Red Deer Rebels second-year forward Conner Bleackley is confident that one step back will lead to two steps forward.
Although he failed to make the cut at the Canadian under-18 team selection camp in Toronto in July, Bleackley is determined that he’ll prosper from the experience and be a better player during the 2013-14 Western Hockey League season.
“The (national U18) camp was a measuring stick for me, playing against all the top guys my age,” he said following a training camp scrimmage Tuesday at the Centrium. “Obviously getting cut was disappointing, but at the same time I can’t dwell on it for too long. I have to learn from it and see where I need to be. The under-18 team coaches gave me some things to improve on so that’s something I’m going to continue to work on throughout the season.”
Bleackley was a standout in camp Tuesday, a sign that he was clearly industrious in the gym and on the ice during the summer.
“Mostly I was just trying to lean down and get quicker,” said the 17-year-old, who changed his physical look and improved his speed. “I wanted to get faster with my first few strides as well as laterally, and I think I really did that. I can feel it out there . . . just not getting fatigued as fast and kind of being able to get those quick first three strides. I think it will help me in sustaining a 72-game schedule.”
The six-foot, 195-pound centre enjoyed a fine rookie season with nine goals and 18 points. But, as he pointed out, he’s no longer a freshman and is now harbouring much larger expectations of himself.
“Last year there’s wasn’t much pressure, but this year I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform well and be a leader,” he said. “Now that I’ve been around the league for awhile it’s kind of my role to help out the younger guys.”
Bleackley was one of the better players on the ice during the Tuesday afternoon scrimmage, scoring once to help Team White secure a 5-3 win over Team Black.
“It was a good first day and it nice to see all the guys again,” he said. “Everybody looks like they’re excited to be here and it’s going to be a good year.”
l Prospective 17-year-old rookie Vukie Mpofu, the reigning Saskatchewan Midget AAA League scoring champion, potted two goals for Team White in the afternoon win, as did 16-year-old forward prospect Meyer Nell. Brady Gaudet, Dominik Volek and Riley Boomgaarden replied for Team Black.
Earlier, Team Burgundy, with Rhyse Dieno and Tanner Laderoute sniping regulation-time goals, defeated Team White 3-2 in a shootout. Replying for White were Wyatt Johnson and 15-year-old Jeff de Wit.
In the evening contest, Lukas Sutter and Brooks Maxwell each potted a pair of goals to give Team Burgundy a 4-2 win over Team Black, which got goals from Brady Gaudet and Earl Webb.
Patrik Bartosak didn’t give up a goal during the two contests, while Bolton Pouliot surrendered three, Taz Burman and Rylan Toth each allowed two, Colby Entz gave up four and Grant Naherniak was touched for seven goals.
• Twelve players were reassigned following Tuesday’s action, leaving 47 players remaining in camp. That number will be reduced by five to seven players today in preparation for the Black and White game at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Reassigned Tuesday were 15-year-old defencemen Cale Chalifoux of Edmonton and Max Salpeter of St. Albert, 15-year-old netminder Colby Entz of Churchbridge, Sask., and 15-year-old forwards Regan Doig of Hanna, Reese Johnson of Saskatoon, Josh Logel of Calgary, Caleb Reiss of Rocanville, Sask., and Tyler Kirkup of Virden, Man.; 16-year-old defencemen Brett Hamer of Calgary and Keenan Lugt of Buena Vista, Sask., and forward Bryson Traptow of Calgary, 16, and 17-year-old rearguard Connor Hamonic of Winnipeg.
Today’s schedule features practice sessions at 9 and 10:30 a.m., with a Black and White preview set for 5:30 p.m.