Spokane Chief Collin Valcourt shows some intensity playing at the Centrium against the Rebels Wednesday Nov. 30

Spokane Chief Collin Valcourt shows some intensity playing at the Centrium against the Rebels Wednesday Nov. 30

No place like ‘home’ for Red Deer products playing in Spokane

As a steadfast goaltender with the Red Deer Optimist Rebels, Mac Engel had big dreams.

As a steadfast goaltender with the Red Deer Optimist Rebels, Mac Engel had big dreams.

So far, so good.

“I wasn’t looking that far ahead, but my goal was to make it to this point and obviously further on to the NHL,” the Spokane Chiefs No. 1 stopper said on Wednesday at the Centrium, just hours before turning aside 13 shots in a 5-2 win over the Red Deer Rebels.

“At the time I was focusing on the smaller tasks at hand. I was just trying to work as hard as I could to get noticed and it worked out.”

Engel and Optimist Rebels and current Chiefs teammate Collin Valcourt were both listed by Spokane during the 2009-10 Alberta Midget Hockey League season.

The Chiefs saw plenty of potential in the Red Deer products, both of whom were AMHL all-stars that winter, with Engel posting a 2.43 goals-against average and .913 save percentage and Valcourt potting 17 goals and recording 32 points in 30 games.

Engel played behind veteran James Reid during his rookie WHL season and came on strong during the second half when Reid was out with an injury.

With Reid’s graduation, Engel moved into the starter’s role this season and posted his 10th win of the current campaign on Wednesday while lowering his goals-against average to 2.82.

He sports a not-so-spectacular save percentage of .890, although the Chiefs have struggled big-time on the road this winter and are currently a mere shadow of the 2010-11 version that finished with 102 points.

“It’s going pretty well,” Engel allowed. “We’ve had our ups and downs on the road but we’re coming together as a team. We’re getting closer and closer every day.”

The 18-year-old has welcomed the so-called pressure of being the Chiefs’ top stopper.

“It’s actually a lot of fun. You get into a lot of games back to back and not just a game every couple of weeks,” he said. “It just feels good to be in there and to have that role of the go-to guy.”

After working with long-time Chiefs goaltender coach Dennis Sproxton of Red Deer last season, Engel now follows the advice of new goaltending tutor Ryan Cyr.

“Whenever he’s in Spokane we go on the ice together and work on certain little things that he notices while watching our games,” said Engel. “We try and work out the little kinks in my game and try to make me a better goalie. I know that it’s important for me to make sure that I’m on top of the crease, controlling rebounds and battling on every puck.”

A forward with an offensive flair while skating with the midget Optimist Rebels, Valcourt is a role player with the Chiefs.

“I’m a physical presence,” said the six-foot-two, 205-pound winger. “I go out there and play the body. I contribute offensively some games and in the others I’m just out there to play the body and help establish a forecheck.”

Valcourt’s offensive numbers are merely average for a second-year player — five goals and 11 points in 23 games, a far cry from his output as a midget player.

“Yeah, I was an offensive player at that level but I think everybody here (in the WHL) was, they were a presence every game in midget,” he said.

Stepping into a bang-and-crash role with Spokane was an easy adjustment for Valcourt.

“I’ve always played physical, that style has always been a part of my game,” explained the second-year Chief. “The scoring chances are still there for me, I just haven’t put them in like I did in midget. But then the goalies are a lot better at this level.”

Valcourt, like Engel, made his first appearance at the Centrium as a WHL player on Wednesday.

“It’s exciting, for sure,” said Valcourt prior to the game. “I tried to attend as many Rebels games as I could when I was younger. When you think of all the players I watched while growing up here . . . it’s really exciting to finally play at the Centrium.”

Valcourt has no idea of what his hockey future holds, but he at least knows that he has options.

“Any path it takes me . . . whether it be pro hockey or school, either way it should be good,” he said.

Engel noticed a new and improved mood with the Chiefs as they prepared for Wednesday’s contest, an indication — in his opinion — that the club was on the verge of accomplishing bigger and better things.

“This is definitely a really big road trip for us and a really big bonding experience for everyone,” he said.

Valcourt, who picked up an assist on Wednesday as the Chiefs improved to 1-1 on their six-game Central Division jaunt that continues tonight in Calgary, agreed.

“There’s a lot of excitement on this trip,” he said. “It’s nice to see. A lot of times we’re dead coming into the rink and today there was a lot more excitement coming in.”

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com