Bennefield hoping to fit in with Rebels
The revolving door was oiled and swinging freely at the Red Deer Rebels office on Wednesday.
As the Rebels were reassigning forwards Vukie Mpofu and Dexter Bricker, the Western Hockey League club was bringing in forwards Ryley Bennefield and Wyatt Johnson.
Bennefield, 18, was selected by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the second round of the 2009 bantam draft and has also played briefly with the Portland Winter Hawks and this fall with the Calgary Hitmen, in a trio of exhibition contests. He is pointless in nine WHL regular-season games, but Rebels general manager Brent Sutter felt the Wetaskiwin native is at least worth a look.
“Our hockey people have told me he has some good skills, that he can shoot the puck. He just needs to learn the proper compete level, and if he does, he’ll be a good player,” said Sutter.
“For whatever reason, it didn’t work for him in Lethbridge, it didn’t work for him in Portland and it didn’t work for him in Calgary. But he’s only 18 years of age and he’s from this area and I thought I would take a look at him.”
Bennefield played mostly junior B hockey with his hometown Wetaskiwin Icemen the last two seasons, collecting 16 goals and 29 points in 26 games as a 16-year-old in 2010-11 and 10 points (5-5) in 10 regular-season games last season.
But he’s never caught on in three WHL chances and is happy to get what may be his one last opportunity in Red Deer.
“Obviously I’m pretty excited,” said Bennefield, who practised with his prospective teammates on Wednesday at the Penhold Regional Multiplex. “Being an 18-year-old and coming in this late, this is a great opportunity. I’m really appreciative of the team to give me this opportunity. This seems like a great place to be and I’m really excited.
“They said if I come in and work my butt off that there’s always opportunities out there for pushing other players.”
Bennefield is of the opinion that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time while testing the waters with the previous WHL teams, including the Hitmen, with whom he scored two goals in three preseason games this fall.
“They were all great places to be, but different teams have different dynamics with returning players, with the amount of guys they have coming in and some of them being younger guys,” said Bennefield, who will likely be in the Rebels lineup for the team’s final two preseason games on Friday at Lacombe versus the Edmonton Oil Kings and on Saturday at Stettler against the Medicine Hat Tigers. “I guess I just didn’t fit in the mix with the other teams and hopefully I can fit in here.”
“We’re trying to find ways to make us better and it doesn’t hurt to take a look and hopefully he can prove everybody wrong. That’s his motivation,” said Sutter.
“Players like that have skills and assets that others don’t have. If they figure it out they can turn out to be pretty good players.
“I’m hoping his experience that didn’t work out for him elsewhere he can use as motivation here to give himself a shot to win a spot on our team, but only he can determine that and we’ll be evaluating him this weekend.”
l Johnson, 17, was a star forward with the midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts last season, scoring 14 goals and recording 45 points in 42 games. He attended the Vancouver Giants camp this fall and is expected to join the Rebels today despite being sidelined indefinitely with a concussion . . . Mpofu, 16, was in tough to make the Rebels as a smallish, inexperienced defenceman-turned-forward. He will rejoin the midget AAA Contacts for the 2012-13 season. Bricker, meanwhile, will play in the SJHL this season with the Nipawin Hawks. The 17-year-old was projected as a physical, fourth-line grinder, but at five-foot-10 and 178 pounds was too small for the role.