If they’re both back in Red Deer next year, they’ll be disappointed.
Red Deer Rebels stars Haydn Fleury and Conner Bleackley were selected in the first round of June’s NHL entry draft — seventh overall to Carolina and 23rd to Colorado — and both attended their first professional training camps last month.
Both, of course, are back with the Rebels and will be in the lineup tonight against the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers, but both have their sights set on playing in The Show as early as next year.
So, yes, they’ll be somewhat disjointed if they’re reassigned to the Rebels two years in succession, but shattered? Hardly, not with the Rebels already set up as hosts of the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament.
“That will be my goal — to not be back in Red Deer next year,” Fleury said Thursday, following a press conference at Westerner Park that followed Wednesday’s Memorial Cup announcement.
“But if I do get sent back I know I’ll be playing for something real big. It will make it that much easier knowing we’ll be playing for something next season.
“Plus, we’ll have a good team. Brent (Rebels GM/head coach Sutter) will make sure of that.”
Bleackley feels he’ll be a winner no matter the scenario.
“For me, it’s definitely a win-win,” he said. “I can either play in the National Hockey League or be back here with an very competitive team and the opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup.
“Either way you look at it, it’s going to be good for myself.”
Fleury and Bleackley are excited about the notion of playing in major junior hockey’s championship event a year and a half down the road and their younger teammates will undoubtedly embrace the opportunity as well.
“We have lots of guys in their draft year this season and realistically a bunch of them, if they have a good year, could get drafted and that would just create more of a vibe around our team that we could carry into next season,” said Fleury.
As the Rebels’ top defenceman and forward, Fleury and Bleackley are two players at the centre of a core that includes the likes of 17-year-old forwards Adam Musil and 16-year-old defenceman Josh Mahura, along with rookie forward Jeff de Wit.
The lure of performing in the Memorial Cup tournament might also result in top-end American forwards Austin Pratt and Grant Mismash joining the team for the 2015-16 season. The Rebels feel good about their chances of landing Pratt, but prior to Wednesday’s announcement were not convinced that Mismash will head north.
“Brent has been pushing for this ever since I’ve been here and it’s definitely an exciting time for not only the organization but the whole city of Red Deer and Central Alberta,” said Bleackley.
The Rebels will host the Brandon Wheat Kings Saturday night and next week will welcome the Victoria Royals to the Centrium for a Tuesday game.
The Rebels will then head east on a two-game trip that will include stops in Saskatoon and Prince Albert Oct. 17 and 18.