The bright overhead lights buzzed softly behind the sound of hockey sticks slapping one another as skates scraped across the ice of the Penhold Multiplex.
Two teams, one clad in burgundy and the other in white hustle around the rink – both teams wear the WHL logo and both teams are full of teens from across western Canada who hope to one day wear a Red Deer Rebels jersey.
In the net for the burgundy team, standing tall at 6’4” and 174 lbs is Dawson Weatherill, 16, – an elite hockey prospect and the only Red Deer native.
Weatherill, a former Hunting Hills High School student spent the last year playing for the Notre Dame Argos in the Saskatchewan Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League. The young recruit began playing for the elite hockey program out of Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, following a cut from the ‘AAA’ Optimist Chiefs prior to the 14/15 season.
Following his cut and having been on the Rebels’ radar for quite some time thanks to the team’s goaltending consultant, Taylor Dakers, it was arranged for Weatherill to join the Notre Dame Hockey Program, one which the Rebels felt would be suitable for one of their top goalie prospects.
The young WHL draft pick’s journey began with the Rebels when Dakers noticed a particular skill set matched with a menacing size while working with the young athlete out of World Pro Goal – a cutting edge training facility in Calgary focused on making goaltenders more efficient.
“I’ve worked a lot with Taylor and World Pro to become a whole new goalie over the last couple of years – they’ve given me a brand new style and one that fits my size and that helps me be able to play the game I want to be able to play.”
Dakers took an interest in the young prospect and along with the Rebels staff watched as he honed in on his skills. Weatherill was later drafted in the 2013/14 season and invited to last year’s prospect camp, making the camp over this past weekend his second.
“A few weeks before the draft they started to show some real interest in me as an athlete and it came around to the draft and I was selected and we’ve been in touch with one another ever since,” explained Weatherill. “They followed me throughout my tryouts here in Red Deer for the Chiefs and were constantly giving me feedback on my tryouts.”
“They were looking for different options the entire time during my tryouts and when I got cut they informed me of all them and we decided Notre Dame would be the best route.”
The program at Notre Dame is recognized as one of Canada’s leading hockey development programs, with dynamic integrated programming which focuses on high performance training, specialized instruction, fitness, mental preparedness, and virtue-based character formation as well as academic accountability.
Weatherill said he was thrilled to have had the opportunity to play for the Argos, who produced a number of NHL players including Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Jordan Eberle and Barry Trotz – head coach of the Washington Capitals.
“We’ve kept an eye on him and really watched him fill out since his last year of bantam,” explained Dakers. “His stance and the way he moves have vastly increased and we saw him take the necessary steps to improve his game.
“We want him as our starter and I think he is going to be a key component to our team – with his size, speed, and athleticism the sky is truly going to be his limit, it’s just going to come down to how badly he wants it.”
Having grown up watching the Rebels play, thanks largely in part to his parents Brad and Michelle Weatherill – with whom he credits his love for hockey and thanks for driving the eight hours to watch him play this year – his ultimate goal is to be able to play on home ice one day. It was here in the Enmax Centrium where he grew up watching Matt Dumba, his favourite former Rebel. When Dumba was drafted to the NHL, Weatherill’s love for the Rebels was only solidified.
“To be able to play for such a great organization in front of my family and friends would be great – even if I didn’t live in Red Deer it would still be my top choice,” explained Weatherill. “Even if I don’t get the chance to play for the Rebels this season then I hope to be able to come back to home ice again maybe for the Chiefs if I get the opportunity.
Fresh out of the hockey academy and with the Rebels’ prospect camp wrapped up, Weatherill is off to Toronto to join 17 other elite prospect goalies at a Team Canada camp and will continue to work with Dakers year-round in hopes of suiting up in a Rebels jersey this season.