LEDUC — As Red Deer Rebels draft picks, Vukie Mpofu and Rod Southam are studiously working toward their goal of one day suiting up with the Western Hockey League club.
And as members of the midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts, the pair of prospects are working overtime.
As Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League champions, the Contacts went on to capture the Western Regional title — emerging from a field that included the powerhouse and favoured Winnipeg Wild — and earned a berth in the Telus Cup tournament, the Canadian championship.
Mpofu and Southam played a regular shift with the Contacts in Monday’s Telus Cup opener — a 2-2 draw with the Red Deer Optimist Rebels in which the Saskatoon squad was outshot 40-14 — and later admitted that they are better players for spending a full season and then some chasing the big midget AAA prize.
“It’s been a long grind. Winning provincials was tough, we had a tough four-game series with Prince Albert in our league final and I think a lot of us younger guys on the team grew a lot,” said Mpofu, a defenceman and one of 11 1996-born players on the Saskatoon roster.
“Then we were down 3-0 after the first period at regionals and managed to come back and get a 3-3 tie (with the Wild) and carried that momentum through the rest of the tournament. So not only myself, but a lot of our young players grew a lot.
“The intensity of the games and the level of competition that we faced got us really ready to maybe make the jump to the WHL next season. And now we’re playing against the best in the country.”
Mpofu, who checks in at a mere five-foot-nine and 165 pounds, is an offensive-minded rearguard who scored seven goals and collected 19 points in 43 regular-season games and added two goals and four assists in 17 playoff outings.
The smallish defenceman admitted that he kept in touch with the Rebels through his first season at the midget AAA level.
“I talked to Randy Peterson (Rebels director of scouting/player development) a couple of times when he came out to watch me play in Regina and Saskatoon,” said Mpofu. “I talked with him about the little things I can work on to get ready to play at the next level, shoulder checking and that type of thing . . . it’s just the little details that I need to focus on.”
Contacts head coach Marc Chartier described Mpofu as an up-and-comer with a great work ethic.
“Vukie has played well for us, we’ve had him with our program in Saskatoon — the Junior Blades — since he was a kid,” said the Contacts bench boss.
“He’s played well all year. He’s one of 11 15-year-olds in our lineup who competes hard every night.”
Chartier had similar words of praise for Southam, a five-foot-10, 170-pound forward.
“Rod competes every night, he plays hard every game,” said Chartier. “It doesn’t matter who we’re up against, he’s there all the time.”
Southam, a sixth-round pick in last year’s WHL bantam draft, is feeling closer to playing at the WHL level than he did one year ago.
“I’m bigger and stronger and a little quicker on my feet. Playing against bigger and stronger guys in triple A midget really helped me this season,” he said.
“The long playoff run has helped, too. I’m on the ice a lot more and that definitely has helped. Playing with a top team has been a big plus and now we’re up against the top teams in Canada . . . it can’t get any better than that.”
Southam was productive during the regular season, potting 12 goals and adding 11 helpers in 43 games.
His offensive output has slipped in the post-season; he has just a single helper in 17 contests.
The Saskatoon native was a big-time scorer at the major bantam level and has another side to his game as his 93 minutes in penalties during the regular season would attest.
“I like to hit, use the body and be a physical presence out there,” he said.
While Mpofu —taken in the fourth round of the 2011 bantam draft — at least expressed a measure of confidence in regards to his chances of cracking the Rebels lineup next fall, Southam was more hesitant when discussing his prospects.
“My expectations aren’t high. The players at that level and that much bigger and stronger,” he said. “All you can do is go to camp and give it all you’ve got every skate, every workout.”