Brent Sutter has high hopes for 2023-24 Rebels season
Red Deer Rebels Owner, President and General Manager Brent Sutter isn’t tempering his expectations for the new Western Hockey League season.
The Rebels finished atop the Central Division last season, then took out the Calgary Hitmen in an Eastern Conference Quarterfinals before falling to the Saskatoon Blades in the next round.
Sutter believes the Rebels can be a team that advances further down the line in 2023-24. He sees very few reasons why that can’t happen.
“My expectations are high. We have a pretty good hockey team,” he said Thursday on the eve of the team’s Red Deer Advocate Home Opener versus the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Peavey Mart Centrium.
“We have a lot of belief in the group. We have a lot of returning players and good young players. Our goaltending and defence are going to be really good, and we have a real good group of forwards.
“We have some depth with some good young players coming in, so I expect us to have a good year. We can’t settle for just getting to the second round (of playoffs) and thinking it’s OK, that it’s good enough.
“My expectations are higher than that, they are every year. Now it’s the performance on the ice that will dictate that.”
The Rebels defensive corps should indeed be among the league’s best with the likes of veterans Mats Lindgren, Hunter Mayo, Matteo Fabrizi, Jace Weir, Nicholas Andrusiak, Elias Carmichael and sophomore Quentin Bourne, who led the team in scoring during the preseason with three goals and two assists.
Add in rookies Derek Thurston and Luke Vlooswyk and the blueline looks beyond sturdy.
Up front, 50-goal man Kai Uchacz, Carson Latimer, Jhett Larson and Nashville Predators prospect Kalan Lind headline a group that also includes Frantisek Formanek, Carson Birnie, Ollie Josephson, Dwayne Jean Jr. and Talon Brigley.
More will be expected from each and all of the experienced forwards, while rookies Samuel Drancak, selected in this year’s CHL Import Draft, Matthew Gard, Jeramiah Roberts, Zane Saab, six-foot-six Levi Green, and Evan Smith all show plenty of promise.
“We have young forwards but at the end of the day you have forwards that have experience in the league too,” said Sutter.
Returnee Kyle Kelsey and rookie Chase Wutzke will share goaltending duties until second-year stopper Rhett Stoesser is ready to return from knee surgery.
Stoesser has been on the ice since August and was cleared Thursday to participate in full practices.
“Now it’s time to get him ready for a game and that’s going to take a couple of weeks,” said Sutter. “He’s being doing a lot (of rehabilitation) since the first of August, now he’s at the next level.”
Regardless of how the goaltending situation pans out in terms of numbers, Sutter has a load of confidence in all three.
“When you have the goaltending we have and the defence we have you should be a pretty good team,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any excuses.
“The bottom line is knowing how you play, how you perform. It’s all about mindset and we want to be better than the second round.”
Sutter also has the utmost faith in his coaching crew of new head man Derrick Walser, who served as an assistant coach with the OHL Peterborough Petes for five years, and assistants Mike Egener — back for a second season — and newly hired Clayton Beddoes, who was with the Rebels in 2014-15 as a skills coach and has extensive overseas experience.
“We have a really good staff. There are very good coaches out here and Derrick is a first-time head coach in major junior hockey, so it’s going to take a bit for him to settle in and know the teams,” said Sutter.
“But with today’s technology with video and everything, he’ll get to know the other teams pretty quickly.
“I think the coaches will make the adjustments quickly, they are smart guys and the players really like playing for them. It’s a younger coaching staff and the way players’ personalities are today and the way they react is completely different now than it was 15 to 20 years ago, even five years ago.”
Sutter began the process of paring his roster this week, dealing Escalus Burlock to the Victoria Royals and placing fellow forward Craig Armstrong, 20, on waivers.
The moves leave the team with a roster of 27 players that Sutter will likely reduce to 24 — 14 forwards, eight defencemen and two goalies.
Any further transactions, however, will not likely take place in the very near future, and as Sutter noted any changes may not necessarily involve first-year players.
“We’ll see how it unfolds with the staff and what direction we want to go,” said Sutter. “Older doesn’t mean you’re better and that has to weigh into it. You have to think about where your team is going to be at Christmas time and where it’s going to be in March. That’s how you look at it from a manager’s point of view.
“We’re a developmental league too and we have to develop our younger players. But I think we have enough skilled experience and with the talented young players we have a good mix.”
Notable: Lindgren (Buffalo), Lind (Nashville) and Mayo (Los Angeles) are still in NHL camps and won’t be available for Friday’s season opener at the Centrium (vs. Edmonton, 7 p.m.) . . . Latimer (Minnesota) and Fabrizi (Las Vegas) returned to the Rebels this week . . . As part of ‘Socktember,’ On-side Restoration is encouraging Rebels fans to bring donations of new socks to the Red Deer Advocate Home Opener in support of The Mustard Seed, Youth HQ, and the Central Alberta Women’s Shelter. Socks can be taken to the Community Corner located on the Centrium concourse . . . The Rebels will visit the Oil Kings Saturday.