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Pair of Rebels named to national U18 team

Red Deer Rebels teammates Conner Bleackley and Haydn Fleury are taking their talents to Europe.

Bleackley and Fleury were named to the Canadian team Saturday for the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey Under-18 World Championship April 17-27 in Finland.

Both players were invited to the Canadian U18 team selection camp last summer leading into the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Fleury, a defenceman, made the team, while Bleackley, a forward, came up short in his bid.

Considering Fleury is projected as a top-10 pick in June’s NHL entry draft and Bleackley could also be a first-round selection, both were expected to earn berths with the national U18 squad.

Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter certainly isn’t surprised.

In fact . . .

“Hockey Canada informed us when our season was over that they were both going to be locks to play on the team,” said Sutter. “They obviously both had an outstanding year and both are important parts of our program. Hockey Canada has high hopes for both of them, too, for their program.

“It’s obvious that they both deserve this and they’re both very good players.”

Sutter said the international experience will help both become better players.

“We said from the start that we were building our team around those two guys for the next couple of years,” said Sutter. “Every experience they go through will enhance them and make them better. Haydn has already had that experience and now for Conner to get that opportunity it’s certainly going to help him too.”

Fleury and Bleackley were ranked sixth and 31st, respectively, in Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings for North American players eligible for this year’s draft. The International Scouting Service, in February, ranked Fleury eighth and Bleackley 16th.

The Red Deer players are among eight Western Hockey League skaters selected to the team. The others are defencemen Travis Sanheim and Ben Thomas of the Calgary Hitmen and Parker Wotherspoon of the Tri-City Americans, and forwards Jansen Harkins of the Prince George Cougars, Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors and Jake Virtanen of the Hitmen, who is injured and unable to attend the team’s training camp currently underway in Toronto.

The camp, at the MasterCard Centre, concludes Tuesday. The team will then head overseas and play pre-tournament games Friday and April 14 versus Finland and Denmark.

Canada will play Sweden in the team’s tournament-opener April 17.



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