Monday was a day of reflection for the Red Deer Rebels.
Players met with coaches before heading their separate ways after being eliminated from the WHL playoffs by Lethbridge on Saturday.
The 2017-18 Red Deer Rebels season, as everyone knows, was a tale of two starkly contrasting halves.
The first half was an unmitigated disaster which saw the Rebels sink to the bottom of the WHL standings. The second saw them become one of the hottest teams in the league and, remarkably, earn a playoff spot.
“We weren’t a very competitive team,” GM and head coach Brent Sutter Monday said regarding the first half. “I thought we had young guys, after being in the league for a year, come back and maybe put too much pressure on themselves. Some of them got [complacent] thought maybe it would be easier than it was. We were all over the map.”
The turning point, Sutter says, came when the Rebels parted ways with some veterans and gave their younger players a chance to flourish, which they did.
“It pushed the older guys we did keep here to be better players, and they were in the last part of the season. I’m just hoping that coming back next season that we learned from this season, that the players learned there’s a certain way you have to play and there’s nothing easy about it.”
As the team went through with the rituals that come with the end of each season, coach-player interviews and such, eyes are already on the 2018-19 season when the Rebels will once again be a young squad. All eyes will be watching to see if the Rebels did indeed learn something from the 2017-18 campaign that ended Saturday.
One player who won’t be back next season is Grayson Pawlenchuk, who moves on after spending five years with the Rebels. The 20-year-old captain provided valuable leadership on and off the ice this season. He also played in every game, quite an accomplishment for the Ardrossan native who struggled through some tough injuries during his WHL career.
Also graduating from the junior ranks is Mason McCarty, who started and ended his WHL career with the Rebels, sandwiched around two and a half seasons with the Saskatoon Blades. The Rebels brought back McCarty with hopes that he would provide some much needed scoring punch, which he did, while also working on the finer points of his game.
The next order of business for the Rebels will be the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft in Red Deer on Wednesday, May 2, followed soon after by the CHL Import Draft and their annual Prospects Camp.
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