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GUSTAFSON: Follow me along in my first WHL season

Rebels open WHL season Friday in Edmonton
Ian Gustafson

I can still remember the first time the idea of becoming a sports reporter came to me.

I was on vacation with my dad and brother and we were attending an NCAA Div. 1 basketball tournament at the University of Hawaii because you know who doesn’t go to Hawaii to be inside?

While we were enjoying the sun we thought why not go and watch some basketball. Traveling to watch sports became something the three of us loved doing together and we even got to see a young Fred Van Vleet, who is now the starting point guard for the Toronto Raptors, play for his alma mater Wichita State Shockers.

While we were at the game my brother noticed a man interviewing one of the players courtside and he turned to me and said ‘why don’t you go to school for sports journalism.’

Like many young people I was in the process of trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life and from that point on, I fell in love with the idea.

So much so, that I remember there were times working other jobs and I felt physically and mentally sad that I wasn’t doing the job that I wanted so badly.

Fast forward to now and I’m just days away from my first full season as the Red Deer Rebels beat reporter for the Advocate and I couldn’t be more excited.

From old colleagues to new friends I’ve been told it can be a grind but also can be one of the best times of your career reporting in the WHL.

Coming off a successful 2021-22 campaign the Rebels will be looking to build off the season that saw them finish second in the Central Division behind the Edmonton Oil Kings with a 45-19-2-2 record.

Owner, general manager, and president of the Rebels Brent Sutter and assistant general manager Shaun Sutter were hard at work in the offseason bringing in new talent to the club.

They brought in defencemen Mats Lindgren and Tanner Brown via trades to add depth to their blueline group who both bring experience and versatility to the team. Lindgren has already shown off his impressive skating ability in training camp and in a select few preseason games.

They also added forward Craig Armstrong in a trade with the Prince George Cougars who has plenty of offensive upside to contribute to the squad.

And from overseas they drafted Czechia defenceman Vojtech Port in the 2022 WHL Import Draft and unless defenceman Christoffer Sedoff returns from his trip to Calgary for the Flames NHL training camp, Port will most likely fill one of two import spots alongside forward Frantisek Formanek.

Quentin Bourne who was drafted in the 2021 WHL U.S. Priority Draft by the Rebels signed with the team earlier this year and will likely crack the roster this season. The 5’8” and 150-pound defenceman may not be big in stature but is quick on the ice and handles the puck well.

And finally, they added two new goalies Kyle Kelsey and Rhett Stoesser who will be between the pipes for Red Deer this year after the team announced goaltender Chase Coward will not report to the team to start the season. Kelsey was acquired from the Moose Jaw Warriors in May and Stoesser was recently signed as a free agent after impressing management during the preseason. The coaching staff has yet to indicate if they’ll have a go-to guy at this point but I anticipate they’ll form a tandem between the goalies just like they did last season with Coward and Connor Ungar.

The Rebels have plenty of returning veteran players such as Kalan Lind, Matteo Fabrizi, Blake Gustafson, Hunter Mayo, Kai Uchacz, and others. Players Ben King, captain Jayden Grubbe, Jace Weir, Christoffer Sedoff, and Mats Lindgren are all at NHL training camps. Depending on if they crack a roster spot, all or a few of these players will return to the Rebels at the end of training camp.

This team is definitely different in some ways and with the possibility of losing the WHL’s leading scorer Ben King, the Rebels will need production to succeed from multiple players in the lineup. Head coach Steve Konowalchuk previously said it appears as of yet no player has stepped up to King or Arshdeep Bains level from last year but they have different kinds of players. Players he hopes will all contribute come puck drop Friday night in Edmonton to begin the 2022-23 season.

Rebels fans I believe can be optimistic about the work that was put in by the players, coaching staff, and management in the offseason. In the Western Hockey League, every year is different and it’s hard to predict how your team will do as some players rise to the occasion. Konowalchuk said to the media during training camp that if before last season no one had predicted the season Bains and King were about to have.

That’s the beauty of the WHL and the sport of hockey every year someone you might not have expected can rise up and have a career year. And those who watch the sport know sometimes all it takes is a player to go on a scoring streak or a hot goaltender to carry a team through the playoffs.

As my first season as a reporter in the WHL begins this week I can’t wait to get started and I hope the readers can follow along the way and put their trust in me to deliver all Rebels news.

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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