As the extra man on the Red Deer Rebels blueline, Austin Shmoorkoff has been extra steady.
While his ice time has been limited as the club’s sixth defenceman — a role he inherited when Josh Mahura and Ryan Pouliot went down with injuries — the Edmonton native has dressed for all 11 Western Hockey League games and is an impressive plus-five in the plus/minus department.
“With (the playing time) I’m getting I’m trying to be at the best of my ability … just playing a simple game and supporting the boys when I don’t play,” the 18-year-old said Tuesday. “I play a stay-at-home style. I just try to make the simple play and a good first pass.”
Shmoorkoff was listed by the Rebels in 2012 and got into six games during the 2013-14 WHL season before being reassigned to the Edmonton midget AAA Canadians.
The six-foot-three, 177-pound rearguard didn’t make the Rebels’ roster coming out of training camp last year and started the season with the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL, with whom he collected four assists in six games.
The Oilers, however, owed the Calgary Canucks a player and Shmoorkoff found himself with a new AJHL team. He lasted just four games with the Canucks before being told he was expendable.
“They pretty much said there was no room for me there. They said they could deal me somewhere else or I could go home,” said Shmoorkoff, who decided to go back to Edmonton and suit up with the junior B Beverly Warriors.
After appearing in one game with the Rebels last season, he was determined to give it another shot in August. He made the opening-day roster and is still with the team.
“I just kept a positive frame of mind. I kept working hard and had a bunch of people supporting me,” he said.
“I came into camp prepared to do anything. The goal was to work my bag off, earn a spot on the team and hopefully stick.”
So far, so good.
“He’s been steady,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “He doesn’t play all the time because we’ve often gone with five defencemen, but he’s given us exactly what we thought he would.
“It’s been good for him to go through the experience. Last year he didn’t play at all when he was here and this season we had him as the seventh to eighth D-man before Josh got hurt. Then with Pouliot getting hurt it bumped him into that sixth hole. But he’s given us what we needed.”
With Mahura likely out until March following knee surgery, Shmoorkoff is a nice insurance piece on the blueline. Pouliot, sidelined with a lower body injury, skated on his own Tuesday and if he’s not back in the lineup tonight when the Saskatoon Blades visit the Centrium, he might return for home games Friday and Saturday versus the Medicine Hat Tigers and Kootenay Ice.
Whatever, Shmoorkoff has slotted into an effective supporting role with the Rebels, who improved to 7-4-0-0 with wins last Friday and Saturday at Victoria and Vancouver and will host the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament in May.
“We have a solid team with a lot of depth and a lot of character,” he said. “The two wins we had on the weekend were huge after losing the first two games of the road trip. We battled back and did well.”