The Castlegar Rebels’ Jason Mailhiot returns to the team this year after goaltending in Princeton last year. Mailhiot blocked 41 out of 42 shots on goal against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Sunday. (Chelsea Novak/Castlegar News)

Castlegar Rebels are ready to rumble in regular season

After winning two of their four exhibition games, the Rebels will begin the regular season Friday.

After winning two of their four exhibition games, the Castlegar Rebels will begin the regular season on Friday in Golden.

Coach and general manager Bill Rotheisler says that so far the team is looking “good for the most part.”

“We probably had a little bit more regulars than Beaver Valley has in, so it’s a tough gauge,” he said, following the Rebels’ exhibition game against the Nitehawks on Sunday afternoon. “So we obviously need to still figure out how to get more shots on the other team, but they competed and I think we’re playing a little harder and guys are a little bit grittier than they were last year, so those intangibles are huge.”

The Rebels had 25 shots on net against the Nitehawks on Sunday, compared to Beaver Valley’s 42 shots on goal, but the Rebels still won the game 2-1 — thanks in large part to returning goalie Jason Mailhiot.

“We traded him to Princeton for Chandler Billinghurst last year, but in the deal that we made his rights reverted back to us as soon as the season was over. I mean, we know that Jason’s a good goaltender and we know what he’s capable of and that he’s going to have a big season this year, so we weren’t going to make that deal for Chandler unless we knew we were set for this year as well,” explained Rotheisler.

Another player returning to the team this year is Chris Breese. He scored the Rebels’ first goal against the Nitehawks on Sunday and this will be his final year in the KIJHL.

“He played here … two years ago, before I came, and I think he led the team and was one of the top guys in the league [he was third on the team and 11th in the league with 64 points] and he went on and he played the AJHL last year and then he wanted to spend his 20-year-old year coming back here and with our goal to win a championship that was more inclined to what he wanted to do,” said Rotheisler. “So we’re excited to have him back.”

Another player who stood out on Sunday was Vince Bitonti, who spent the better part of the first period in the penalty box, taking a two-minute penalty for holding less than a minute into the game and then another two-minute penalty for roughing and a 10-minute game misconduct less than halfway through the period.

But Rotheisler defended Bitonti’s passion on the ice.

“Obviously as the season progresses, we don’t want him, especially part of our leadership group, we don’t want him spending too much time there, but at the same time, you know, it’s very important that he stands up for his team and it’s very important that people know obviously… I thought we were pushed around, he thought we were pushed around, a bit last year and Bitonti takes it very seriously and he’s very passionate and he’s not one to be held under anyone’s thumb,” he said.

Rotheisler has yet to name this season’s captain, but said the decision will likely be announced sometime this week.