Bellerive excited for new opportunity, Rebels make another deal
Displeased with what he’s seen from his team this fall, Red Deer Rebels GM Brent Sutter continued to reshape the squad on Tuesday.
As Monday’s acquisition, Matt Bellerive, was meeting his new teammates, Sutter was completing yet another deal, bringing in 20-year-old defenceman Brandon Underwood from the Regina Pats in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2013 Western Hockey League bantam draft.
Bellerive, who was acquired from the Vancouver Giants on Monday in return for a third-round bantam draft pick in 2014, arrived at the Centrium in the early afternoon — roughly 24 hours later — toting his gear, a stick and a pair of bright red sneakers.
Clearly, he was pleased to be with his second WHL team after playing two seasons with the Giants and requesting a trade last weekend.
“I’m excited about being here. It gives me the opportunity for a fresh start, just something new,” said the five-foot-11, 188-pound winger, who will celebrate his 18th birthday in December.
Bellerive, a second-round pick in the 2009 draft, contributed 10 goals and added 12 assists in 103 regular-season and playoff games with the Giants. A prolific offensive player at the bantam and midget ranks, he’s yet to break out at the major junior level and is confident that a change of scenery will get him untracked.
He decided once and for all that it was time to switch uniforms when he was a healthy scratch for the Giants’ home-opener.
“That kind of got me pretty confused. I was a third-year guy so I thought it was just time to move on,” he said. “I tried as hard as I could to make it work there, but a fresh start will be good for me.”
Bellerive, who describes himself as “a good skater and a pretty physical guy with a good shot”, insisted that Red Deer was his first preference in regards to a change of address.
“I was actually hoping to come to Red Deer,” he said.
“I just heard it was a great organization, a fun place to play, and I’m hoping to get a good opportunity here.”
Bellerive talked to a few of his new teammates prior to getting dressed for Tuesday’s practice session and is confident he’ll have no trouble fitting in.
“Guys are all the same around the league, nice guys who want to play hockey,” he said. “I’ve met some guys here already and I know (Mathew) Dumba from Team Pacific (2011 World Under 17 Challenge).”
A product of North Vancouver, Bellerive basically played his first two WHL seasons at home. He’s now a thousand kilometres from the west coast, but insisted he’s beyond the point of becoming homesick.
“I was away from home in Grade 9. I went to Kelowna to play hockey at the Pursuit of Excellence (Academy), so this is nothing new,” he said.
Bellerive believes he has the skills to play on one of the Rebels’ top two lines.
“I think I can do that and I’ll work hard to get the chance,” he said.
Sutter said Bellerive will get that chance.
“He’s a kid who put up a lot of points in bantam and midget hockey,” said the GM. “He has a late birthday and you have to be more patient with kids in that category. It’s a situation here where we need to create some more offence. We needed to add some skill to our team. Hopefully he can play in our top six and he’s going to get that opportunity.
“This kid can really skate, and again, he has skill. It’s just a mater of making it all work and hopefully Red Deer is a good fit for him. I’ve seen our team play enough now that I know we need to add some things and this is one area we had to upgrade.”
The same could be said for the blueline, thus the deal for Underwood, a six-foot-three, 220-pound rearguard from San Marcos, Calif., who played three seasons with the Kamloops Blazers before being dealt to Regina last year.
In 205 regular-season games with the Blazers and Pats, he garnered 30 points, including five goals, and racked up 349 minutes in penalties.
“He’s just a steady, stay-at-home guy who adds some size and experience to our back end,” said Sutter. “He’s also someone who’s a good leader and can steady things back there. My vision, and this will be up to the coaches, is that he will be a big help to (rookie defenceman) Haydn Fleury, that he can help him grow through the season.”
Underwood is a right-hand shot, as are fellow Rebels blueliners Dumba, Kayle Doetzel and Stephen Hak. Fleury, Jan Bittner, Riley Boomgaarden and Devan Faford are left-hand shots.
“To me, it’s about puck movement,” said Sutter. “We’re a team that’s having a tough time moving the puck out of own zone and part of that is because guys are playing the wrong sides. Now everyone can play their normal side.
“This is an addition to our team that I felt was needed and I will continue to do what is necessary to improve the team.”
Underwood’s presence gives the Rebels four 20-year-olds, one over the league limit, meaning one of forwards Charles Inglis, Turner Elson and Adam Kambeitz will be moved.
The Rebels return to action on Friday versus the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers.