To paraphrase a chorus from the old Canadian band Trooper, Riley Sheen was here for a good time, not a long time.
“There’s no better way of putting it,” the overage forward said Monday, as he and his Red Deer Rebels teammates said their goodbyes at the Enmax Centrium, less that 48 hours after being eliminated from the WHL playoffs.
“The experience I had here was nothing short of spectacular. Just another great group of guys to meet along the way and the coaching staff and everyone else was great to me. It’s a place I’ll call home for a long time.”
Sheen didn’t check into the Rebels dressing room until Dec. 1, when he was acquired from the Lethbridge Hurricanes. He was the Canes’ leading scorer at the time of the deal with three goals and 23 points in 27 games, and improved on those numbers with the Rebels, collecting 21 goals and 48 points in 44 regular-season outings and ending the season as the club’s top scorer with 24 goals and 71 points.
But his regular-season numbers didn’t equate to playoff success.
Sheen and his teammates struggled to generate offence and the Rebels bowed in five games to the Medicine Hat Tigers in an Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Outside of Game 4, in which the Tigers scored an empty-netter with one second remaining in a 5-3 win, each game was decided by a single goal.
“They ended up getting a couple of bounces in Games 1 and 2 and we didn’t,” said Sheen, in reference to 2-1 and 1-0 (overtime) series-opening losses at Medicine Hat. “Their goalie played well and so did our goalie down the stretch. If we ended up getting the bounce in overtime in Game 2 we come back to Red Deer 1-1 and we’re looking at a different playoff series. But I’ve been a part of a couple series like that and it’s just the way it goes.
“We as a group felt like we went out there and played as hard as we could. We just came up a little bit short.”
As Sheen noted, the club’s post-season failure had nothing to do with a lack of effort, nor a shortage of mental strength, something that continued to grow inside the dressing room even after captain Conner Bleackley went down with an injury that caused him to miss 19 games.
“Character-wise, the team has come a long way in the time I’ve been here,” said Sheen.
“The group in the dressing room has always been close, but there’s a few guys who just took real strong leadership roles.
“It was tough having Bleacks go down, he was our captain and he was down for quite awhile. When you miss your captain for that long things usually don’t end up as well as you would like. But I think our team came a long way and a lot of different guys stepped up.”
One of those players was assistant captain Brooks Maxwell, a fellow 20-year-old who wore a Rebels jersey for four seasons.
“It sure doesn’t feel like I’ve been here four years,” he said. “The time has flown by and I’ve loved everything about being here. It’s been my home for the last four years. It’s my second home, I love it here.”
Maxwell, a centre/right winger from Raymond, turned in a career year during his final winter with the Rebels, scoring 27 goals and garnering 59 points in 71 games. He was held pointless in the playoffs, but that didn’t erase his regular-season production.
“I kind of wanted to go out with a bang, go out on a high note,” he said. “I thought I had a great year, obviously the best year I’ve had offensively. I loved the guys I played with and it was just a great year all around.”
Brett Cote, the third graduating Rebel, was acquired from the Victoria Royals last summer and watched as the team added the likes of Sheen and defencemen Nelson Nogier and Colton Bobyk during the season.
“A lot of new faces came in, a lot of new guys,” said the overage rearguard. “I had a lot of fun this year and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play with.
“I loved it here. Leaving somewhere (Victoria) where I had been for three years was kind of tough, but I couldn’t have asked for a better place to come.”
Cote was hands-down the Rebels’ best blueliner through the first half of the season. His play fell off a bit over the final two months but he was still a valuable member of the squad.
“I wanted to be more consistent, but yeah, I thought I had a pretty good year,” he said.
The Rebels were barely inferior to an older Tigers team in what easily could have been a seven-game series. Cote sees better things ahead for his final WHL team, which will host the Memorial Cup tournament next spring.
“This team is headed in the right direction and it will be fun watching them,” he said.
The Rebels defensive corps, in particular, should be a force during the 2015-16 season.
“They have some really good guys back there, some good hockey players,” said Cote. “I’ll be keeping in touch and watching them along the way.”
The Oakbank, Man., native is leaning towards attending and playing at a Canadian university next season.
“The WHL scholarship is a very good option, I’ll probably use that,” he said. “I have no idea where, but I’ve been getting some calls.”
Neither Maxwell nor Sheen have made definite plans for the 2015-16 campaign.
“I have to sort it out,” said Maxwell. “I’ll wait and see if some (pro) teams call, if not there’s always school as a option. I have some decisions to make and hopefully I’ll get some help in the next couple of weeks.”
Sheen isn’t in a hurry to forge his plans for next season.
“I’ll let it figure itself out. I’m not going to come out and say I have a plan right now, because I don’t,” he said. “I’d like to keep my options open, but right now I’m just trying to enjoy this time with my buddies.
“This is a last chance for that. I’m excited about what lies ahead but right now I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.”