As UFC Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer would bellow with drawn-out emphasis: “IT’S TIME!”
Jordan DePape might not be quite that excited over the prospect of making his Red Deer Rebels debut Friday against the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings, but he’s plenty pumped all the same.
“I’m been looking at this date for awhile and I couldn’t be more excited to finally throw on the jersey and get into a game,” the 20-year-old winger said Tuesday.
The Winnipeg product underwent shoulder surgery — his second such procedure within a year — in November and was added to the Rebels roster at the Western Hockey League trade deadline. DePape had earlier left the Kamloops Blazers, believing that he would never recover from surgery in time to play again this season, but the fact he was able to have the operation shortly after arriving back home made his return possible.
DePape arrived in Red Deer in early February and has been preparing for his first game as a Rebel ever since.
“I feel really good. I’m been working really hard, especially for the last month here with the bag skates, the workouts and the rehabs,” he said. “I don’t think I could be more ready. I think this is going to be a big week of practice, just to get some timing and some structure back.”
The six-foot, 195-pound veteran scored 21 goals and collected 48 points in 54 games with the Blazers in 2010-11 and returned from shoulder surgery late last season to garner six goals and 14 points in 14 outings and then seven goals and 13 points in 15 playoff games.
DePape just recently resumed contact in practice. But the plan all along was to get him into a couple of games prior to the playoffs, so he’s right on schedule.
“I’ll progressively do more (physical contact) in practice this week and also do some extra battle stuff after practice just to get used to it,” he said. “I think a lot of it is just the mental part, where I have to tell myself that it’s going to be OK and then go from there.”
That part shouldn’t be a problem, considering DePape knows all about returning from shoulder surgery.
“I’m 20 now and I’ve been through some pretty important games and some comeback games like last year when I got back from surgery. I kind of know what it’s all about,” he said. “I’m going to have to keep the nerves under control, because I’m sure there will be a few. But I have to bring it all together pretty quickly with playoffs right around the corner.”
DePape had Tyson Ness and Wyatt Johnson as his linemates during Tuesday’s practice session and will likely skate alongside the pair Friday as well as Saturday in Edmonton, when both the Rebels and Oil Kings will conclude their regular season.
DePape has been an interested observer during Rebels games over the past month and has enjoyed the view. In fact, he was confident Red Deer would be a post-season team even before he committed to the club.
“If I didn’t think this team would be a contender I wouldn’t have bothered, especially with all the work involved in coming back,” he said. “But I really wanted to play hockey again this season and I’m super happy to be in Red Deer and I feel we can go deep in the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of talent and depth on this team with a good D core and obviously a great goalie. You put that all together and you have a pretty good team. The compete level is always there, it’s a hard-working team. That first round is going to be nerve-wracking and exciting, but you get past there and anything can happen.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said DePape will likely get an extensive workload — including special teams duty — this weekend.
“He’s been fine in practices but obviously we need to get him into games. He’s been out a long time but he’s going to get thrown to the wolves here,” said Sutter. “We’ll put him in a lot of different situations this weekend and hopefully get him as ready as we possibly can for the playoffs.”
The Rebels clinched fourth place in the Eastern Conference last weekend and will open a best-of-seven quarter-final series March 22 at the Centrium. Their opponent has yet to be determined.