He played an aggressive, hard-hitting style during his first three years in the Western Hockey League, but Aspen Sterzer has apparently lost the passion to play at the major junior level.
The 20-year-old forward failed to register for the Red Deer Rebels training camp Wednesday and has told general manager/head coach Brent Sutter that he’s decided to fulfill a promise to his parents and pursue an education.
“He hasn’t reported,” said Sutter, who isn’t closing the book on the energetic, five-foot-11, 187-pound product of Canal Flats, B.C., just yet. “We’ll stay patient with it and see what happens, but during my conversation with him he said he just didn’t feel he has the passion to play any more.
“He made that commitment to his family, to his mom and dad, that if he wasn’t at the pro level after his 19-year-old year that he would go to school.”
Sterzer enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2013-14, scoring 17 goals and collecting 32 points in 40 games with the Kamloops Blazers, and then contributing 12 goals and 21 points in 30 games with the Rebels after being acquired in a Jan. 10 trade that saw Sutter ship 19-year-old forward Matt Bellerive and a third-round bantam draft pick to Kamloops.
All along, Sutter had no reason to believe Sterzer wouldn’t be back in Red Deer as an overage WHL player.
“For us, it was disappointing. It caught us off guard,” said Sutter. “We didn’t expect it after our year-end exit meetings. He kept in contact with our coaches through the summer and was doing the conditioning stuff that was required of him.
“Then all of a sudden he changed his mind.”
The Rebels boss, however, won’t be losing any sleep over Sterzer’s absence from training camp this week. He lumps Sterzer in with any number of proven players who have decided to step away from the major junior game.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what they say, what the reasons are,” he said.
“The bottom line is they just don’t want to put in the time and effort and the commitment you truly have to make to play at this level.
“If the interest and passion isn’t there, then they shouldn’t do it. You’re wasting time doing something you really don’t want to be doing.”
Sterzer was unavailable for comment. His absence leaves the Rebels with three 20-year-olds in forward Brooks Maxwell and defencemen Brett Cote and Devan Fafard.