Andrusiak providing depth at both ends of the ice
Red Deer Rebels GM Brent Sutter acquired Nick Andrusiak as a depth defenceman at last January’s WHL trade deadline.
What the Rebels perhaps didn’t realize at the time was that they were also getting a depth forward.
While he’s a defender first and foremost, Andrusiak has proven that he’s capable of playing both ways.
“He’s shown that he can play every day,” Rebels assistant coach and former WHL and pro defenceman Mike Egener said Thursday.
“He’s solid in his own zone. When he keeps his game simple he’s most effective. He’s competitive and he can play defence and be utilized up front. We’ve been using him in both spots here and there.”
Andrusiak came to the Rebels by way of the Portland Winterhawks, who got a seventh round pick in the 2024 WHL Prospects Draft in return for the Tisdale, Sask., native.
Considering he had played just two games with Portland and the majority of the first half of the 2022-23 season with the Melville Millionaires, the five-foot-ten, 188-pound blueliner experienced some growing pains upon joining the Rebels
“The first couple of games were a bit shaky, just getting used to the pace and everything,” said Andrusiak. “But after a few games I felt more comfortable. The boys helped, they pitched in and helped me figure out the systems.
“So far this year I think I’ve played pretty solid.”
Andrusiak has indeed looked right at home on the Red Deer blueline this season while appearing in 12 games to date, the majority of his time missed the result of an upper body injury that sidelined him for the better part of two weeks.
“Confidence is a big thing,” said Egener. “The more games you get into the more ice time you earn, and with that comes confidence. He’s earned opportunities on the penalty kill as well, and there’s not that many guys you can insert in the lineup who can play both defence and forward.
“He can play forward and go back to defence in the same game, and vice versa. We trust him in those scenarios and he’s been doing a good job for us so far.”
Andrusiak, in fact, played both up front and on the back end in Saturday’s 3-2 win over the visiting Calgary Hitmen.
“It’s kind of a feather in my cap,” he said of his versatility. “Any way to contribute to the team.”
Last weekend’s sweep of the home-and-home series with Calgary was well deserved and has the Rebels feeling better about themselves heading into a pair of home games this weekend — Friday versus the Brandon Wheat Kings and Saturday against the Regina Pats.
“The boys feel confident now. We’re getting our systems down and getting in a groove,” said Andrusiak. “We’re all getting in sync. Wally (head coach Derrick Walser) keeps preaching the same mindset every game and the boys are starting to buy in.”
Andrusiak is also confident that the Rebels are better than their 8-9-0-3 record and that their best is yet to come.
“On paper we’re a really good team,” he said. “But it’s a new team with new faces. We just have to gel together . . . it might take a couple of more games or it might take a couple of weeks.
“We just have to keep playing and hopefully it comes sooner rather than later.”
Notable: With his two-goal performance Saturday, rookie Matthew Gard became the first Rebels player to score his first two WHL goals in the same game since D-Jay Jerome on Sept. 24, 2016 (2 goals, 1 assist vs. Edmonton) . . . It’s one of the most highly anticipated games of the year as the Red Deer Rebels are holding their annual Toque and Teddy Bear Toss in support of the Red Deer Christmas Bureau on Saturday, Dec. 2 at the Peavey Mart Centrium when they host the Everett Silvertips at 7 p.m. When the Rebels score their first goal, fans are invited to toss their winter items onto the ice. There will be items available for purchase at the game for $5. The Christmas Bureau is looking for new toques, mittens, gloves, scarves, and socks to keep Red Deerians warm this winter.