Adam Musil still fondly remembers when he was selected by the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL Bantam Draft.
Perhaps the Rebels captain looked a little more boyish back then, not as much like the hulking six-foot-three, 203-pound beast he is today – but likely just as soft-spoken and humble.
“It flew by definitely,” Musil said Wednesday as the Rebels conducted their year-end exit interviews.
“Getting drafted at 14, getting to play at 15, it seems like it was yesterday. I had a blast here. I’ve had a great experience.”
Musil is one of a handful of Rebels that are moving on following the conclusion of the 2016-2017 campaign.
While there are plenty of takeaways from a five-year career, he said the greatest lesson he learned with the organization was what it takes to succeed beyond the WHL.
“Being a pro. Brent treats you like a pro and it’s a first-class organization. He taught me how to play the game the right way and that’s all you can ask for as a player,” he said.
The 20-year-old, who spent all five of his WHL seasons, 251 games in total, in Red Deer will now be heading for the pro ranks in the coming days, joining the St. Louis Blues AHL Affiliate in Chicago.
Joining Musil in the AHL ranks is Rebels alternate captain and jokester Evan Polei, who said unofficially he’s off to Bakersfield to join the Condors.
“It’s not really announced right now, so I can’t really say,” said Polei, before giving up the details. “but I am heading down to Bakersfield on Monday to join the Condors. It’s not released yet, so I might get in trouble for saying it.”
Polei, who missed the Rebels final game with a to-be-determined suspension for an elbow in Game 6 of their series against the Lethbridge Hurricanes said he hated to see his career end that way, but was beyond thrilled by his time in Red Deer.
“Just the fans,” he said about what he’ll remember most.
“The fans have always been great to me. They gave me tons of respect. They’ve been great every game, they come out and support us. Very grateful for them making my career as good as it was.”
In his 20-year-old season, the Wetaskiwin native had a remarkable year with 33 goals and 62 points. The 33 goals doubled his output from any other year in his WHL career and he also notched nine points in six playoff games in 2017.
“I thought I developed really well. Brent Sutter gave me the opportunity when I was 17, and I got all the help I needed in the summer time,” Polei said.
“Lots of help to work on my skating and all of that. He just kept me in the right frame of mind and told me what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. I stuck with it, and I think it helped me out big time.”
From one of the longest tenured Rebels to the shortest, forward Austin Glover’s WHL career ended on Tuesday in Lethbridge. Acquired by Red Deer after Christmas this season, Glover said the learning experience with the Rebels was one he’ll carry with him for a long time.
“To end it here was pretty special and I won’t forget it,” Glover said.
“[Brent] knows how to get the most out of his players. I learned about working hard coming here and some valuable lessons. Can’t thank them enough for bringing me in.”
Defenceman Colton Bobyk is the lone Rebels’ blueliner graduating this year. The Red Deer product, who was drafted by the Spokane Chiefs back in 2011, said he still remembers the day the Rebels traded for him.
“It was a dream come true. Just being in the league, then when I was 18, getting traded back here, my mom was happy and my family was happy,” Bobyk said. “Live at home, play hockey, it’s what every kid wants.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter added even though he’s seen hundreds of players move on throughout the course of his WHL coaching career, he still finds the exit process a tough one.
“It’s a difficult day. These guys have been with you through the process for the last few years and through it all,” Sutter said.
“They went from being 16-17 year-old players now to being 20-year-olds and moving on in their lives – moving onto higher heights as far as level of play or school and hopefully be good business people in the community somewhere. It’s hard, because they’re like your own kids. That being said, some 16-17 year old will come in next year, and it’s whole new fresh start.”