Aspen Sterzer will play hockey this season, but not with the Red Deer Rebels.
The 20-year-old forward, whom Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter acquired from the Kamloops Blazers last winter in return for forward Matt Bellerive and a third-round bantam draft pick, decided not to rejoin the club this season and instead pursue a post-secondary education.
Sterzer, who has yet to respond to calls from Sutter and — reportedly — several of his teammates, sent an e-mail to the Advocate this week detailing his feelings about stepping away from major junior hockey and attending the University of Calgary this fall as a member of the hockey Dinos.
“First of all, I would like to say that I really appreciate that I was able to come to Red Deer and finish off my WHL career under coach Sutter,” said Sterzer. “I feel that I learned a lot from him and only wish that I could have had more time to play for him. The simple truth is that before I signed my contract to play in the WHL I had several scholarship offers to the NCAA that my parents really wanted me to pursue. I, however, really wanted to play in the WHL, so my parents agreed to support me in playing in the Western League with one condition, which was that I had until I was 19 to catch the eye of a pro club, or I would have to go school.
“In all honesty, there would be nothing more that I would have liked to do than to have had a really successful 20-year-old year as a Rebel, hopefully contributing to an already talented team to perhaps make a cup run. However, I felt that I just could not lobby my family to help support me beyond my agreement with them.”
Sterzer stressed that his passion for the game still remains.
“Personally, I have always loved the game,” he continued. “It is a long grind but aside from the sheer thrill of playing, if things go right, you can hopefully make a living doing what you love at the next level. For me, I am hopefully going on to the next step that may help me fulfill my dreams and obligations at the same time.
“That said, I am looking forward to playing this year at the University of Calgary for the Dinos. I am excited to join a group of excellent seasoned hockey players, coach (Mark) Howell and the staff while being able to pursue my education at the same time. I still hope to catch the eye of a team that post-university might want my skills and services, but for now I am just focusing on how I can add to the Dinos to do my part and to contribute as best I can.
“I have been blessed to have made many good friends in the WHL and hope that each of them will have a great year! As well, I hope the best for the Red Deer Rebels, my former teammates, the staff, the fans, and coach Sutter. Sincerely, Aspen Sterzer.”
When reached late Tuesday afternoon, Sutter wasn’t that forgiving regarding Sterzer’s absence and his decision to attend the U of C and play CIS hockey.
“To play at this level takes a major commitment and he’s not a committed player,” said the Rebels boss. “There’s a lot of commitment required to play in the WHL, both on and off the ice, with games, practices, video sessions and all of the travel involved.
“It’s disappointing because we gave up assets to acquire him. He’s quitting on us and it’s a knock to his teammates. It’s tough, but that’s his decision, his choice . . . to play CIS hockey.”
The Rebels are practising in two groups this week — at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. — in preparation for preseason games Saturday and Sunday at St. Albert against the Prince George Cougars and Swift Current Broncos.