Rebels look to keep building with speed

Leading up to the start of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s 2020-21 season, which starts Nov. 13, 2020, the league will be publishing team previews.

These stories will highlight areas of focus for the respective organizations as well as players. We kick things off in the Neil Murdoch Division with the Castlegar Rebels.

The Rebels coaching staff has a word with players during their training camp. Castlegar Rebels photo

The Rebels qualified for the KIJHL playoffs last season with 14 wins in 49 games, beating out Grand Forks for the final playoff spot by three points. They lost in the opening round in four games to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

Rebels coach-general manager Carter Duffin says following last season, they were very excited to where they got themselves on and off the ice.

“We are able to continue to build our team with high character players that made substantial impacts in our room and on the ice,” says Duffin, who is entering his third season with the Rebels. “From there it wasn’t so much areas of weakness we were focusing on, but areas of importance that we were going to continue to build from.”

The Rebels had an early camp and plan to use the extra time prior to the regular season to get dialed in. As Duffins says, they can’t simply come to the rink and practice everyday without games –  it would get mundane for the players.

“Our coaching staff has built a structure to make use of the time, from Sept. 18 to Nov 13, to come to the rink with a plan to keep the guys engaged and pushing themselves,“ says Duffin. “This includes breaking down the preparation time to start with a lot of high speed and comfort drills, to get everyone into the groove. Then adding a 3v3 tournament for a few days to have some fun, and then using the days in the week to provide different aspects of the game to work on (compete, skills days, system structure days).”

While Nov. 13 is weeks away, the Rebels are excited to make use of the time to keep players engaged. Duffin has also ensured they have the right group committed to using the time to better themselves. Duffin says the structure their staff has in place throughout the development stage should allow the players to keep focus on developing individual skills along with team structure in a new and different way than normal.

Incoming rookies: The Rebels made three commitments before camp they are excited about.

Colton Aikens, Prairie Hockey Academy (CSSHL U17 Prep): Aikens, Briercrest, Sask., is an offensively gifted defenceman and was the leading point getter in the CSSHL U17 Prep last season potting 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points in 24 games.

Zach Ashworth, Prairie Hockey Academy (CSSHL U17 Prep): Ashworth, Estevan, Sask, is a strong two-way forward that added six goals and 18 assists for 24 points in 23 games.

Nathan McNeely, SCAHL U18AA, Olds, Alta.,  is a big power forward and is able to contribute offensively.

“He played in the SCAHL U18 AA and added 25 goals and 27 assists for 52 points in 34 game,” says Duffin. ”All three of these young men check all the boxes that we require, both on and off ice to be Rebels.”

Key returnees:

“We have a strong group of returning players this season,” says Duffin. “This comes from the culture we have been building over the past two season.”

Josh Wiens (16) battles to keep the puck during KIJHL action last season. Wiens will captain the Rebels this season. Dunsmoor Creative photo

Four of the five 20-year-olds are entering their third season with Castlegar. Duffin says they understand the expectations, are key members that help guide their culture and are excited about what they have been building leading up to this season.

Josh Wiens of Virden,Man., returns as captain along with Colby Winia of Grande Prairie, Alta., and Jordan Adams of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., and Erik Nystrom of Nelson will be relied on heavily to continue to lead the Rebels in the right direction.

“I am very excited about the speed that we will be playing with this season,” says Duffin. “That is one of the biggest factors for our players coming into this season. We want to go fast. Every shift. We want to execute our team structure faster that our opponents are able to react to.”