Carson Sass felt comfortable when he arrived in camp with the Red Deer Rebels this season.
The 17-year-old was not only in his third camp with the Western Hockey League team, but he spent time with the Rebels late last season. He played two games with the Rebels after his midget AAA season was over, and then practised and watched during the Memorial Cup.
“That was huge playing those couple of games and practising with the team,” he said. “That experience helped so much coming in this season, hoping to be a regular. It was also sweet watching the Memorial Cup and seeing what was going on behind closed doors … that was a great experience.”
The six-foot-one, 183-pound rearguard was expected to grab a regular spot on the Rebels blueline this season, and he hasn’t disappointed.
“He’s played really well … he was a really good player in midget AAA and was their captain and a leader,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “He’s fit right in with us. We’re able to use him in a lot of different situations and he’s come through for us.
“He knows the game and is a smart player. He obviously is still learning, but will be a big part of our future.”
Although he was looked at as a strong candidate to play this season, Sass said he never looked at it that way.
“You’re never guaranteed anything,” he said. “I came to camp and all I wanted to do was work hard and earn a spot and hopefully get more minutes than last year. I came, worked hard, had fun and did my best … that was all I could do.”
Thanks to several players graduating from the blueline after last season, there were a number of spots open this year. Once again Sass didn’t think about that.
“Even with less or more defencemen, it was up to me to earn a spot,” he said. “Hopefully I’d be a regular and so far I’ve played in almost every game … it’s been a lot of fun.”
Born and raised in Melville, Sask., Sass came up through their minor hockey system before playing midget AAA in Yorkton with the Maulers. He played two seasons with the Maulers, his last he had eight goals and 16 assists in 43 games.
“They really helped prepared me to make the jump to the Rebels,” he said. “They have a great organization.”
Although he had a solid offensive year in his last season with the Maulers, Sass doesn’t see himself as an offensive defenceman.
“I see myself more of a defensive guy, blocking shots and shutting down other players. I feel I can chip in offensively, but my role with the team is shutting down the other team.”
Sass has two assists in 14 games this season. Lately he’s teamed with fellow rookie, Ethan Sakowich, on the blueline.
“Lately it’s been with Sak, but I also played with (Austin) Strand. They’re both easy to play with. Sak and I are good buddies off the ice which makes it easier on the ice.”
Sass is also someone who knows what he has to work on to continue to improve in what is his draft season.
“Probably my shot from the point and getting pucks through,” he said. “As well making a good first pass is huge and moving the puck quickly. A quick transition is something I’ve worked on.”
He could possibly use a bit more size.
“I’m 183 pounds, so probably I could be a little bigger, but I feel good at this weight right now, that’s the main thing,.”
“He’s not a big guy, but he used what he has to his advantage,” said Sutter.
As for looking down the road toward the NHL draft, isn’t something he worries about.
“I’m not really thinking of it. I just have to go out and play and hopefully it happens. If not I’ll just keep working.”
The Rebels are on the second half of an eight-game road trip. They won one of the first four games and left Wednesday for the east where they face Brandon Friday, Moose Jaw Saturday, Regina Sunday and Swift Current Tuesday. They return home next Friday to face Medicine Hat.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com.