They came, they played, they left.
And they won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Defencemen Justin Weller and Aaron Borejko and netminder Deven Dubyk walked away from the Red Deer Rebels’ dressing room for the last time Sunday as the club’s three 20-year-old graduating players.
Among the trio of veterans, Weller has seniority having played four years in Red Deer, albiet two of them being injury-riddled.
The Daysland product appeared in only 39 games this winter after enduring a season-ending wrist injury in early January.
The rugged, six-foot-three, 210-pound rearguard was a major part of the Rebels’ blueline and his services were dearly missed through the last two and a half months of the season.
“I thought I was real consistent, right up to the time of my injury I was playing the best hockey of my career,” he said.
“It was disappointing that my season had to end that way, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. The team, as a whole, had terrible luck with injuries this season.”
Weller was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009 and signed with the NHL club last year.
But because his cast won’t be removed until next week and he will then face a good month of rehab, he won’t play in the Coyotes’ organization until next season.
“I’ll go to their camp in early September and take it from there,” said Weller.
“I’d like to stick with the big club, but being realistic I’ll probably be with their AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.”
Weller played all four years under head coach Jesse Wallin, who watched the big blueliner develop from a gangly kid into a physical force.
“That’s the rewarding part of this job. I’ve been in it long enough now have that I’ve had the opportunity to see a cycle of players go through,” said Wallin. “These guys come in as boys and to see them grow and develop and turn into men is pretty rewarding.
“I look at Wellsey. He came in at 16 as a scrawny, bull-legged guy. He’s come a long way in his time here. He spent some time in junior A when he was 16, he got his legs under him and came in and finished the year with us. Then he came back at 17 and had a challenging year. He broke his wrist and missed a lot of time that season.”
Weller started to come into his own during his second full WHL season, as an 18-year-old.
“He really took a step forward that season when he learned the importance of conditioning,” said Wallin.
“He took his conditioning to another level and that’s when his game really began to come around.
“He had a big year for us last year and again this season and it was an unfortunate turn for him to have the season-ending wrist injury. To that point he was a horse for us. He’s not a guy who is naturally-gifted with the puck, but he’s a first-pass guy who has a real big shot from the point. Plus, he really excels in his own end. He’s a punishing guy who is imposing to play against. He’s also a real good penalty killer and just a real solid guy to have on your team.”
Borejko was another steady Red Deer defenceman. Acquired from the Kelowna Rockets early in the 2009-10 season, the five-foot-11, 200-pound Edmonton native developed nicely into a reliable, shut-down defender, however he suffered his second concussion of the season Feb. 3 and never returned.
“I wanted to have a solid season and as a team we had high expectations for the year. But we had so many injuries and for me it’s really difficult to be going out this way,” said Borejko, who was limited to 32 games in his final season.
“Getting traded here from Kelowna was a great thing for me. I had the opportunity to come into a first-class organization with a ton of great guys and play in front of these fans. The fan support was terrific. I had a great couple of years here and I’m sad to have it all behind me.”
Borejko still hasn’t recovered from the latest concussion and as a result is not sure if he’ll suit up the Ooks hockey team in the fall while attending NAIT, where he’ll be enrolled in the power engineering program.
Borejko will be remembered by Wallin as a stabilizing presence who often flew under the radar.
“He’s a guy who could have been a candidate for our most under-rated player this season,” said the Rebels bench boss. “Aaron was just a steady guy for us, not a guy who you noticed and he wasn’t on the scoresheet most nights. He wasn’t a guy who was flashy. When you noticed him the most was when he was out of your lineup. He’s a guy who played a lot of minutes, especially the last two years, and we were comfortable having him on the ice against anybody.”
Dubyk was a sight for sore eyes when he joined the Rebels in mid-December as an emergency replacement for No. 1 netminder Patrik Bartosak, who had suffered a season-ending shoulder injury a week earlier.
“Bolton (back-up netminder Pouliot) didn’t have a lot of experience yet and he wasn’t playing with a lot of confidence at the time,” said Wallin. “We needed an experienced guy and were fortunate that Dubey was available. Outside of a few games, he gave us a chance to win every night. He was thankful for the opportunity that presented itself and he came in and did his best to take advantage of it.”
Dubyk played two seasons in Medicine Hat as the back-up to Tyler Bunz and Wallin had seen enough of the Minitonas, Man. native — particularly when he stole two games for the Tigers versus the Rebels early in the 2010-11 season — to realize that he could be effective as a starter.
Dubyk opened the 2011-12 campaign with the Moose Jaw Warriors, but was released and joined the Humboldt Broncos of the SJHL, who will host the Royal Bank Cup — the national junior A championship tournament — this spring.
“None at all,” he said, when asked if he has any regrets regarding his departure from Humboldt. “This was the best choice for me hockey-wise. Humboldt has a great organization but I decided to come here and it’s been the best time I’ve had in this league. I’m just glad to have been a part of the Red Deer Rebels organization.”
Dubyk, who is leaning towards playing at the Canadian university level in the near future, had anticipated having a longer run with the Rebels. But the club’s ridiculous run of injuries decided otherwise.
“No one was expecting this, but life goes on and you just have to live with it,” he said. “I had a great time here and I’d like to thank the Red Deer fans before being supportive, especially after our last game (Saturday’s 7-3 loss to Edmonton at the Centrium). My emotions caught up to me during that game and I didn’t give my best performance.”