Call him a late bloomer.
Or, at least, a late arrival.
Brad Deagle attended his fourth Red Deer Rebels training camp last fall, knowing full well that he was running out of time to earn regular employment with the Western Hockey League club.
At the age of 18, he had already played two seasons of junior hockey, albeit with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL.
So for Deagle, it was now (then) or never regarding his major junior hopes.
“I knew for sure that it would be my last chance to show the coaches here what I have. I had to make the most of it,” he said Monday at the Centrium, prior to a practice session leading into tonight’s 7 p.m. clash with the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers.
Flash forward five months and Deagle is a dependable defenceman with one of the WHL’s top teams. He credits his off-season training regimen with helping him secure a berth on the Red Deer blueline.
“I trained a lot harder last summer because I knew how important that would be coming into training camp,” he said. “I worked really hard and put in lot of time in the gym.”
As well as lifting weights, the Lethbridge product engaged in wind sprints and flipping a 250-pound tire.
“When I came to camp I was in the best shape ever. I felt great,” he said.
When camp broke and the preseason schedule opened, Deagle was very much in the mix and increased his chances of making the team with an impressive showing during the exhibition games. As it turned out, he played his way onto the regular-season roster.
“Brad has probably been our most pleasant surprise and that’s saying a lot considering a guy like John Persson has probably produced more and taken a bigger step this season than we thought he would,” said Rebels head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin.
“Going into the season and looking at our depth chart, Brad wasn’t a guy that I could say we expected to make our team.
“We wanted to give him the opportunity, but based on what we saw last season and where he was at, we certainly didn’t have him pencilled into the lineup.
“But he came in and had a very good training camp and really just worked his way into a spot.
“Deags has really stepped in there and been a solid guy for us.
“He’s not flashy, but he’s always in good position and he makes the simple play.”
While he notched five goals and collected 21 points in 52 games with Brooks last winter, Deagle isn’t a true offensive defenceman.
“He has yet to score his first WHL goal, although he does have nine assists to his credit.
“I’m focusing more on certain things this season, like good gap control. I think I’ve changed my game quite a bit,” he said. “For sure, I feel stronger defensively. But I can also thank the coaches here, because they’ve helped me a lot. They’ve shown me how to do the right things out there.
“I try to take care of my own end and make that first pass to get the puck up the ice.”
Deagle appeared in five games with the Rebels last season as an emergency call-up. One year later, Wallin sees one major improvement in the six-foot, 187-pound rearguard.
“The thing that has allowed him to play this year is he’s just gotten quicker,” said Wallin. “Last year he was a half step behind, a half second late getting to the puck and making the play.
“The pace just seemed to be a little tough for him and a year of junior A last year at 17 really helped him prepare for this season.”
As a Rebels rookie, every day is a good day for Deagle, who will celebrate his 19th birthday in March.
“It’s been an awesome season. We’re a really close team and have been playing really well together,” he said. “Personally, I feel like I’m improving all the time . . . getting better every day.”
Notes: Defenceman Alex Petrovic will return to the lineup tonight after missing Friday’s 8-1 win over Moose Jaw due to a possible concussion. Petrovic left last Wednesday’s game in Prince Albert (a 7-4 win) after taking a sucker punch from Raiders six-foot-four forward Austin Connor, who has since been suspended three games for the offence by the league office. “We kept him out of the Friday game as more of a precautionary thing,” said Wallin. “He woke up Saturday and felt great, then skated yesterday and said he’s 100 per cent. Barring any kind of setback, we expect him to play (tonight).” . . . Tonight’s game will be televised by Shaw.