Fresh off their home game win on Saturday, the Castlegar Rebels were in Nelson on Sunday where they battled it out against the Leafs, but came up short.
Things went OK for the Rebels in the first period. They managed only eight shots on goal but held the Leafs to seven shots.
Team captain Vince Bitonti scored the first goal of the game on a power play, assisted by Chris Breese and Brady Daniels.
But then the Leafs’ Ryan Cooper tied things up on a power play later in the period when Bitonti took penalties for head contact and hooking and a non-fighting game misconduct.
The two teams headed into the second tied, but that’s when things started going wrong for the Rebels.
The Leafs outshot them 18-6 for the period, scoring three goals.
And while the Rebels didn’t take any penalties for the period, head coach and general manager Bill Rotheisler said they did get frustrated.
“They’re young men and they get frustrated and it turns into quicksand a bit and we’re still figuring it out, but we’re running out of time, so we’ve got essentially four more games to figure that out to get ready for playoffs,” he said. “But our good moments, I don’t think there’s any denying how good they are.”
The Rebels started pulling things together in the third when Dallas Goodwin scored a power-play goal assisted by Ren Mason and John Moeller.
Brady Daniels then scored another goal for the Rebels, assisted by Edward Lindsey, making the score 4-3 and giving the Rebels a shot of tying it up.
Goaltender Curt Doyle was pulled with just over a minute left on the clock, but the Rebels weren’t able to find the net and the Leafs’ Logan Wullum scored an unassisted open netter, ending the game 5-3.
“There were good parts and bad parts,” said Rotheisler. “Overall I felt we didn’t do what we needed to do. So we weren’t certainly happy with the result, but obviously, there were some good points in there.”
The team did score on two out of six power plays during the game, which pleased Rotheisler.
“We had six power play goals in our last two games and that was kind of our main issue that we wanted to address during the week in practice and we worked a lot on it,” he said.
On Saturday, after suffering through a period of emotional adversity, the Rebels pulled together to deliver a bounce-back performance in a 7-4 win over the visiting Grand Forks Border Bruins.
It came the day after a “rock bottom” 6-2 loss to the same Border Bruins in Grand Forks.
“It was the first time we’ve felt like we’re making a step in the right direction, and last night felt like rock bottom for all of us. We were pretty upset with the result. You could see it in everybody’s eyes when they left the rink. It was serious,” coach and general manager Bill Rotheisler said of Friday’s debacle.
What happened Friday you ask? The Rebels surrendered four power-play goals and a shorthanded marker to the Bruins in a drubbing that seemed to snap the Rebels’ collective psyche back in line. Saturday night was all business.
“Everybody contributed to the conversations. The game (Saturday) was the culmination of a good day,” Rotheisler said.
“It really was a collective thing. It really felt, last night after the game, we really ironed out a lot of stuff and it really felt like a collective back-to-business.”
While the special teams suffered Friday night, they were extra special Saturday. The Rebels were able to move the puck very well on the power play, passing to the open man at just the right time to create space and opportunities. They also had finish, with three power-play tallies. Brady Daniels put on a one-man show on the penalty kill in the second period with a timely steal and breakaway that culminated in a sweet shot over the glove of Bruins goaltender Ross King, who was left hanging several times by his defenders on the night.
Edward Lindsey was the offensive catalyst for the Rebels with a goal and three assists. He sits in fourth in league scoring after Saturday’s action with 34 goals and 36 assists in 42 games. Chris Breese and Jordan Wood each had two goals. Reid Wilson chipped in a pair of assists.
The resurgence of the power play can be tied to a mixing of the ingredients and friendly competition in practice.
“We’re trying to be a little creative with the power play. Considering the goals we can put in five on five, we feel we should be doing better,” Rotheisler said. “As a staff, we thought it would iron out so we were probably a little too patient for too many games. We mixed up the units so it’s much more balanced.”
Rotheisler said the staff decided to inject elements of fun to practice, and the power play work specifically. It bore results quickly.
“Because they are even they compete in practice against each other for who gets to start on the next power play. During the game, there are certain criteria that each has to meet to determine who’s going to be going out there for the next power play. It’s created a more competitive environment which we feel like we were missing,” Rotheisler said. “With the Super Bowl coming up, the name of one power play is the Eagles and the other is the Patriots, so it’s things like that that keep it fresh and exciting.”
The return of joy to the game could not have come at a better time. The players had been struggling with their confidence and team energy for most of January, and with playoffs days away, it was clear something had to shift in the level of mental support and preparation. That’s where the team-building elements played a role, Rotheisler said.
“It is huge. Sometimes, people just want to talk and it’s not about hockey, it’s what’s weighing you down. We had a lot of conversations with our guys today, actually, just about how their lives are going. We ran out of time and too little too late.”
Part of the team building work was recognizing that toxic silos were developing in the dressing room, Rotheisler revealed.
“We felt it was getting a little cliquey, and we named Ren Mason an alternate captain. That was a big part of bridging cliques and it’s been really good,” Rotheisler noted.
“It was quicksand. We were in a bad place. We’ve been slowly healing since the Creston game but we still hit a pretty hard place last night. We weren’t playing hard, we weren’t playing well. Expressions like ‘I’m twice as good as this guy’ or ‘this team’s twice as good’ get overused and they don’t realize there’s a really fine line to what makes one level player versus another level player.”
The Rebels will face the Spokane Braves and the Nelson Leafs over the weekend in two away games on Friday and Saturday.