Rebels’ Home Opener Is Friday
The North American Hockey League will make its long-awaited return to the ice inside Northwest Arena on Friday, as the Jamestown Rebels get set for a 7:05 p.m. meeting with the New Jersey Titans.
The Rebels will enter their home opener with a 4-4 record, good for middle of the pack in the East Division, while New Jersey sits at 5-5 in second place behind Johnstown. While head coach Joe Coombs and his team are looking forward to their first performance in front of Jamestown hockey fans, playing at home always brings along some challenges.
“It’s just a little bit more of a controlled environment,” Coombs said of playing road games.
While players tend to move more freely around their home rinks, spending time around the city and with their billet families, road trips are more tight-knit.
With everyone staying under one roof in a hotel, coaches often have a more regimented schedule for their players away from home.
“Playing at home is different. You always feel like you have a little pep to your step, but you’re also thinking you need to do more to impress the people you’re playing in front of.”
Ideally, Coombs would like his team to play with the same calmness that has helped them to a .500 start on the road.
Over the course of the first few weeks, the Rebels have been dealt a hand of adversity by way of injury.
“When we first arrived (in Jamestown) we got some injuries very quickly,” Coombs said. “We had nine defensemen and went down to seven right away with two long-term injuries.”
Amongst those players dealing with injuries is defenseman Seth Bergeron, who has been sidelined with a broken jaw.
“We had different lineups every game,” Coombs said of his team’s start at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota. “We found a way to go 2-2. The games count so you want to win them, but at the same time we’re trying to identify who is on our team.”
One name that fans can expect to hear throughout the course of this year is that of goalie Ryan Keane.
The Dallas, Texas native ended last year with a 24-7-2 record and a 1.90 goals-against average while playing in Philadelphia.
Keane sits at 2-3 on the season and is expected to start this Friday.
“This past weekend he was fantastic on Friday night,” Coombs said of his goaltender’s 27-save performance. “If he’s not the best goalie in the league he’s certainly one of them. He had a huge year last year. We didn’t get him any exhibition games, so he got off to a great start at the showcase, played a great game and struggled in his second. We thought that he struggled because he hasn’t seen a lot of rubber (and) he’s not in game mode. It takes a little while.”
After a pair of home games this weekend with New Jersey, including Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. contest, Jamestown will have 10 games to its name and a more concrete roster lineup.
However things may shake out this weekend, one thing that Coombs would like to see more of is competition during off days at practice.
“It’s the consistency factor that we are really looking at on a day-to-day basis. Practice is a place where we have to compete against one another to get better,” he said. “We’re a young group. We don’t have a lot of experience here. This is a league where experience goes a long way. I think that you can tell by looking at our standings that the teams that are doing really well have a lot of returning players.”
Jamestown players have already made an impact on the NCAA Division I landscape, as defenseman Alex Roy announced his commitment to play for the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
While Roy’s early decision was not a surprise, the majority of collegiate commitments by NAHL players are expected to come after Dec. 1.
Fans can expect to see that top-tier talent on display for all three periods on Saturday against the Titans.
“They’re going to be a good-skating team,” Coombs said of New Jersey. “They’re going to have some skill. I’ve coached against their coach now for two years and most of us, even as coaches, have tendencies that we don’t get away from.”
Roy is currently tied for the team lead in points with four assists through eight games, while Lewis Crosby has picked up three goals and an assist. Jake Felker has three goals in seven games and Konur Peterson has three in eight.
After hosting New Jersey, the Rebels will head on a weekend road trip against Maryland.