Rebels high on potential of Steranka, Kovich as preseason opener looms
The Red Deer Rebels open their WHL Pre-season schedule Friday with new head coach Derrick Walser looking for a positive result.
“You don’t play to play, you want to win,” he said Thursday while looking forward to the contest versus the Calgary Hitmen at the Siksika Deerfoot Sportsplex.
“The main focus for me is the stuff we worked on the past week and trying to see it come together,” he added. “These games may not mean a lot to some players but they mean a lot to me.
“First, we just want to win. Secondly, when you start getting video of the players doing things it helps speed up the process.”
While Walser is new to the league and can’t speak on the strengths and weaknesses of opposing clubs, he’s confident the Rebels will be more than competitive in the 2023-24 season.
“I think we’re solid all the way from top to bottom,” he said. “There’s always the question of scoring goals, well, we’ll figure that out when we start playing. I think we’re going to be a pretty solid team.”
One of the players who will suit up for Friday’s road contest is newly signed forward Steven Steranka, who inked a WHL Scholarship and Development Agreement with the Rebels Thursday.
“Signing with the Rebels gives me a lot of confidence going into the game tomorrow,” said the centre, who will turn 16 Oct. 2.
The Regina native attended main camp with the Rebels and didn’t look out of place among the long list of veterans.
“I knew the pace would be faster here and that I’d have to keep up with the older guys and show what I can do,” said Steranka, who last winter scored 17 goals and recorded 29 points in 43 regular season games with his hometown U18 AAA Pat Canadians, then added two goals and three assists in 12 playoff contests.
Competing mostly against players one and two years older than himself boosted the rate of his development.
“After practice I was out there with the boys just getting my shot better and working on my skills,” said the five-foot-eight, 160-pound forward. “I’d get pointers from them since they had a couple more years of experience.
“The games were much faster too, the puck moved way faster than in bantam.”
Rebels associate general manager Shaun Sutter isn’t surprised that Steranka, a seventh-round selection — 148th overall — in the 2022 WHL Prospects Draft, showed well in main camp following his strong 2022-23 season.
“Steven had a real strong second half to his season and a real good playoffs,” said Sutter.
“We actually talked about signing him last year and we asked him to go back and get stronger over the off-season. He came here and he’s had a really good camp. His skill set is standout and with him having a late birthday we think he’s going to be a real good player for us.”
Steranka described his game as revolving around offence, but well-rounded as well.
“That’s where my game really thrives,” he said. “I’d say I’m more of an offensive guy but I make sure to take care of the defensive zone when needed.”
Sutter classified Steranka’s skill set as “elite in terms of his skating, puck handling and shooting.
“He needs to get bigger and stronger, being a guy who’s not taller. But that’s going to come. He’s already made big gains that way over the past off season.
“If he’s not with us this season I expect him to go back and probably be one of the leading point getters in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League.”
The Rebels also signed 15-year-old forward Nick Kovich Thursday. The Richmond, BC, native was a fourth-round selection — 75th overall — of the Rebels in this year’s Prospects Draft.
“We picked Nick in the fourth round and we had him rated much higher than that,” said Sutter, who added that the Rebels would have taken him earlier but didn’t have a third-round pick.
“Nick really wants to play in the league and play in Red Deer. We kind of put the challenge to him to have a really good off season and he was really good in the fitness tests.
“He came in and was the best player in rookie camp, not just point wise but just the way he worked. He was good in all three zones and his compete level was really high. We’re real excited that he chose to play in the Western League and sign with us and play in Red Deer.”
Kovich potted 17 goals and recorded 36 points in 21 regular season games with the Delta Hockey Academy U15 prep team last winter and added two assists in three playoff outings. He will play for the DHA U18 prep squad in the upcoming season.
The Rebels will take on the Edmonton Oil Kings in their second preseason game Sunday at the Peavey Mart Centrium. Opening faceoff is set for 2 p.m.
Red Deer’s exhibition schedule will conclude the following weekend when the Hitmen visit the Centrium Friday (7 p.m.) before the Rebels are in Lethbridge to face the Hurricanes the following night.
The Rebels’ Red Deer Advocate Home Opener is Friday, Sept. 22 versus the visiting Oil Kings at 7 p.m.