A handful of the patrons taking in the Western Hockey League playoff games Friday and Saturday at the Centrium will one day be playing for the home team.
Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter welcomed goaltender Taz Burman and forward Adam Musil to the Centrium Wednesday and today will bring in another 13 prospects, most of them already signed to WHL education contracts.
“These are kids who are done playing for the season. This (visit) will give them the opportunity to see a couple of games here and experience the intensity of the playoffs,” said Sutter, who this week has been preparing his club’s for Friday’s opening game of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final versus the Prince Albert Raiders.
“We’ll also get them to see (trainer) Al Parada at Can Pro (Athletics) and get them started on some conditioning programs for the summer.”
With the exception of Jake MacLachlan, who played junior B hockey this winter with his hometown Fernie Ghostriders, the blueline prospects coming in today played at the midget AAA level. That group includes Holden Daley (Edmonton CAC), Austin Strand (Calgary Northstars) and Austin Shmoorkoff (Edmonton CAC).
The forward prospects, along with goaltender Grant Naherniak (Moose Jaw Generals), all played midget AAA hockey this season. The contingent includes Matt Lapointe (Edmonton K of C), Cole Chorney (Edmonton Maple Leafs), Earl Webb (Calgary Buffaloes), Lynnden Pastachak (Yorkton Harvest), Meyer Nell (Southwest Cougars of Manitoba), Mason McCarty (UFA Bisons), Brayden Burke (Edmonton CAC) and Grayson Pawlenchuk (Sherwood Park Kings).
Three other top prospects, including forward Vukie Mpofu (Saskatoon Contacts) and defenceman Kaleb Denham (Red Deer Optimist), both of whom are expected to be on the Rebels’ roster as 17-year-olds next season, are still playing, as is defenceman Connor Hamonic (Winnipeg Wild).
Burman and Musil, who were with the major midget Greater Vancouver Canadians this season, will stay with the Rebels through the playoffs, while the rest of the group will head home Sunday.
“These kids won’t be practising with us, but we have some extra ice here at the Centrium and they’ll skate on their own the next few days,” said Sutter.
Musil is already pencilled in as a Rebels regular next season and fellow 16-year-old Burman will get every opportunity to take on the club’s back-up role. Besides Mpofu and Denham, the other front-runners among the incoming group expected to at least push for regular employment next fall are Pastachak, Chorney and perhaps Daley and/or Hamonic.
“We’ll make room for some of these guys because it’s important for the progression of the team, of what we want to do here and what type of team we want to have,” said Sutter. “We’ve worked extra hard to get to where we are, but as a general manager I have to be able to identify what we need to do moving forward.
“We need to add more size and skill to our team and some of these kids bring those elements. But we want them in situations where they can develop properly. We won’t put them into situations where they can fail.”
In other words, there will be no extra pressure placed upon the youngsters to make the club for the 2013-14 season.
“It will just come down to who is ready and who isn’t. But they should all be ready to push,” said Sutter.
l The Regina Pats moved up a maximum two spots in Wednesday’s WHL bantam draft lottery involving the six non-playoff teams.
The Pats moved from fourth to second and will have a shot at one of the two most prized prospects for this year’s draft — forward Tyler Benson of Edmonton and defenceman Kale Clague of Lloydminster.
The Vancouver Giants, who had the worst record in the WHL this season, ended up with the first-overall pick. Regina was followed by the Prince George Cougars, Brandon Wheat Kings, Moose Jaw Warriors and Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The 2013 WHL bantam draft is May 2 in Calgary.
l The start time for Game 5 of the Rebels/Raiders series at the Centrium — if the game is required — has been changed from 7:30 to 8 p.m. to accommodate Rogers Sportsnet, who will televise the contest.
The Rebels/Raiders first-round playoff schedule:
Friday: Prince Albert at Red Deer, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday: Prince Albert at Red Deer, 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday, March 26: Red Deer at Prince Albert, 7 p.m.; Wednesday, March 27: Red Deer at Prince Albert, 7 p.m.; Friday, March 29 (if necessary): Prince Albert at Red Deer, 8 p.m.; Sunday, March 31 (if necessary): Red Deer at Prince Albert, 7 p.m.; Tuesday, April 2 (if necessary): Prince Albert at Red Deer, 7 p.m.