Red Deer Rebels owner Brent Sutter didn’t have any second thoughts when it came to extending the contract of vice-president of hockey operations and head coach Jesse Wallin.
“I was very pleased with the job Jesse has done,” said Sutter. “He had more on his plate last season as he worked as a head coach to general manager and he handled himself well.
“There’s a certain criteria I expect you to have whether it’s in business or hockey and he fit into all of them.”
Wallin is entering his third season as the head coach after directing the team to a playoff berth last season for the first time since 2007.
Assistant coach Bryce Thoma, head trainer Dave ‘Radar’ Horning and athletic therapist Terence Robertson were also given contract extensions.
There’s also two new additions to the hockey staff following the signing of former Rebel Chris Neiszner as assistant coach and former Portland Winter Hawk Brent Belecki as goaltending consultant. Belecki replaces Andy Nowicki, who had chosen to step down to pursue other interests.
Thoma is also in his third season with the team and will have more responsibility this season with the departure of long-time assistant coach Dallas Gaume.
“Bryce has fit in well and now has the opportunity to move up as an assistant coach with Dallas moving on and I know he can handle it,” said Sutter. “He’s intelligent and knows the game.”
That also applies to the 26-year-old Neiszner, who played four years with the Rebels, before spending most of the last four seasons with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL.
“Chris always played with the logo on his sleeve and had deep feelings for the organization,” said Sutter. “He followed the Rebels since he’s been gone.”
One of the stipulations Sutter had before hiring Neiszner was that he sat down with Wallin and the two were on the same page.
“They had to see if it was the right fit,” added Sutter. “And once they sat down they were both comfortable with it.”
Wallin was also comfortable with the addition of Belecki, who played four seasons with the Winter Hawks — 1994-98 — and was the Western Hockey League’s Del Wilson goaltender of the year award winner in 1997-98.
He was also the MVP of the 1998 playoffs as the Hawks went on to win the Memorial Cup. The 32-year-old played seven years of pro, finishing his career in the United Hockey League in 2004-05.
“After Andy’s decision I talked with Jesse about who would be a good fit and he did most of the work on it,” said Sutter.
“He felt Brent would fit what our needs were.”
Wallin is excited to add both Neiszner and Belecki to the staff.
“Chris is a former Rebel, who is familiar with our organization and enjoyed success as a player through keen understanding of the game and relentless work ethic,” said Wallin in a press release.
“These two qualities, combined with his passion and character serve him well as a coach.
“Brent enjoyed great success as a player as well. He has a solid base in terms of technical aspects of the position, but most importantly, his playing experience will enable him to relate very well to our young goaltenders and help them develop the mental aspects of the position and playing in the league.
“I believe these two men will complement our staff and be of great benefit to our players.”
Horning has been with the Rebels since Day 1 while Robertson is in his fourth season.
“They are key parts to our team,” stressed Sutter. “Radar could be the longest acting trainer in the league and brings a great deal of credibility with him. We’re excited to have him continuing on with us, as we are with Terence. About four years ago we decided to add a full time therapist and Terence fits that role perfectly.”
All members of the staff need to fit into certain criteria, said Sutter.
“I have seven-stage criteria, which includes work ethic, commitment, trust and caring and every one of these people fit into that area,” he said. “What is on the front of the jersey is all important to me.”
Sutter indicated he also has several other front office signing to announce in the near future. The team is also looking at signing a deal with a sports psychologist.