Rebels head coach sees improvement in veterans, promise in rookie hopefuls
Team White 4 Team Black 2
As a truly ambitious Red Deer Rebels training camp concluded with Wednesday’s Black and White intrasquad game, head coach Steve Konowalchuk summed up the week-long affair with some positive remarks.
“Definitely competitive, but also definitely deep with a lot of interchangeable good parts,” he said of the main camp at the Peavey Mart Centrium. “Guys can play from the first line to the fourth line, guys can move up in the lineup. I like our speed up front and there’s some good tenacity.
“Same with the back end with the depth. There are no weak links no matter who you put out there, so that’s exciting. There’s always going to be competition for ice time which through a long season keeps everyone on their toes.”
Konowalchuk likes what he saw from some of the second-year forwards like Jhett Larson and Talon Brigley as well as sophomore rearguard Matteo Fabrizi.
“The young guys are going good. You see guys like Larson and Brigley who are getting better, and Andy (Carter Anderson) has had a strong camp. So they’re looking like they want to take a little more ice time,” said the bench boss.
“Fabrizi is skating better and has more of a hockey player body this year,” he added of the six-foot-five, 234-pound defender. “That’s what these players are supposed to do. They went off in the summer and worked at it, gave themselves a chance to get better and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The Black and White game featured only nine veterans, including just four on the victorious White squad which prevailed 4-2.
Carson Birnie, a prospective rookie this season, had a strong game for Team White with two goals and a pair of assists. Rookie gem Ollie Josephson and returning defenceman Hunter Mayo, who also drew praise from Konowalchuk, also tallied for the winners.
Veterans Craig Armstrong and Anderson countered for Team Black.
The game was top heavy in rookie hopefuls and Konowalchuk had positive words regarding defender Quentin Bourne, who will be on the roster this season, and fellow 16-year old Escalus Burlock, a forward from Edmonton.
“For sure, Bourne on the back end has looked pretty good and Burlock is a kid who’s come in here and played really well,” said the coach. “He’s fit in on any line we’ve put him on.”
American forward Jeramiah Roberts, 15, is another promising prospect with impressive tools.
“He played real well in rookie camp and looks really good for the future,” said Konowalchuk. “There’s definitely some good young guys coming through, including our top pick (in this year’s WHL Prospects Draft), Luke Vlooswyk on defence.”
The Rebels got some bad news last week with the discovery that No. 1 goaltender Chase Coward would not attend camp — and may not be available this season — due to a congenital defect to his lower body.
The four netminders competing in the Black and White game showed that the team appears to have some depth at that position as well.
Rhett Stoesser, a camp invite from Carstairs, turned aside all 15 shots he faced for Team White before being replaced by Chase Wutzke, who stopped of 24 of 26 shots.
Team Black starter Kyle Kelsey, who projects as the club’s top stopper this season, allowed one goal on 12 shots and Rhett Maxcy, another camp invitee, blocked 14 of 17 attempts over the second half of the game.
“The goalies have all done well,” said Konowalchuk. “It’s a competition and we’re not looking backwards.
“It’s an unfortunate situation personally for Chase but as a team we have to look at it as moving forward and individuals have to look at it as an opportunity.
“I thought all the goalies created a good competition among themselves.”
The Rebels will release roughly a dozen players Thursday in time for the start of their preseason schedule which opens Friday with a date with the host Calgary Hitmen.
The Rebels will host the Hitmen 24 hours later at the Centrium.
Red Deer’s final two preseason games are set for the following Friday and Saturday, a home-and-home with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The Rebels open the regular season Sept. 23 at Edmonton and will host the defending WHL champion Oil Kings the following night.