Getting traded for the first time is always a shock, but one couldn’t blame Kolton Dixon if he had a bit of a smile on his face after it was announced he was traded to the Red Deer Rebels by the Victoria Royals early in the Western Hockey League season.
“It was definitely a bit of a shock, but having grown up here, and playing all my minor hockey here, it was also a dream come true (to come back home),” said the 18-year-old defenceman. “It’s been a great experience so far, being close to my family and friends.”
And having his friends and family in the crowd has been anything but nerve-racking.
“It makes it more enjoyable,” he said “You don’t realize what you take for granted until you move away and are 14 hours from home. This is my first experience in the league playing in front of my family and it’s a cool experience, few get to experience.”
Dixon came up through the Red Deer minor hockey system, finishing with the Telus Cup champion Red Deer Optimist Rebels in 2012.
“That year with the midgets was huge in my development in that you learn what it takes to be a champion and the work you have to put into it,” he said. “We played for eight months and you get a perspective on what it’s like at the next level. The pace of play improved each round through the playoffs and into the Telus Cup. It was close to junior and it helped me a lot in making the move up.”
Playing in the final where Red Deer overcame a 5-1 deficit in the third period to win in overtime, didn’t hurt either.
“Not at all. I remember sitting in the room after the second period and the guys had their heads down. Coach Doug (Quinn) came in and total us that we made it this far and to go out and leave everything on the ice and we were able to do that.
“That (period) summed up our season in that we didn’t stop working all year and it paid off in the end,” added Dixon.
The next season he joined the Royals, playing 39 games with the WHL club and picking up two assists. He also played 13 games with the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, scoring twice and adding one helper.
“I was with Victoria until the second week of November when we made our road trip to Alberta. After the game in Lethbridge they had eight D men and sent me down to Okotoks,” explained the six-foot-five, 190-pound Dixon. “I played 13 games and Victoria called me back up on Boxing Day and I stayed there the rest of the year.”
Instead of feeling sorry for himself being sent down, Dixon used the time in Okotoks to work on his game.
“It was beneficial in that I got a chance to develop at a bit of a slower pace and I was able to think things through and when I got called up again I was able to take that with me.”
He played just four games with the Royals this season before the Rebels picked him up for a conditional draft pick in either 2014 or 15.
He’s played 26 games with the Rebels.
“I’ve learned a lot under Brent (Sutter),” he said. “His knowledge of the game has improved my game and my style of play. I’ve had more opportunity here, which also helps improve my game on the ice and with the off-ice training.”
Dixon, who had one assist before leaving Victoria and three helpers with the Rebels, sees himself as a stay-at-home defenceman.
“It’s important to get the job done in my zone and let the offence take care of itself,” he said. “I like to think I play with a bit of grit and want to be someone the forwards don’t like to line up against.”
Dixon is part of a young defensive core, which can be good or bad.
“Some nights are tougher for us while others it seems to be easier as we learn together,” he said. “We learn from each other’s mistakes and for the most part we have a strong young group and are making positive strides.”
Rebels associate coach, Jeff Truitt, sees that in Dixon.
“In the last month we’ve seen great strides in his positional play and calmness and awareness on the ice,” he said. “He’s a great communicator and takes charge. He still has a ways to go, but there’s a lot positive strides.”
Having played with a strong midget program certainly didn’t hurt.
“Any time you come from a good program you get a good foundation,” added Truitt. “He has the stature and is aggressive, something you can’t always teach. But at each level we like to think you can always teach a bit more.”
The Rebels return to action tonight after the Christmas break as they host the Calgary Hitmen at 7 p.m. at the Centrium. They go into the game, riding a three-game winning streak, despite playing without seven forwards. They will be without two players who are at the World U17 Challenge in Cape Breton, N.S., as Adam Musil is with Team Pacific and Meyer Nell with Team West. Dominik Volek is also with the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship.
The Rebels do hope to get some of their injured players back as Matt Bellerive, Rhyse Dieno, Brooks Maxwell, Grayson Pawlenchuk, Christian Stockl and Preston Kopeck were all on the injured list.
“Some of the guys are starting to come back, although we won’t know for sure until after they have a full contact practice (Thursday),” said Truitt. “We’ll know more tomorrow morning.”
Scott Feser will remain with the team as will Earl Webb.