If time truly flies when you’re having fun, then Rylan Toth’s off-season must have been an outright hoot.
“It feels like I never left, actually,” the Red Deer Rebels goaltender said Wednesday, after registering for this year’s training camp at the Centrium.
“I was back in town yesterday and I’m back with the same billets. I feel right at home. It’s all good.”
Toth was all smiles as he looked around the Centrium, which is brighter than ever with new lighting and also features new rink boards. The improvements are timely — and necessary — considering the Rebels will host the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament in May.
“There’s a lot of exciting things happening right now,” said the 19-year-old Saskatoon native. “The team looks really good with most of the players back and a few new guys, and the rink looks amazing. We’re all really excited to get going.”
The highlight of Toth’s off-season was his involvement — as one of four netminders — as an undrafted free agent in the five-day Calgary Flames development camp at WinSport in July.
“It was good, I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I was really hoping to go back (for the Flames rookie camp in September), but that’s all right, I took from it what I could.
“I think I learned a lot. The pace was really fast, especially with it being in the summer when you’re not used to being on the ice.”
The development camp featured roughly a half dozen pros, including the heralded and highly-talented Sam Bennett, and Toth took note of their habits.
“It was beneficial to me to see how those guys carried themselves on and off the ice,” he said. “There was also a ton of fans at the games and lots of media around. The guys were all really good and it was a cool experience, for sure.”
Toth hasn’t heard back from the Flames, but nothing gained, nothing lost.
“They just said that I did well, but they wanted to take a longer look at another guy,” he said. “But I’m really glad I went to the camp. Going into the (NHL entry) draft I was just hoping I could be invited to a camp somewhere.”
Toth was passed over in the draft, but he has at least one more season of major junior hockey to show the scouts that he has definite pro potential. After posting a 2.84 goals-against average and .904 save percentage as a Western Hockey League rookie last season and putting up even superior numbers — 2.34 and .934 — in a five-game playoff loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers, he expects to be markedly better this season.
He will also get plenty of exposure with his season extending into late May.
“I guess my play will dictate that, but it’s certainly something to be excited about,” he said of his prospects of being the Rebels’ No. 1 stopper through the entire season.
Toth is clearly confident that he can carry the bulk of the goaltending duties through the winter and beyond. Trevor Martin, 19, Solomon Burk, 17, and 16-year-old Dawson Weatherill of Red Deer, the team’s second-round pick in the 2014 bantam draft, are the other goalies registered for main camp.
“I think I proved I could do it last season and I want to build off of that and have a good year,” said Toth.
Just the fact that he has a season of WHL experience under his belt is a confidence-boost.
“From the start of last season to the end to now . . . it’s a world of difference coming back for a second year,” he noted. “It’s awesome being able to come back and being familiar with everything.
“And as far as the (2016 NHL entry) draft goes, I’m not too worried about that. “Lots of guys who were never drafted go on to play pro hockey and even make the NHL. If I’m drafted, good, but I’m not concerned about it.”
Toth and his main camp mates will be put through their paces during on-ice fitness testing today and will return to the ice — for the official start of camp — at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Training camp will conclude Wednesday with the Black and White intrasquad game