New region of the country. New division. New team.
When head coach Joe Coombs and assistant Josh Brown relocated from Rio Grande, TX, to Aston, PA, neither one knew what to expect. In Rio Grande, the Killer Bees were an established business. Everyone in the area knew the players and coaches by face and name. The Bees played in a very competitive division.
Welcome to Aston, Pennsylvania.
The Bees became the Rebels who were now part of the newly created East Division of the North American Hockey League. With the exception of the Johnstown Tomahawks, the new division had two teams relocate (Rebels and New Jersey) and one expansion (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton). The premise of the new division was to bring the 40 year old league to the East and grow it. Well, the new team and new division are thriving. The Rebels and New Jersey are in the top echelon of the league while Johnstown isn’t too far behind. The vastly improved Knights are climbing steadily in the league’s rankings.
The Rebels have a very deep and balanced team, a team that is very different from when it moved from Rio Grande. In fact, Dean Balsamo, Chris Deprez, Austin Swingle and Connor Wood are the only remaining players from last season’s Killer Bees roster. Coombs, Brown, Rocky Russo and John Giacobbo, Jr have crafted a team that is hard working – very similar to the culture of Aston, PA area. While the Rebels may not be the Broad Street Bullies or the Oilers of the 1980’s, it is a hybrid.
The Rebels have reached the halfway point of the season. The team has a 19-11 record for 38 points. They are second in the East Division, two points behind division leader New Jersey with a game in hand. The Rebels have the seventh best record in the NAHL. Excluding their “home” games in Blaine, the team has won 11 of its home games. At one point in the season they had won six straight home games.
The team started slow. After winning its season opener against New Jersey, the team went to Blaine, MN for the NAHL Showcase. Despite having the opportunity of winning all four games, the Rebels lost the first three games and needed overtime to salvage a win at the showcase. The Rebels then went on to win four straight games. What helped the team grow was the road trip to Alaska. The Rebels split two games against perennial powerhouse Fairbanks Ice Dogs and then swept the Kenai River Brown Bears. It was during that time that Coombs et al make personnel moves for forwards Andrew Bellant, Ryan Cusin and Kennett Square native Michael Merulla.
The team is led in points by Balsamo (28), Division 1 commit Kristofers Bindulis (25), Merulla (21), Cusin (20 as a Rebel), Frankie Spellman (19) and Bellant (16). Balsamo, who is ninth in the league in goals, has the most on the team with 15 while Merulla has 12 and Spellman has 10. The Rebels are seventh in the league in goals with 100. Bindulis leads the team in assists with 21.
Defenseman Ryan Solomon leads the team with a +9 plus/minus ratio. Fan favorite, but opposing team pest, Wood leads the team with 143 penalty minutes. The Rebels are third in the league on the power play with a 21.88% while they are eight in the league on the penalty kill with 84.35%.
The goaltending tandem of Darion Hanson and Trevor Micucci has been solid and steady. Coach Coombs has done an excellent job in rotating the goalies and both have responded. Each has played an average of 915 minutes. The team is tenth in the league with the least goals allowed of 81. Micucci is sixteenth in the league with a 2.30 goals against average and eight in save percentage of .928. He has two shutouts. Hanson has a 2.62 goals against average and a .901 save percentage.
The Rebels have had 10 players, or 43% of the team, receive either weekly or monthly recognition, including both goalies. However, the big news was when Bindulis signed a Division 1commitment to Lake Superior State, where he will attend in the fall.
The rough and tumble Fairbanks Ice Dogs visit IceWorks for two games to start the second half. Then the Rebels will play five of its next 10 games against Rich McKenna’s New Jersey Titans.
The Rebels have come a very long way (literally and fugitively) since Rio Grande. It is a very solid team. If it plays a full 60 minute game, then the season will extend very far into May with the possibility of winning the Robertson Cup.