It’s been a relatively short off season, but the Red Deer Rebels are already preparing for the start of another Western Hockey League season.
After a whirlwind year that saw them go all the way to the semi final of the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament as the host team, the Rebels are set to mark the start of the 2016-2017 training camp, which officially opens on Wednesday.
“It’s an exciting time. It’s been a quick turnaround over the summer, obviously not getting done until the end of May because of Memorial Cup and so forth. But we’re excited about getting started on a new year and having some new faces come to the team, so it’s an exciting time in that regard,” said Rebels’ Head Coach and General Manager Brent Sutter of the camp, which began on Wednesday with main camp and will see rookies begin to roll in on Saturday morning.
The Rebels, who made it all the way to the WHL Eastern Conference Championship last season before hosting the Memorial Cup tournament in May, will be looking to make another solid run at the playoffs come May next year, Sutter said.
“I like the mindsets of our returning players, what they talked to us about in the exit means, and what leadership they need to take on themselves to help us — again we want to grow as a team and we always want to be playing into May, that’s ultimately your goal,” he said, adding he’s excited about the young crop of players coming into this year’s camp.
“The young guys coming in and being sponges and wanting to learn and get better. They’re all a bunch of good, young kids and they’re all players that want to play. That’s what’s encouraging with our group coming in.”
Sutter added the biggest thing is to be patient with some of the younger players who will be looking to make the leap into major junior hockey from the ranks of Midget teams this season and who will form the core of a slightly younger Rebels team than last season.
“I think the biggest thing with these young guys is we’ve got to be patient with them. They’re all hard working kids, they’re caring kids. We’ve got to bring them in and let them grow. They’re obviously a big part of our team this year and moving forward into the future. We’re excited about that and we’re excited with the group coming back.
“Hopefully they can take the next step and we can all gel and form some chemistry together so we can be a good team here this season and moving forward.”
With the departures of key players such as Ivan Nikolishin, Adam Helewka, Luke Philp, Haydn Fleury and Jake DeBrusk, Rebels’ fans can expect to see some familiar faces take on bigger roles on the team.
“Every year your older players move on and younger players get to play more prominent roles. They’ll become those last guys that just left, just like those guys were in the year before. You don’t get caught up in certain guys leaving because you know they leave after their 19 or 20 year old year. So some of the young players now, they get put in that prominent role.”
Sutter said players like Adam Musil, Michael Spacek, Grayson Pawlenchuck, Brandon Hagel and Evan Polei will have to step up to become the leadership group of the team.
“I expect them all to be. There are guys that have been in the league now for three years. I expect them all to help carry that load and help us develop and make our young players better but at the same time make themselves better too. It’s a good group of kids we have coming in. Now it’s just gelling together and growing as a team.”
He added he’s confident that those guys will be able to step up and fill the void left by graduating players.
“I will tell you one thing. The group that’s coming back, we’re going to see them play hard every night.”
On-ice sessions of the 2016 Red Deer Rebels training camp began on Wednesday and run throughout the week. All ice times are at the ENMAX Centrium and are open to the public. The training camp will culminate in the annual Black and White Game, which is scheduled for Aug. 31st at 7 p.m. Free tickets are available at all Central Alberta McDonald’s locations or for a $2 donation at the door in support of the Red Deer Firefighter’s Athletic Fund.
The Rebels play their first pre season game on Sept. 2nd at 7 p.m. at home against the Edmonton Oil Kings.