In another time and another place, Red Deer Optimist Rebels head coach Brent Fudge had a similar feeling to the one he’s been carrying around with him lately.
Sure it was Edmonton and his charges were a group of nine and 10-year-olds toiling away at the Atom AA level, but the feeling of leading a team to an undefeated season is distinctive.
And Fudge knew that feeling wouldn’t repeat itself this season for the Rebels.
“We’re going to lose eventually,” Fudge said on the eve of Red Deer’s 4-3 road loss to the Calgary Flames on Nov. 15. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s when, but absolutely this has been one heck of a start. If anyone would have told me that we were going to have this sort of start to the season, I’d have told them they were crazy.”
One loss or not, there may be no better word than that to describe the torrid pace the Rebels have set so far this season in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
At press time the veteran-laden club had laid claim to a 13-1-1 record this season, had eclipsed the 11-game undefeated streak put up by the Schwab GM (Leduc) Oil Kings a year ago and, according to league president Bob Olynyk, had set the “modern day AMHL record” for most consecutive games without a loss to start a season.
As if that wasn’t achievement enough, as of Nov. 6 the Rebels were ranked first in the country by Midget AAA Canada and were one of only four teams in the country sporting a goose egg in the loss column.
Olynyk noted that there have been a handful of teams in league history to skate through an entire season with less than a handful of losses, but as much as Fudge denied it, leading into the Flames game the question had become, could Red Deer be the first without a single loss?
“That’s what we want,” said Rebels veteran John Digness. “We want to be unbeatable, but we take it one game at a time. We can send out any line and they can produce for us. The overall ability of this team is better than any team I’ve ever been on and as long as we keep working I think we can keep it going.”
After an early streak like the one Red Deer has enjoyed some coaches would be hoping for a couple losses to keep his charges from getting over-confident, but Fudge isn’t one of them. The fifth-year bench boss, while a little surprised by his team’s success, isn’t looking to slow down any time soon.
“We’re going to stay on this ride as long as we can,” said Fudge. “I’ll only start worrying when the guys stop busting their butts at practice and I haven’t seen that yet. Thirteen wins and they’re still busting their butts as hard as they did before the season. They can win as many as they want as long as they keep doing that.”
With seven players back from a team that handed the 2006 TELUS Cup runners-up – the Calgary Buffaloes – two of their three playoff losses a year ago, the Rebels obviously have all the ingredients needed to make a run at the National Midget Championship.
Given that championship will be held in Red Deer this April, Fudge’s crew know they’ll be there at the end of the season, but after a start like this, no one in the Rebels’ room expects to be known simply as the tournament host.
“Right now we’ve got four lines that have all proven they deserve to play and they’ll continue to play until someone out there shows us they have five guys who can beat our 15,” said Fudge. “When things get tighter later in the year and some of those top guys start to get worn down our guys will still be rolling. A lot of people don’t remember the start, they remember the finish and that’s what we’re focusing on.”