Call it an early audition. Josh Mahura and Mason McCarty might not get into a WHL game after being recalled by the Red Deer Rebels, but they’re getting an up-front opportunity to impress the coaching staff during practice.
Both players will be in the mix for regular WHL employment next season and are presently soaking up the experience of being with the Rebels as they make a late push to secure a playoff berth.
“When I got here I talked to the coaches and they told me I was brought in to take in the experience and hopefully get a head start on next year,” said Mahura, who arrived in Red Deer Monday following the conclusion of his season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy midget prep team.
“The guys have been really good in helping me feel like a member of the team, at least for the time being.”
Neither player is large in size, but both are large in skill.
Mahura, a six-foot, 165-pound defenceman and the Rebels’ second-round pick in last year’s WHL bantam draft, collected 40 points — including 14 goals — in 37 games with the OHA midget prep squad this season.
McCarty, a skilled forward who carries 165 pounds on his five-foot-10 frame, was sixth in Alberta Midget Hockey League regular-season scoring with 22 goals and 42 points in 32 games.
“As a defenceman I always try to lock down my own end first,” said Mahura, a St. Albert native who will celebrate his 16th birthday in May. “That’s my job, but at the same time I do like joining the rush and being an offensive player.”
His Kelowna-based midget squad played mostly weekend games against midget teams in B.C., as well as the Program of Excellence in Kelowna, and also travelled to Alberta to play at Banff and against the Calgary Edge School. They also ventured into the United States.
“We bused a lot and played sometimes three to four games on weekends,” said Mahura. “We went to North Dakota in October for a showcase tournament versus U.S. teams and then also to Shattuck St. Mary’s (in Minnesota) for another showcase. Those were really cool places to be. We saw a lot of teams and a lot of good players. It was a very neat experience.”
Mahura will push for a Rebels roster spot next fall and feels that the experience he gained while playing at OHA will help him in the long term.
“It was really good there,” said Mahura, who decided to enrol at the hockey academy instead of joining the St. Albert midget AAA Raiders. “The development there is amazing, second to none. I grew as a player and a person by going there. It was really beneficial for me.
“I for sure want to play here next season. It’s never 100 per cent, but I do plan on being in Red Deer next season.”
For now, he’s just taking in the sights and sounds and enjoying the late-season ambience without knowing if he’ll even participate in a game.
“I haven’t been told if I’ll get into a game. The team is making a playoff push and we’ll see how it goes,” said Mahura. “I’m not too worried about it. I just want to be here to get the feel for it. I’m just happy to be here.”
McCarty, meanwhile, participated in his first practice session with the Rebels Thursday and is unlikely to suit up for tonight’s game versus the visiting Swift Current Broncos.
“I’m moving in with a billet right away and I just hope to work hard in practice during my time here and hopefully come back next fall and make the team,” said the 17-year-old, whose UFA Bisons were ousted from the AMHL playoffs Tuesday by the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs.
“The coaches just said for me to come in, work hard and do my thing . . . show lots of energy and positivity in practice.”
The native of Blackie and fourth-round pick of the Rebels in the 2012 bantam draft, scored twice and added six assists in six games to tie for the Bisons’ team lead in playoff scoring.
“I thought I had an OK season,” said McCarty, who singled out Bisons head coach and former Red Deer teacher and coach Dan MacDonald for aiding him in his development.
McCarty appeared in two games with the Rebels this winter and scored his first-ever WHL regular-season goal Jan. 18 against visiting Lethbridge.
“That was nice. Meyer (Nell) made a really nice pass and I was able to get it in,” said McCarty, who will attempt to bulk up during the summer.
“I think I’m going to go to Crash Conditioning in Calgary,” he said. “I need to some add some weight. That’s what Brent (Rebels GM/head coach Sutter) has talked to me about — adding some weight and some strength.”
l A third player, forward Brayden Burke, will join the Rebels today after his midget AAA team — Edmonton Canadian Athletic Club — was eliminated from playoffs Tuesday.
Burke, a seventh-round pick of the Rebels in the 2012 bantam draft, was fourth in AMHL regular-season scoring with 47 points (19-28) in 31 games. He then racked up nine points (4-5) in seven post-season outings.