As Tyler Sandhu was en route to Red Deer Tuesday after departing a flight from British Columbia, he gazed upon combined crop fields instead of the waters of Possession Sound that lap the shores of Everett, Wash.
Now that’s truly a change of scenery, and precisely what the 18-year-old winger is hoping will help him rediscover the offensive touch that produced 19 goals as a Western Hockey League rookie two seasons ago.
Sandhu met his new teammates just 24 hours after Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter acquired the product of Richmond, B.C., from the Silvertips Monday in exchange for a pair of fourth-round WHL bantam draft picks. He was brought in to add more offensive punch to the 3-7-1-0 Rebels, who have averaged three goals per game to this point in the season.
Sandhu is a proven talent, having produced 19 goals and 33 points during the 2012-13 season and 13 goals and 30 points during an injury-shortened 2013-14 campaign. He started this season on the ‘Tips’ fourth line and had one goal in nine games, but Sutter is banking on Sandhu returning to his previous form in short order and then performing at an even greater rate of success over the next two years.
The newest Rebel is pleased with the transaction and is anxious to prove that he can be at least an occasional difference-maker.
“I’m happy and excited about being in Red Deer,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about the team and of course they’re hosting the Memorial Cup (in 2016). That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a player. I’m excited to be here and I just want to help the team win some games.”
Sandhu took the high road out of Everett, praising the Silvertips organization and bench boss Kevin Constantine, even though he and his former head coach clearly weren’t on the same page this season.
“Kevin is a great coach, he’s taught me a lot of things,” said Sandhu. “At times my style of play wasn’t what he liked, but he’s obviously a great coach. I’m just ready for a new start here, a new opportunity to bring my game and help out the team.
“I have a lot of work to do obviously. I just want to work hard in practice and just keep going and hopefully that touch returns.”
Sandhu doesn’t know much about his new team, but recognizes some of the names on the roster.
“I’ve seen the lineup and I think we can be a good team with a little work,” he said. “Brent told me I have to come in with the right mindset and continue to work hard. He told me that it’s a new opportunity, a fresh start, and that I should just take it and run with it.”
The chance to perform in the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament is an added bonus for Sandhu, although he realizes he’s not guaranteed of a berth on the 2015-16 Rebels roster.
“I’m going to have to earn my spot,” he said. “It will be a privilege to play on a team like that. I’m just going to keep working hard and hopefully it will work out.”
Athletes don’t lose skill. They might lose their focus or even lose sight of the big picture, but they don’t misplace talent.
“I just have to get that confidence back and this likes like a great place to play hockey,” said Sandhu, who will make his Rebels debut Friday against the visiting Prince George Cougars. “I’m excited.”