23 in 23 Series: Philadelphia Rebels
September 7, 2017
The 23 in 23 series features a look at all 23 teams in the NAHL for the 2017-18 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 23 in 23 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with 23 coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Head Coach: Joe Coombs (5th year)
2016-17 record: 46-11-3, 95 pts. (1st in the East Division)
2016-17 leading scorer: Andrew Bellant (55 pts.)
2017 Playoffs: Won the East Division title. Lost in the Robertson Cup Championship Game to Lone Star, 3-0
2017-18 Division: East
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 20th vs. Minnesota Wilderness
Home opener: Saturday, September 30th vs. Johnstown Tomahawks
When it comes to team accomplishments in the NAHL, the Rebels did about everything a team could do in one season. On the ice, the team had their best season to date, with a club-record 46 wins and 95 points, which secured them their second straight East Division regular season title. With the on-ice success also came a slew of NCAA commitments as 13 Rebels players were able to secure a commitment during the 2016-17 season, which included 10 Division I commitments.
While the Rebels had plenty of firepower up front and were one of the top scoring teams in the NAHL, the Rebels success started with team defense and goaltending. Not since the 2011-12 season (Wenatchee Wild) had a team posted a lower goals against average than the Rebels did during 2016-17 with a 1.77 mark.
That was thanks in large part to the NAHL’s Most Valuable Player and Goaltender of the Year during the 2016-17 season, Mareks Mitens. The native of Latvia, who also made an NCAA Division I commitment to Lake Superior State during the season, posted a 31-10-0 record with a 1.63 goals against average, a 92.5% save percentage and an NAHL single-season record 11 shutouts.
Mitens and the Rebels won the East Division playoff title for a second season in a row and were the only team to make a return trip to the Robertson Cup Championship from the prior season. After battling through a tough three-game series against the Aberdeen Wings in the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals, which included a thrilling overtime goal from Evgeny Yakovlev in Game 3, the Rebels found themselves in the title game against the Lone Star Brahmas. Unfortunately the Rebels ran out of gas, falling to the Brahmas 3-0 in the Championship Game. “There is a lot that goes into putting together a winning program and we could not have been more proud of the way our guys competed until the very last game,” said Rebels head coach Joe Coombs. “The chips didn’t fall our way, but there was an awful lot to be proud of.”
Big changes were in store for the Rebels in the off-season as the team announced in late July that they were leaving the IceWorks complex in Aston and relocating the team to the Class of 1923 Arena at the University of Pennsylvania and rebranding themselves as the Philadelphia Rebels. “We are thrilled to be playing in such a prestigious venue as the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 arena,” said Rebels owner Ken Dennis. “In order to grow awareness of the team and junior hockey itself, it was necessary to find a new home in Philadelphia, and changing the name to the Philadelphia Rebels simply made sense moving foward.”
Coombs concurred with his owner… “It is very exciting population wise because there are three Universities and Colleges in the immediate area. The area has a lot of character and it is a great facility and unique set-up. I think we will enjoy a renewed sense of having a true home-ice advantage.”
Coombs and the Rebels enter the 2017-18 season as hungry as ever, having come so close the past two seasons to winning a Robertson Cup. “The greatest feeling I have ever had is a coach is standing back and watching 23 guys feel the joy of winning a Championship. They are never going to be closer as a team than that point, and to see what they go through to try and accomplish that is why we do what we do,” said Coombs. “Guys play through injuries and pain and they do it because they don’t want to let down their teammates. I think that is one of the major reasons we have been able to give ourselves a chance to compete for a Championship is because we have guys with that type of mentality.”
The core of the Rebels team from last season has departed, but there are some familiar faces on the initial 25-man roster. That includes goalie Jack Leavy, who had six shutouts himself for the Rebels last year in addition to the 11 by Mitens. Also back is leading scorer Andrew Bellant, who had 27 goals and 55 points last year, as well as, forwards Aaron Maguyon (38 points) and Jensen Zerban (29 points).
Next up in the 23 in 23 series: Shreveport Mudbugs