His status is questionable for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. Western Hockey League preseason game against the Kootenay Ice at Innisfail, but there’s no question that Nick Bell would love to take his rightful place on the Red Deer Rebels blueline.
Bell has yet to appear in an exhibition contest for the 4-0 Rebels due to an ankle injury he incurred during the Black and White intrasquad contest last month, and to make his debut in his hometown would be more than timely.
“Yeah, that would be nice. For sure, I’d have a big fan base there,” the 19-year-old said on Thursday, prior to a team practice session at the Centrium.
Bell, who insisted he’ll be 100 per cent healthy for the Rebels’ regular-season opener Sept. 18 versus the Calgary Hitmen at the Centrium, was contacted by the Rebels coaching staff during the summer after suiting up with the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season.
Previously, the six-foot-one, 190-pound defenceman attended the Prince George Cougars training camp on three occasions without appearing in even a single WHL preseason game.
“I didn’t like the staff (in Prince George) much. They didn’t really say much about me at all. I wasn’t with the ‘in’ people, I didn’t know anybody, so it just wasn’t going to work out for me there.”
With the Oilers, he displayed his offensive prowess by racking up 37 points — including eight goals — in 61 games.
“I hope I can play on the power play here and put up some points,” said Bell, who insisted that he will gladly accept a leadership role as one of the Rebels’ elder statesmen.
Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin is confident that Bell will add several elements to the team.
“We think he’s a guy who can step right in and contribute,” said Wallin. “He’s 19-years-old, he’s got junior A experience and was a good player at that level. I think he’s a guy who could have and should have been playing at this level for the last couple of years. He’s got that ability. He’s a solid, two-way defenceman, a good skater who sees the ice well and has the ability to make plays.
“Nick moves the puck well with a good, crisp, flat pass and he’s got some great offensive instincts. He’s good on the power play and he’s also a strong guy with a good frame, so he’s going to be solid defensively, as well.”
Because he’s never dressed for a WHL game, exhibition or regular season, Bell has maintained his U.S. college scholarship eligibility. But he’s willing to erase that status as early as tonight.
“I just don’t think going to the states and the whole school thing is right for me, so I made the decision to come here,” said the Innisfail native, who played at the midget AA level in his hometown as a 16-year-old and was with the Red Deer midget AAA Optimist Rebels the following year (2007-08 season).
The Rebels will put the wraps on their preseason schedule on Saturday with a 7:30 p.m. meeting with the Calgary Hitmen at Lacombe.
l The WHL unveiled the new Reebok jerseys that all member teams will wear this season. While some of the shirts sport new color designs, the Rebels jerseys — home and away — remain virtually unchanged.
“We feel we have a pretty good logo and we wanted to keep the traditional look of the jersey,” said Wallin. “I know (Rebels owner) Brent (Sutter) really liked the old Blackhawks jerseys and these are similar in terms of the striping.”
l Rebels forwards Landon Ferraro and Willie Coetzee are currently at the Detroit Red Wings rookie camp and will attend the NHL team’s main camp before returning to Red Deer on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, defenceman Justin Weller will reportedly return from the Phoenix Coyotes rookie camp within the next two to three days and Wallin expects that both forward Cass Mappin (Columbus) and netminder Darcy Kuemper (Minnesota) will be back at roughly the same time.