The Red Deer Rebels will be short one veteran player when training camp opens Aug. 21 at the Enmax Centrium.
Forward Vukie Mpofu informed Rebels general manager/head coach Brent Sutter last week that he has given up on his hockey career and will instead pursue a business and marketing degree at the University of Saskatchewan while chasing his dream of becoming a lawyer.
“He called me and told me he’d thought about it all summer and that his goal was to attend law school,” Sutter said Tuesday. “He felt it was important for him to start his schooling now (at the U of S) and then in four years enrol in law school in Toronto.”
Sutter said Mpofu was firm with his decision.
“I told him that he’s young and that he had to think about it, but he said he had his mind made up, that he’d talked to his mom and dad about it and they supported his decision,” said Sutter.
The Rebels boss wasn’t necessarily surprised by the turn of events.
“I don’t know how driven he was to be a hockey player and I told him that over the phone . . . that if his heart wasn’t in it then it was better to move on to school,” said Sutter.
“I kind of had a feeling that something was up at the end of the season. After he got hurt he never had the same drive. His emotion for the game wasn’t the same when he came back and at our year-end meeting I had a feeling he really wasn’t all in to being a player.”
Mpofu suffered a lower back injury last season and was out for an extended period of time.
“When he came back he just never had that passion and drive in the last half of the year that you need to develop and get better,” said Sutter, who is fully supportive of the Saskatoon native’s decision.
“I fully respect his decision. If he wants to be a lawyer, I support that 100 per cent, I totally back him on it,” said the GM/coach. “You should never have to push or pressure players into playing. They either want to play or they don’t.”
Reached later Tuesday, Mpofu confirmed that his judgement was steadfast.
“I’ve had everything I could have ever asked for out of hockey and I’m at a point in my life — now that I’m out of high school — that every decision I make from here on in should be building toward my long-term goals and where I would eventually like to see myself in five to 10 years. That’s pretty much the basis of my decision,” he said.
“Hockey was a lot of fun for me, but I had to make a decision now for my future.”
Mpofu, 18, scored nine goals and collected 15 points in 65 games last winter, his first and apparently last season with the Rebels.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” the former Saskatchewan Midget AAA League scoring champion said of his rookie WHL campaign.
“I really enjoyed Red Deer, really loved the guys on the team and I was fortunate enough to have unbelievable billets.
“Red Deer is such a supportive city and such a good hockey town. I really loved Red Deer and playing there is something I’ll miss. I’ll be following the team and definitely be watching them when they come here (Saskatoon). It was just time for me to make that tough decision.”