Austin Strand takes a slightly different approach to hockey than many players his age.
For lots of hockey players, the aim is to score goals and put points on the board. But for the towering, 6’2” tall defenseman, that’s not necessarily the case.
“I guess I like getting pucks out of the zone. I get a really good feeling out of that and shutting down teams’ first lines, I really like doing that,” said the Red Deer Rebels’ defenseman.
As a 19-year-old veteran, Strand has really started to come into his own as one of the shutdown guys on the Rebels’ blue line this year.
“I don’t really know how it happened. I’m a bigger guy and with the team we had two years ago, we already had some offensive defensemen. It just kind of happened. I like being the shutdown role. I like making good hits, big hits in the d-zone and just getting my plus-minus up there,” Strand said.
Although he cuts an intimidating figure on the ice as one of the tallest players on the Rebels’ roster, off the ice the third-year WHLer always seems to have a smile on his face.
Drafted by the Rebels in the third round, 48th overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, Strand made the team two years ago as a 17-year-old and has already garnered a lot of major junior experience, including ice time in the Memorial Cup tournament last season.
“It was something like almost 100 games that we played just in last year’s season. So it’s a lot of experience for one year,” Strand said, adding he also learned a lot from all of the veteran defensemen who played with the Rebels last season.
“With Kayle Doetzel, Haydn Fleury, Nelson Nogier – all of those guys are playing in the American League right now. So it was kind of cool learning from those guys, just seeing their habits and just kind of soaking in stuff that they had to say.”
That willingness to learn showed on the ice too, as Strand played in all but one of the team’s 72 regular season games last season, finishing an impressive plus-nine in the plus-minus column.
It’s that ability and willingness to learn that has helped Strand become one of Red Deer’s top d-men this season.
“I’m feeling pretty good. We’ve had a couple of defense getting hurt with Alex (Alexeyev) getting hurt and then (Carson Sass) getting hurt too. So d-lines have been thrown around here. It’ll be nice now that we’ve got everybody back to get some chemistry going with a d-partner here.”
Although Strand tends to fall into that defensive role, the former Calgary North Stars player has shown an ability to put the puck in the net from time to time.
Just last weekend in fact, Strand picked up his first goal of the season, blasting one by Medicine Hat Tigers’ goalie Nick Schneider.
“It was nice to get the first one of the season out of the way. A nice shot from the point. We had an unreal screen in front of the net,” he recalled, laughing off any comparisons to teammate Colton Bobyk, whose point blasts have been know to crack goalie masks.
“He’s got something else for a shot. I wish I could shoot it as hard as Bobyk.”