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Little player with a lot to prove

Good things can come in small packages.

Red Deer Rebels prospect Brayden Burke is proof of that.

Despite currently stretching out to just under five-foot-six and weighing in at all of 125 pounds, Burke likely has a future in the Western Hockey League, proving that there’s no substitute for skill.

“He’s a guy who’s had to learn to play the game as a small player,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin, following a 60-minute scrimmage on Thursday at the Penhold Multiplex. “He gets by on his intelligence and he’s got an unbelievable skill level. He’s such a smart player. He sees the ice so well and senses danger . . . he knows when people are around him.

“Those are tough things to teach. He’s got great instincts.”

Burke was a seventh-round pick of the Rebels in this year’s bantam draft and showed enough at the spring prospects camp in June to convince the club to sign him to a WHL education contract. The 15-year-old finished fifth in Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League scoring last season with 63 points (23g,40a) in 32 games, then led his Edmonton Canadian Athletic Club team in playoff scoring with two goals and 10 points in five games.

Despite his lack of size, he racked up 60 minutes in penalties last winter and never looked intimidated during the just-concluded Rebels rookie and main camps.

“It was fun to play with the big guys,” he said.

“I was able to learn how they play and just how fast it is out there at this level. I had to get used to the tempo and it was a great experience for me. This is a great organization. The older guys were really good this week. They showed us (rookie prospects) around.”

Being the smallest player in a training camp or even on his minor hockey team is nothing new for Burke, who has taken it upon himself to prove his doubters wrong.

“I’ve always been smaller than everyone,” he said. “Over the years a bunch of people have told that I’m too small, that I’ll never get over the novice hump, that I can’t get over the bantam hump.

“Yet every year I get over that hump and I keep working my ass off. It’s got me to where I am now and I’m really proud of myself. I thought I competed well against the big guys out there this week. Overall, I think I’ve done very well in camp.”

Burke finished second on his CAC team in scoring as a first-year bantam and really came of age last season.

“No one thought I’d made the team the first year and then no one thought I’d keep it going last year. But then I had a really good season,” he said. “I was playing with a lot of great players with CAC. We had a really good team.”

Burke was held off the scoresheet Thursday, less than 24 hours after opening the scoring and helping Team Black beat Team White 5-2 in the Rebels intrasquad game at the Centrium.

“That was crazy, the atmosphere (in the Centrium) was cool,” he said. “It’s just crazy that they get 2,000 fans for a Black and White game. It was a ton of fun . . . scoring the goal and everyone going wild on the bench.”

With an education contract under his belt, Burke will suit up for the Rebels’ two exhibition games this week at St. Albert — Saturday versus the Prince George Cougars and Sunday against the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings — before being reassigned.

“Now I can just focus on hockey,” said Burke, who will play at either the minor midget or major midget AAA level this season. “Hopefully I can be with the (Rebels) next year. I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen. It will just be one more hump to get over.”

Burke is confident that he’ll be at least somewhat larger when he makes his regular-season Rebels debut.

“I’ve grown almost two and a half inches since spring camp,” he said. “I think I’ve started to hit my growth spurt and this is a good time to do it.”

Not that Burke will be unable to play the game at a high level as a smaller forward.

“The game is changing, it’s getting faster and refs are calling more stuff,” he said. “It’s just a faster game now, it’s not all about the big fighters. It’s more of a puck-movers game.”

• The Rebels signed 18-year-old forward Jesse Miller of Winnipeg to an education contract this week. Also signed were Grayson Pawlenchuk and Austin Strand both 15, and 16-year-old Vukie Mpofu . . . Adam Musil, the team’s first-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft, will play both exhibition games this weekend. He missed Tuesday’s training camp scrimmages and the Black and White game after being struck in the head. “We kept him off the ice as a precaution,” said Wallin. “He’s 100 per cent now.” . . . The Rebels reassigned six players following the Thursday scrimmage — 16-year-old

forwards Chase Thudium of Sylvan Lake, Cole Chorney of Beaumont, Mathieu Lapointe of Edmonton and Lynnden Pastachak of Bienfait, Sask., defenceman Tanner Reynolds of Calgary, 16, and 17-year-old netminder Matt Mitchell of Calgary.



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