Mayo continues to evolve as valuable two-way defenceman
After seeing little action in the pandemic shortened WHL season of 2020-21— partly due to injury — Hunter Mayo truly came of age last winter.
The Rebels defenceman showed why he was deserving of the team’s first pick — 23rd overall, second round — of the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft, contributing offensively with three goals and 17 points in 65 regular season games and three assists in 10 playoff outings.
More importantly, he was a reliable two-way presence while posting a plus/minus score of plus-19.
Now, as an 18-year-old, the product of Martensville, Sask., resembles a player who has taken his game to even greater heights. Not only does Mayo possess an impressive plus/minus stat of plus-12 through 13 games, he’s also potted six goals and has been a force on the power play with three of his markers coming with a man advantage.
The six-foot-one, 195-pound blueliner wins puck battles far more often than not and moves the puck up ice with authority. In summation, Mayo is clearly one of the team’s most valuable players.
“I feel like my game has really developed,” he said Wednesday, prior to a practice session at the Kin City Arenas. “Throughout the summer I put in a lot of work and it’s really shown this year.
“I did a lot of speed training which has really helped me in getting back to pucks quick enough, getting up into the rush and just being able to show my offensive ability more.”
Mayo displayed an offensive touch at the minor hockey levels, scoring 22 goals and putting up 58 regular-season and playoff points with the bantam Martensville Marauders in 2018-19, and recording 32 points, including 13 goals, with the Saskatoon Midget AAA Blazers the following season.
Over the years he’s developed a heavy and accurate wrist shot which has played a major role in his offensive output this season. Mayo also plays a physical style, making him a reliable threat at both ends of the ice.
“Last year was obviously his first full season of playing and there was good growth there,” said second-year assistant coach Mike Egener.
“When he’s involved physically early in the game he’s at his best. He’s invested in the game and he’s obviously shown the ability to get pucks through. He’s done a great job with that and I think he’s simplified his game in the D zone, and it’s worked out for the best.”
The plus-12 mark is a number that Mayo takes great pride in, however . . .
“It’s good to look at, but honestly it’s more important that we’re 13-0 right now,” he said. “I’m really excited for the boys. I feel we have a good squad this year and can go a long way.”
Mayo has played a large role in the Rebels’ record-making start of 13-0-0-0, playing a strong five-on-five game and also excelling on special teams.
“He’s eaten up a lot of minutes and I think when players start playing the minutes he has, you trust him out on the ice, you trust him with making good reads and stuff,” said Egener.
“His game is developing in a positive direction.”
The Rebels headed east Thursday afternoon on a six-game jaunt that starts Friday against the Swift Current Broncos. Red Deer can match a franchise record with a 14th consecutive win.
The Rebels have battled through their share of adversity this season, losing premier sniper Ben King to a long-term injury and recently losing the services of defenceman Tayem Gislason, who is taking a leave of absence due to personal reasons.
In addition, No. 1 netminder Kyle Kelsey has missed a few games with an illness, as has Buffalo Sabres prospect Mats Lindgren. But the team’s next-man-up stance has powered through.
“I don’t think we have one guy who thinks he’s better than anyone else,” said Mayo. “We’ve just all come together, we’re a really tight group.
“We grind teams down, just play our game and make other teams play our game. That’s what’s been working for us.”
Notable: The Rebels have added 15-year-old defenceman Luke Vlooswyk to their roster as an insurance policy on the road trip. Vlooswyk, from Calgary, was selected in the first round, 17th overall, in this year’s WHL draft . . . Red Deer’s trip continues Saturday with a stop in Moose Jaw and the team is then idle until facing the Winnipeg Ice Tuesday and Wednesday. The Rebels are in Brandon Nov. 11 and in Regina the following day. Red Deer will play additional road games Nov. 15 and 18 in Edmonton and Lethbridge before their next home game — Nov. 19 versus Brandon.