All eyes on Rebel rookies

When Team Pacific head coach Robert Dirk called Lucas Grayson earlier this week, he didn’t initiate a long conversation with the Red Deer Rebels rookie rearguard.

Lucas Grayson

Lucas Grayson

When Team Pacific head coach Robert Dirk called Lucas Grayson earlier this week, he didn’t initiate a long conversation with the Red Deer Rebels rookie rearguard.

That didn’t matter to Grayson; although the message was short, it was sweet. Dirk phoned the 16-year-old to relay the news that he had been named to the Team Pacific roster — consisting of players from Alberta and B.C. — for the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge Dec. 28-Jan. 5 in Winnipeg.

“Right off the bat, he said I’m going to keep it short and tell you that you made the team,” Grayson said Wednesday, just hours after the roster was released by Hockey Alberta and BC Hockey.

“I was pretty excited to get the call. I didn’t know if I was going to make it although I thought I had a pretty good chance. It seems that everything is going by pretty quickly and falling into place.”

Joining Grayson on Team Pacific will be Rebels teammate and fellow defenceman Matt Dumba, whose selection was a no-brainer. Josh Smith of Lacombe — a Prince George Cougars defenceman — and Trochu native and Prince Albert Raiders forward Mike Winther were also named to the squad.

“I feel I’ve worked really hard for this,” said Grayson, who has played sparingly with the Rebels in his rookie season but has clearly impressed the Team Pacific coaches who evaluated the short-list players for two months leading to Wednesday’s announcement.

“The opportunity to play in an international event is something I’ve dreamed of,” added the Port Hardy, B.C., native, who earned himself a spot on the short list with his play at a B.C. selection camp earlier this year.

“I’m sure the hockey will be wide open, all about moving the puck and moving your feet. I can’t wait to get there and see how I stack up against other players from around the world.

“I’ll get a few days off at Christmas to see the family and some buddies back home. That should be a fun time, then I’ll have to get my head into it to go there (Winnipeg) and play.”

Dumba, like Grayson, will be making his international hockey debut at Winnipeg.

“It’s very exciting. I’m just feeling proud that I’ll get to represent our country,” said the Calgary product. “What’s better than that?”

Dumba, the Rebels’ first-round pick — fourth overall — in the 2009 Western Hockey League bantam draft, is familiar with the 11 Alberta players and most of the 11 B.C. players selected to the team.

“It seems like we have a pretty good roster and should have a good team if we come together right away,” he said “If we can gel quickly, which is what you need in a short-term competition, I think we’ll have a chance (to win gold).”

The six-foot, 175-pound blueliner (Grayson is listed at exactly the same size) anticipates the World U17 Challenge will present a rapid brand of hockey.

“I’ve heard it’s a lot like a WHL game with the pace and tempo. For sure it’s going to be fast,” said Dumba.

Rebels head coach/VP of hockey operations Jesse Wallin knew all along that he’d be without Dumba’s services after the Christmas break. As for Grayson . . .

“For Lucas, it’s a great opportunity and a testament to how far he’s come,” said Wallin, in reference to the sixth-round pick in the 2009 bantam draft. “He wasn’t expected to make our team this season, but he had a great rookie camp and then continued that play. The people who pick (Team Pacific) put a great deal of value on how the players perform at the start of the season and Lucas has handled himself very well.

“There have been times when he hasn’t played a lot, but he’s certainly come a long way in a couple of short months and has shown a lot of potential moving forward. It speaks to the quality of both of these guys that they were selected to play in this event. It will be a great opportunity for them, playing against other top guys in their age group, and hopefully the experience will make them even better players.”

The Rebels host the Swift Current Broncos Friday, then take on the Oil Kings 24 hours later in Edmonton.