His physical dimensions are impressive; Riley Boomgaarden now has to refine his abilities.
Standing just a shade under six-foot-three and testing the scales at 210 pounds, it’s no surprise that the Red Deer Rebels prospect prefers to use his size to punish opposing forwards. But now that he’s closer to his goal of playing in the Western Hockey League, the big defenceman knows he has to continue to work on his skills in order to be productive at the major junior level.
“I like to play a physical game, for sure, and definitely my size helps with that. But there are things I have to work on,” the Grande Prairie product said on Tuesday, following a practice session at the Penhold Regional Multiplex. “It’s a never-ending process of just progressing in everything I do. I just have to continue adjusting to the speed.”
Boomgaarden lasted through Red Deer’s training camp and after appearing in both of the Rebels’ preseason games in St. Albert during the weekend, is one of 29 players remaining on the club’s roster.
The burly blueliner was a combined plus-2 and didn’t feel out of place in 6-3 and 5-3 losses to Prince George and Edmonton on Saturday and Sunday.
“I started off a little slow, but then I’m just getting into the groove of things. I felt a lot better towards the end of the games and I’ll be good to go from now on,” he said.
About a month after finishing his second season with the midget AAA Grande Prairie Storm, Boomgaarden was contacted by Rebels senior scout Shaun Sutter.
“Shaun talked to me this spring. I got a letter out of the blue and a couple of calls from him,” said Boomgaarden.
After scoring two goals, registering 19 points and racking up 95 penalty minutes in 28 games as the midget AAA Storm captain and eventual MVP last season, Boomgaarden also received training camp invitations from three other WHL teams.
“But Red Deer definitely showed the most interest and I was most interested in them because they were good about everything in regards to the phone calls and letters,” he said.
Boomgaarden played one game with the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior League last winter, but was determined to test his skills at a WHL camp this fall and hopefully beyond.
“This is a lot higher level and any hockey player wants to play at the highest level he can,” he stated. “Certainly it’s a bigger step coming here from midget triple A than it is to junior A.”
Even if he fails to make the grade with the Rebels this season, Boomgaarden won’t suit up with the AJHL Storm.
“I didn’t want to go that route if I was to play junior A. The Storm showed a lot of interest in me, but they also have a lot of players coming back so I signed with a team in Saskatchewan,” he said.
Indeed, Boomgaarden committed to playing with the Melfort Mustangs if his WHL plans are derailed.
“Talking to the coaches in Saskatchewan . . . they just seemed a lot more interested in me (as opposed to the Storm). I thought I’d have a bigger role to play there,” he said.
Boomgaarden, however, is intent on sticking with the Rebels.
“I’m confident that I can make it here, but there’s still a lot of stuff I have to work on,” he reiterated. “I’m just going to stick with it and continue to try hard and work hard.”
Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin is reasonably high on the rangy rearguard.
“He had a real good training camp and he fits in well as far as his age is concerned. He’s a younger guy who has a couple of years ahead of him,” said Wallin. “We like his size and he’s a guy who we feel has a lot of upside.
“He’s a big, strong guy who will be hard to play against, it’s just a matter of getting him up to this level and getting his feet moving and getting him up to pace. We think he’s a player who can help us now and certainly down the road as he continues to improve.”
The Rebels return to preseason action on Friday against the Calgary Hitmen at Winsport at Canada Olympic Park. Red Deer will then take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Innisfail.