No one has to tell Brad Deagle that he’s running out of time in his quest to earn full-time playing privileges with the Red Deer Rebels.
The defenceman, selected in the third round of the 2007 Western Hockey League bantam draft, 62nd overall, is attending his fourth Rebels training camp and has yet to earn regular employment.
Deagle celebrated his 18th birthday in March, so clearly the sense of urgency to make the major junior grade has never been greater.
“It has to be this year for sure,” the Lethbridge native said Monday at the Centrium, following the second day of camp.
“I trained hard this summer because I know this is an important year for me. This is probably my last chance at making this team so I have to give it my best.”
Deagle worked on his speed and strength during the summer months, running sprints and weight training. He upped his weight to 190 pounds and is hoping the extra muscle will pay off this fall.
“I feel a lot better this year, better than at previous (Red Deer) camps,” said the six-foot rearguard.
“I’m in better shape and I have more experience, so I know what to expect out there. That helps a lot.”
Deagle was referring not only to the savvy he gained by attending previous Rebels camps, but the experience he acquired by playing the past two seasons with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL.
“Sure, it’s not quite the same calibre as the WHL, but when you’re playing junior A you’re going up against older players, some of them big, strong guys,” he said.
“And you’re living the junior life . . . you’re on the road a lot. There are definitely some similarities.”
Deagle, who has suited up for seven regular-season games with the Rebels over the past two years, is convinced that he became a more rounded player last winter, and it’s hard to argue with that assertion when glancing at his AJHL statistics.
He collected only five points, including one goal, in 45 games two years ago, and last year upped his offensive totals to five goals and 21 points in 52 outings.
“Last year I really noticed myself jumping into the rush more and helping out with the forwards,” he said.
“I used to be strictly a defensive defenceman, so I really changed my game in a positive way.”
Deagle’s older brother, Jordie, was an overage forward with the Rebels last season.
“He really enjoyed it here. This is a great franchise and it would be nice to follow him and earn a spot with the team,” said the 18-year-old.
“I’m just going to do whatever it takes to get on the team. I’ll do my best through the rest of camp and the exhibition season and we’ll see what happens.”
Rebels head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin said Deagle will be given every chance to make the regular-season roster.
“He’s a tremendous kid, much like his brother Jordie. He gives you what he’s got every day and has a tremendous attitude,” said Wallin. “We’ll give him a long look through the preseason and see how he fares in the exhibition games. That’s all part of the process. We’ll let him work through that and see where it all settles out in the end.
“But yes, this is a make or break year for Brad.”
• Following the rookie sessions Monday, 10 players were elevated to the main camp for the late afternoon scrimmage.
Defenceman Matt Dumba, the club’s first pick in the 2009 bantam draft and a likely candidate for WHL rookie of the year honours, easily handled the transition.
“Actually, I didn’t think anyone looked out of place. They all handled themselves quite well,” said Wallin, who was particularly impressed with Dumba and fellow 16-year-old blueliners Danys Chartrand and Lucas Grayson.
“It was good to see those guys get out with the older group and still have the confidence to be themselves, to carry the puck and make plays. There were certain guys who made the jump who were a little more suited to the style at the higher level. At the same time, a few guys who stood out in rookie camp weren’t as noticeable (in main camp). But overall I was impressed with all of them. I thought they all acquitted themselves well.”
Defencemen David Heath and Davin Stener were also summoned to main camp and competed in the scrimmage, as did forwards Mason Burr, Spencer Kryczka, Cory Millette, Marc McCoy and Chase McMurphy.
McCoy scored for Team Black in a 6-1 win over Team Grey. Also connecting for the winners were Locke Muller, Neil Landry, Adam Kambeitz, Willie Coetzee and Steve Oursov, while Byron Froese potted the lone goal for Team Grey, deflecting a point shot past Darcy Kuemper.
Kirby Halcrow allowed three goals in the Team Grey net, while Tanner Jaillet gave up two and Kraymer Barnstable one. Also tending goal for Team Black were Cam Gorchynski and Zach Rakochy.
Training camp resumes at 8:30 a.m. today with a rookie session, after which the vast majority of the younger prospects will be sent home. In addition, the coaching staff will likely make decisions on main camp players at that point, leaving in the neighbourhood of 40 players to compete in a 90-minute game starting at 5 p.m.
The majority — if not all — of those players will then skate in the McDonald’s Black and White intrasquad game scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday.