The chances are remote that Hunter Smith will one day be among the top scorers in the Western Hockey League, but he might have a future at the major junior level.
Whether that future is with the Red Deer Rebels remains to be seen, but he’ll be given every opportunity to stick with the club after being listed by GM/head coach Brent Sutter last week.
The 17-year-old forward was selected by Brandon in the ninth round of the 2010 WHL bantam draft and was a late cut of the Wheat Kings last fall. He was playing senior hockey in his hometown of Carlyle, Sask., when he received a recent call from Rebels director of scouting/player development Randy Peterson.
“Randy contacted me and said the Rebels were short of forwards and asked me if I would consider joining the team,” Smith said Wednesday.
Smith gladly accepted the invitation and suited up for games last Friday and Saturday in Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
“It’s really nice to be back in this league and at this level. I’m really excited,” said the six-foot, 180-pound winger, whose previous WHL experience consisted of a handful of preseason games with the Wheat Kings.
Smith, who could make his Rebels home-ice debut tonight against the Edmonton Oil Kings, sees himself as a role player.
“I’d say I’m an energy guy, a physical forward, a fourth-line guy who finishes his checks and goes hard,” he said. “I’m responsible defensively and put pucks on net when I can.”
Smith enjoyed his time with the senior Carlyle Cougars but all along was hoping he’d get a chance to play junior hockey.
“It was fun, something to do while I was at home,” he said. “I wasn’t too far out of shape so it wasn’t bad that way. There’s some good players in that senior league and it’s still competitive, but guys are out there to have fun.”
Smith, an assistant captain with the Moose Jaw midget AAA Generals last season, will play within himself for the remainder of the season.
“I’m just going to try to work my way in, try and be an every-night guy who plays physical, works hard and supplies energy,” he said.
“He’s here for the rest of the year. We’ll see how he develops and that will determine what his future is here,” said Sutter. “He’s been a leader with all of the teams he’s been on and he’s a hard-working, hard-nosed kid who is very good in the dressing room.”
While Smith didn’t get a lot of ice time in his first two starts with the Rebels, Sutter saw enough to get at least a partial read on him.
“He’s more of a defensive guy and what I like about him is he understands how to play, he understands structure and systems,” said the Rebels boss. “That’s the sign of a smart player.”
Defenceman/forward Cody Thiel will return to the Red Deer lineup tonight after being out with an upper-body injury. Forwards Jesse Miller and Cory Millette and rearguard Riley Boomgaarden remain out indefinitely, with Miller (concussion) on the long-term injury list and back home in Winnipeg.
Meanwhile, defenceman Mathew Dumba was scheduled to return to Red Deer today from the Minnesota Wild training camp but instead will stay with the NHL club through the weekend.
Minnesota management relayed the news to Sutter Thursday, explaining that the team is currently short of healthy blueliners. The Wild open their regular season at home Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche and Sutter wasn’t told whether Dumba will be in the Minnesota lineup.
l The Rebels and Finning Canada will present Red Deer Rustlers Heritage Night Feb. 23 in support of the Canadian Cancer Society. The Rebels will wear replica jerseys of the 1979-80 Centennial Cup champion Rustlers that evening as they host the Prince Albert Raiders.
The jerseys will be auctioned off and all proceeds will go to the Central Alberta chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society. Auction details will be released at a later date as well as the unveiling of the jersey.
The Rustlers played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League from 1967-1989, although the team took a one year leave of absence in 1985-86. The Rustlers won the AJHL championship eight times (1970, ‘71, ‘72, ‘74, ‘80, ‘85, ’87, ‘89) and won the Centennial Cup (Canadian junior ‘A’ championship) in 1971 and 1980.
Sutter was a member of the 1980 national championship team.
The Rebels encourage all Rustlers alumni to contact the team (403-341-6000 or firstname.lastname@example.org) for information about attending the Feb. 23 contest.