Red Deer Rebels offensive whiz Willie Coetzee doesn’t give himself the credit he deserves.
The native of Maple Ridge, B.C., currently second among WHL scorers — and just one point back of leader Brandon Kozun of the Calgary Hitmen — with eight goals and 26 points in 15 games, on Thursday was named to the WHL team that will face Team Russia in a Subway Super Series contest on Nov. 26 in Kelowna.
Coetzee, the Rebels’ best player this season, is fully deserving of the honour, but insisted that he was somewhat astounded by the selection considering that the Super Series games will showcase players being considered for this year’s Canadian junior national team.
“I’ve had a good start to the season, but it’s still a surprise to me to be picked for that team because (the game) is kind of a pre-trial to the world junior tryouts,” he said.
Not that he shouldn’t be considered as a national team final selection camp participant come December.
“I’ll have that one (Super Series) game to show it. If they’re going to look at me, it will be important for me to have a really good game and then keep playing strong through the following weeks,” said Coetzee.
The five-foot-ten, 180-pound winger is noticeably faster and a more complete player this season than was the case last winter, when he scored 18 goals and collected 42 points in 72 games.
“I just feel like I’m more mature this year. I have more experience under my belt and my defensive game has gotten a lot better,” said Coetzee. “I know that being better in my own end will help me play better in the offensive zone. I just touched on some skills during the summer. I worked on getting faster and tried to improve my defensive skills.”
His linemates, Nathan Green and Andrej Kudrna, have also played a major role in Coetzee’s success this fall.
“We’ve been working hard and we’ve been working well together,” said Coetzee. “We’ll see how it goes for the rest of the season.”
Most players who return from NHL camps start slowly with their junior teams. Coetzee, who was at the Detroit Red Wings rookie camp and has since signed with the NHL team, is an exception to the rule.
“I gained a lot of confidence at pro camp and it really made me strive to get better and eventually make it to that level,” he said.
“Hopefully I can play pro next season. I have to continue to play well here and then gave a good tryout (with the Red Wings) next year.”
l The Rebels will have a stronger lineup tonight when they take on the Medicine Hat Tigers at 7:30 p.m. at the Centirum. Sniper Landon Ferraro, out since the end of September with a knee injury, will return to the Red Deer roster.