last week, playing just two games, including a 5-4 shootout win over Kootenay on Wednesday.

That was a game that saw five lead changes, just three minor penalties, and a penalty shot attempt denied by Darcy Kuemper.

It was also the first time in four games the Rebels powerplay, ranked second in the WHL, scored a goal.

“It was only a matter of time,” said Neiszner.

“When you have the five guys out there that we can throw out there, they are going to get their chances. It’s just a matter of staying with it, staying composed and doing things right. And when they do that, they get their chances.”

The other game was a 1-0 loss to Kelowna on Friday night, and again, that was a contest labeled by coaches as having a real “playoff feel” to it.

Injuries have also been a bit of a problem as of late for Red Deer as both John Persson, who has 29 goals on the year, and defenseman Aaron Borejko weren’t in the line up last week.

“There’s going to be adversity all through the year. We’ve faced that at times, and obviously, had key guys out all year,” said Neiszner.

“But we’ve missed those guys at different times, whether it be the World Junior camp, other camps, and injuries. It’s an adversity that you have to face because come playoff time, you might lose a couple of guys here and there. So far, we’ve responded well, but we have to continue to respond well. That’s our mindset. With our depth, we can plug guys in here and there, whether it be on the powerplay or different lines. We just keep rolling the same way and play the same style of game.”

Matt Dumba, who missed a few games with a knee injury, was back for both games last week, and Neiszner says it’s always nice to get a guy with his ability back on the ice.

“Matt brings so much to the table as a 16-year-old,” said Neiszner when asked about the impact the young rookie has on the team.

“He plays in key situations for us. He can skate, he can shoot the puck so to have him back was huge. And he’s only going to get better as he gets into more games. He missed a few and coming back as a 16-year-old, you have to expect a little adjustment period but with him, it doesn’t take long.”

The Rebels play one more game at home this week, Friday against Calgary, before heading to Prince George next Tuesday for a one game road trip against the Cougars.

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