The Castlegar Rebels were hard at work during their practice on Tuesday as they prepared to head into the first round of the playoffs against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
The Rebels finished second in the Neil Murdoch Division and were the top scorers in the division with 119 goals for.
They allowed 121 goals against, second only to the Nelson Leafs in the division, who allowed only 101 goals against over 47 games.
The Rebels had the highest differential in the division at +78.
Castlegar ended the regular season with a loss to the Spokane Braves — who ended the regular season at the bottom of the division for the third season in a row but were only one point behind the Grand Forks Border Bruins. But they won their penultimate game of the regular season against the Nelson Leafs.
“I think things have been going really well for us. I mean we didn’t end the season off with a big bang like that, but we had a good game against Nelson and if we play like that going into playoffs, I think things will go well for us,” said team captain Vince Bitonti.
As of press time, the Rebels still had practices scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, as well as a pre-game skate on Friday.
Head coach and general manager Bill Rotheisler said that the coaching staff will be more concerned about conserving energy later in the week, but for Monday and Tuesday, the players needed to practice playing tired.
“We’ve got the whole week to work on basically systems but Monday and Tuesday are a little bit heavier into the flow because the boys have got to keep moving and the boys have got to get tired,” said Rotheisler. “They’ve got to get tired Monday and Tuesday or will lose our advantage of being a fast team and a hard-working team.”
During Tuesday’s practice, Rotheisler brought up the fact that during last year’s playoff season, his team struggled with scoring.
“We were the top scoring team in the league last year and when we came in to play Nelson they did a great job defensively against us and they were able to keep us to the perimeter, and a lot of the fancy stuff that was working against the other teams, obviously wasn’t working against Nelson,” he said following the practice.
“So the beginning of the practice we had some habits that as a staff we weren’t happy with that kind of mimicked what we went through last year, so we were really focused on making sure that we weren’t letting them get away with any bad habits.”
Rotheisler said there is still a lot that needs to be worked on before playoffs begin, but felt that over Monday and Tuesday’s practices the Rebels had become a better team.
Bitonti said the team needed to work on “getting to the net and getting some greasy goals. We don’t need to worry about all these fancy plays. It should be all about grind hockey right now.”
Three of the Rebels — Tanner Costa, Brandon Costa and Shawn Campbell — had all been out with injuries but were on the ice practising Tuesday. Rotheisler said he still wasn’t sure if they’d be able to play Friday.
“They’re progressing to get better and they certainly look confident and good out there, but they could be back Friday or they could be back Tuesday/Wednesday,” he said.
Evan Della Paolera is still out after taking a hit in the final 12 seconds of the Rebels’ game against Nelson and Everett Hicks is still on long-term injured reserve.
The coaching staff has also watched video of every game the Rebels played against the Nitehawks this season in anticipation of the first playoff game on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Castlegar Complex.
Rotheisler said he was happy that the Rebels have home-ice advantage, but it’s no guarantee the first two games will go his way.
“Basically the season is trying to get home-ice advantage. You have 47 games where you try to get home-ice advantage, so we were successful there and we’re proud of that, but also again on the same token, we had home-ice advantage last year and we lost in six,” he said
The Rebels were 3-4-0-0-1 against the Nitehawks this season.