By Greg Meachem
Red Deer Advocate
He’s not a numbers guy, but more of a team player.
Red Deer Rebels second-year forward Wyatt Johnson notched the overtime winner Saturday in a 4-3 WHL conquest of the host Lethbridge Hurricanes, a mere 24 hours after picking up a pair of assists in a 4-2 home-ice win over the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The productive two-game stretch increased his totals to three goals and five helpers on the season, but who’s counting?
Apparently, he isn’t.
“It’s nice to contribute offensively but I think the bigger picture is we got two wins on the weekend. That’s always the main thing,” said Johnson, who hopes to help the Rebels extend their winning streak to five games tonight when the Kootenay Ice visit the Centrium.
The 18-year-old centre, acquired from the Vancouver Giants in August of last year, scored 10 goals and recorded 20 points in 56 games as a WHL rookie last season, and is confident he can better that total this winter. But, at the same time . . .
“You always want to improve as a player, but numbers in that sense aren’t that big of a concern just as long as the team is successful,” he said.
Johnson and linemates Vukie Mpofu and Meyer Nell rang up a total of six points over the last two games.
“We’ve been playing well together. We had some good practices last week leading into the games,” said Johnson. “We’ve just been controlling the puck down low, getting pucks in deep and playing our roles. We’re providing energy and getting chances because of that.”
After a 10-game stretch in which the Rebels won just twice, the club is back on track and reached the .500 mark at 11-11-0-1. The bottom line, Johnson noted, is that the players have finally bought into what the coaching staff has been preaching all along.
“He (GM/head coach Brent Sutter) was on us about playing a certain style,” said the Saskatoon product. “We had to get back to how we need to play to be successful and I think that’s a big part of why we’re winning now.
“Hard work is always the biggest thing. We’ve been working harder and we’ve been more committed to the systems . . . just outworking teams.”
Johnson said he and his teammates never lost faith in themselves during the darkest times of the last five weeks.
“We always had that inner confidence, we knew the type of team we could be,” he said. “But yeah, winning the last four games and turning it around has been nice. Our confidence has just continued to grow and we’re confident we’ll keep it going.”
Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt is appreciative of the recent offensive contributions made by the club’s bottom six skaters.
“You take a look at the guys in the third- and fourth-lines spots, they’ve really contributed over the last three or four games and I think that’s really helped the turnaround here as far as getting into the win column,” said Truitt. “They’re very important pieces of the puzzle. Depth is a big thing and when those guys are going — and they’re contributing now — it sure makes it nice to be able to roll four lines.”
Johnson, Truitt noted, is a prime example of an effective two-way player.
“He’s very responsible, especially in the defensive end of the ice, but it’s also nice to see him getting some points and contributing offensively,” said the coach. “It makes the game more fun when you know you can play at the other end too and contribute.”
Tonight’s game is the first of three in four nights for the Rebels, who will host the Regina Pats and Prince George Cougars Friday and Saturday.