In the middle of February Dawson Weatherill was excited to be heading into the Alberta Midget Hockey League playoffs with the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs.
Little did he know he wouldn’t make it.
At the same time the Red Deer Rebels lost starting goaltender Rylan Toth with a lower body injury and Weatherill was the next in line on their depth chart.
“I was really surprised and it was a shock to me and my family,” said the 16-year-old native of Red Deer. on being called up “I was excited, but at the same time it was tough leaving my team as we were heading into the playoffs.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter had no choice but to call Weatherill up.
“It was a tough position for everyone,” he said. “Unfortunately we lost our goalie for the rest of the regular season and who knows how long in the playoffs. Dawson was the next player on our list. Unfortunately he had to leave his team and it was the AAA midgets in town. So it was tough on them as well … a tough situation for everyone. But it gave someone else in the minor system a chance to replace Dawson.”
Weatherill joined the Rebels on their western road swing and not only did he back up Trevor Martin, but he got his first start on Feb. 19 in Prince George. He turned in a solid performance in a 3-1 loss, allowing two goals with the third into an empty net.
“That first game it was tough to adjust, but I thought it went well,” Weatherill said. “I found a spot on the team and the guys accepted me. The second game didn’t go as well.”
He started his second game March 1 in Swift Current and the first period was a breeze with the Rebels up 4-0. However, the Broncos scored twice in the first 3:34 of the second period and Sutter went to Martin.
“It was something I will learn from,” said Weatherill, who has a 2.88 goals-against-average and a .905 save percentage.
“That first period in Swift Current he didn’t have much work and we had a substantial lead,” said Sutter. “In the second period they scored twice early and both goals he’d like to have back. But that’s the mental part of the game. A young player has to learn to stay in the game when there’s not much work.”
Weatherill was selected in the second round, 37th overall, in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft by the Rebels and signed later that year. Last year he attended the Rebels rookie camp but hoped to make the AAA Chiefs. That wasn’t the case and he ended up with the Notre Dame Argos in Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League.
The Argos were the B team at Notre Dame and it was a tough season for everyone.
“We didn’t win many games, but I got a chance to see a lot of rubber,” he said.
He finished the year with a 4.87 gaa and a .877 save percentage.
This year there was no doubt Weatherill would be on the Optimist Chiefs. He eventually took over as their No. 1 netminder and posted a solid 2.33 gaa and a .905 save percentage.
“It was a good season,” he said. “I thought I developed throughout the season and matured.”
The six-foot-three Weatherill sees himself as a technically strong goalie, but needs to improve in terms of reactions and strength.
“I need to mentally focus for 60 minutes,” he said. ‘It’s important for me to keep pushing every day and hope for the best.”
Sutter talks with Weatherill about continuing to push in practice and get better every time he’s on the ice.
“This level is quite a few notches of play higher,” Sutter said. “We feel he has a tremendous upside. There are things Taylor (goaltender coach Dakers) can work with him on daily but he has a bright future and it will come down to how hard Dawson works to make himself better both on and off the ice.
“He’s a tall, lanky kid and needs to get stronger. He needs to work on both the physical and mental side and those things have to start getting in place of he wants to grow and get to the next level, which is pro hockey.
“He does have a great attitude and it’s exciting to have a local boy on the team. But he will be challenged and he will be pushed to be the No. 1 guy. It won’t happen this year or possibly the next but by the time he’s 18 we want him pushing to play 40 or 50 games. We want him to push not only to be the No. 1 goaltender on the team, but the best in the league.
‘Buy the time he’s 18-19 there will be expectations on him and he has to have those expectations as well and with those expectations comes hard work and someone who is committed to be all in.”“
The time Weatherill will spend with the Rebels this season will only benefit him, as did his time with the midgets.
“It was important as a 16-year-old, especially a goalie, to return to midget and play a lot and in every situation,” said Sutter. “His time back there helped him a lot. He’s a different player today than he was last September. That’s a credit to Brandin (Chiefs head coach Cote), who gave him the opportunity to grow.”
Weatherill has worked with Dakers for several years and also credits him with his growth.
The rookie netminder will be on the bench tonight as the Rebels host the Prince Albert Raiders at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.