It has been 14 years since the Red Deer Rebels last hoisted the MasterCard Memorial Cup high above their heads.
The year was 2001 and the Red Deer WHL team had just defeated the QJHL league champions, the Val-d’Or Foreurs in 6-5 overtime battle at the 2011 Memorial Cup held in Regina.
The Rebels will once again have their chance for a championship title as they host the 2016 Memorial Cup.
With the hosting, the Rebels will become the first Alberta team to take on the event since Calgary Hitmen did so in 1974.
While May is still many months away, the local team’s headquarters at the Enmax Centrium has already been shined and spiffed in preparation for the event with new boards, glass and benches being added to the complex.
The Centrium wasn’t the only thing to see change over the summer months, as head coach and general manager for the Rebels, Brent Sutter explained his team has come back in tip top physical shape this August.
“They’ve been much better with their conditioning and it’s something we continue to push throughout the summer so that players can come back in better shape than they were when they stepped off the ice last spring,” said Sutter. “We are a team that takes a lot of pride in making sure our athletes are well-conditioned – we really stress the importance of proper nutrition and eating right.
“They’re into it now and they understand if they want to play past a WHL level, a big part of it is how they are taking care of themselves and what they are doing for off-ice training.”
Over the past weekend, Sutter gathered his team under the bright new lights of the Centrium for the team’s annual training camp.
The camp itinerary saw returning, newly-signed and prospective Rebels skating together in practices, pro skates, scrimmages and on Sept. 2nd, the annual Black & White Game takes place.
“You have players who are going to be on your team on the same ice as players who are fighting to be on your team, as well as kids who are too young to play yet but are eager to play with us in the coming years so there are many different scenarios that take place at training camps.”
Following the camp, Rebels will head into their pre-season schedule of five games, with their first pre-season home opener taking place Sept. 18th at 7 p.m.
While Sutter is excited to see how his new younger players do in the preseason he is apprehensive to see many of his starters not on the bench for these first five games as eight of his players will be attending pro camps across North America.
Rebels defensemen Haydn Fleury will be attending a North Carolina Hurricanes camp, centre Conner Bleackley will see himself at the Colorado Avalanches camp, with forward Michael Spacek and defenceman Nelson Nogier attending the Winnipeg Jets developmental camp.
Both Lane Pederson and Wyatt Johnson will be attending the Anaheim Ducks camp, with Evan Polei attending the Detroit Red Wings camp and Adam Musil attending the St. Louis Blues camp.
“They need to learn something from these camps and bring it back with them, but they also need to come back with the right attitudes,” he said. “In the past we have had an issue with athletes not checking their egos at the door when they return and still thinking they should be back on that NHL ice, and they can really struggle with that.”
While the Rebels still have a long season ahead of them before their shot at the 2016 Memorial Cup, Sutter said he is extremely confident from an organizational standpoint the event will be a huge success – but for now the head coach is strictly focused on ensuring the success of the season.