To suggest that Aspen Sterzer made a great first impression with his new club would be an obvious understatement.
The newest member of the Red Deer Rebels joined the team last Friday in Moose Jaw — just 24 hours after being acquired from the Kamloops Blazers — and made an immediate impact with a goal and two helpers in a 4-3 WHL victory over the Warriors. One night later, he scored again in a 3-0 victory at Swift Current.
“As a player just coming to the team, I wanted to help the guys have success,” Sterzer said Tuesday following a practice session at the Kinex. “I was super nervous to be honest. This was my first trade and I didn’t know many of the guys and didn’t know if they knew a lot about me. I made some plays, got some bounces and things were working for me.”
Upon his arrival in Moose Jaw, Sterzer was placed on a line with captain Conner Bleackley and Presten Kopeck. The positive chemistry was instantaneous and there is every reason to believe that the forward unit will remain intact for Friday’s home game against the Calgary Hitmen.
“For sure, both of those guys are awesome players and it’s super nice to be able to play with them,” said Sterzer. “It made it a lot easier for me jumping in to play with guys like Conner and Presten. It’s been a real treat.”
Sterzer, who was acquired in a deal that sent fellow 19-year-old forward Matt Bellerive and a third-round bantam draft pick to the Blazers, is enjoying a breakthrough season. The native of Canal Flats, B.C., produced a total of 25 points — including seven goals — during his first two seasons and change in Kamloops and has sniped 19 goals and accumulated 36 points in 42 games this winter.
“I started to get a few more opportunities in Kamloops last year but the team was still really deep, then I got injured and missed most of the second half of the season,” said Sterzer, who played 10 WHL games as a 16-year-old, 63 the following season and just 31 during a concussion-plagued 2012-13 campaign.
“When I came back last fall I realized I’m 19, that I’m not getting any younger. I trained as hard as I could during the summer and started to have some success this season. Kamloops has a young team and I got more opportunities as an older player.”
It was his birth certificate that convinced Sterzer that he might be trade material.
“Obviously Kamloops is struggling this season and I definitely thought being traded was a strong possibility for me,” he said. “When I got the news I was really excited to be given an opportunity with this team. I know Red Deer has a young group, but it’s super-talented and it’s a team I’m looking forward to playing with.
“I was ecstatic to find out I was coming here with Brady (former Blazers teammate Gaudet) being here. I just really looking forward to joining the team on the road. It was a long trip (from Kamloops to Moose Jaw) but I couldn’t wait to play.”
Along with his offensive talents, Sterzer offers a fair measure of grit and excels in playing a solid, two-way game.
“I’ve always loved hitting and checking guys,” said the five-foot-11, 187-pound forward. “It’s a lot of fun and when you’re not scoring the least you can be doing is finishing your checks and making some kind of impact on the ice.
“I’ve always liked being a gritty guy. I want to be known as a hard-working player more than anything.”
Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt got a first-hand look at Sterzer during the final two games of the club’s recent road trip and is already a fan.
“I like his pace. He plays hard at both ends of the ice,” said Truitt.
“He’s got great skills with the puck. He’s a heady player who knows when to distribute the puck in traffic, yet when he’s got room he’s going to pull the trigger. You like that kind of hockey I.Q.
“And for a small-statured guy, he plays big. He hits people and he’s not afraid of the traffic areas, which is a good quality to have.”
l Rebels rookie forward Vukie Mpofu suffered a lower-body injury at Moose Jaw and didn’t practise Tuesday. He’s out indefinitely and joins forward Brooks Maxwell — listed as week-to-week with an upper-body ailment — on the club’s injury list.