Goaltender coach Gordon likes the progress, attitude of both Rebels netminders
Connor Ungar was excellent in the Rebels net the last three weeks of December and his game-to-game performance earned him WHL netminder of the month honours.
But both Red Deer stoppers, Ungar and Chase Coward, have been nothing short of impressive this season, director of goaltending/coach Ian Gordon stressed Wednesday.
“Connor had a real good run for us and is deserving of the award,” said Gordon. “He and Chase have both been really consistent and given us a chance to win games all season.
“There have been times when Chase has taken the net and helped us win, like when we were in Saskatchewan the first time. And then the last little stretch, after the Medicine Hat game (Dec. 11) at home, Connor kind of stepped in.
“The thing is we’re better when both of them are going well, I think that’s the biggest thing. They have a real great respect for each other and they both have an internal motivation to want more from themselves individually.”
Indeed, that mutual respect has fuelled both netminders. Ungar (pictured above) is third in the WHL in both goals-against average and save percentage — 2.06 and .925 — and Coward (pictured below) is also top-10 in both categories, seventh in GAA at 2.42 and ninth in save percentage at .915.
“The fact is there are no hard feelings between them,” said Gordon. “Everybody is mindful of the situation we’re in and we recognize that we’re a better team when both guys are playing well. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t want more and that’s kind of the message — when the opportunity comes you might get a couple more (games) and when it comes you’ll be ready.
“The nice thing about them is they’ve done a really nice job of being respectful to each other and being a being a very big part of the team concept.”
Gordon, who was hired by Rebels president and GM Brent Sutter in July, appreciates the fact that his two goalies have made his job easier.
“They’re very coachable, both guys,” he said. “I’ve never had to ask either one of them for more effort in practice.
“They do compete every day and that just translates into how they have been able to be consistent through the season. They practise as hard as they play in the games. They both try to stop every shot in practice and there’s value in that every day of working and being a good member of the team.”
Ungar entered the season with an extra dose of self-esteem due to being invited to the Calgary Flames prospects camp in September as a free agent.
“I think something like that just builds confidence,” said Gordon. “You go to a camp like that and you’re surrounded by guys who are drafted.
“It’s a measuring stick, you can see ‘I’m close, I am right there.’ For some guys, they go to these camps and they can be deflating. But in his case it wasn’t. Connor was happy with how he performed and I think he probably thinks he’s closer than maybe he initially thought.
“That’s the one nice thing about guys who get invited to NHL camps — they see how great it is at that level, how you get treated and what it takes to be a pro. They know they’d like to be a part of it and it motivates them to give a little more.”
Gordon lives in Edmonton but commutes to Red Deer at least twice a week, working off the schedules of head coach Steve Konowalchuk and skills coach Erik Lodge.
“There are days when they don’t need me, that’s for sure,” said Gordon. “We just kind of make my schedule as it goes.
“If we have back to back games Friday and Saturday, I’ll probably be there Friday morning to be with the guy who’s not playing that night. But the guys can’t be too dependent on a coach. They just have to be good members of the team. It’s not about being on the island as a goalie.
“I think that’s the nice thing about them — they’re really good about being a member on the team and knowing the importance of that.”
Gordon speaks highly of probable Rebels goalie of the future
Gordon is also a scout/evaluator with the Rebels and is confident the team made a great decision when they selected Chase Wutzke in the second round of the 2021 WHL Prospects Draft in December.
The 15-year-old midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts goaltender filled in admirably when both Ungar and Coward were unavailable during the Rebels recent three-game road trip.
“He’s someone we really like, which is obvious by the position that we drafted him in. He played very well (for Team Saskatchewan) in the WHL Cup and we’ve followed his progress throughout the season,” said Gordon.
“We dug in a bit on his character and everything that came back to us we really, really liked. He loves the game of hockey and is very enthusiastic about the position, plus he has that confidence that he believes he’s capable of being a top goalie when it’s his time.
“We just liked everything about his game and his character that he portrayed to us when we were speaking with him, so we were very happy to get him where we did in the draft.”