The Red Deer Rebels’ top prospect lived up to his lofty billing last weekend, leading Alberta to the championship of the first-ever Western Canada Under 16 Challenge Cup at Blackfalds as captain of the provincial squad.
Matt Dumba, picked fourth overall in last spring’s WHL bantam draft and a 15-year-old who likens his style of play to that of his NHL idol, Dion Phaneuf, was the best defenceman in the tournament as confirmed by his selection as an all-star.
“He tried to do a little too much in the early going, but when we compare him to some of the other defencemen who were there, we’re sure pleased with what we’ve got (in Dumba),” said Randy Peterson, Rebels director of scouting and player development.
“Obviously, all of the participants in the tournament are good players, but what Matt brings to the table is a physical presence and the ability to create offence. He takes some chances but he can also recover quickly with his speed. He does a pretty good job in all areas of the ice.”
Dumba, who scored once and added two assists in three round-robin games, was one of four 2009 Rebels draft picks playing with Team Alberta in the event, the others being forwards Mason Burr and Joel Hamilton and defenceman Davin Stener.
“Burr showed some creativity with the puck, competed well and showed some good speed. (Alberta head coach) Trevor Keeper, from all accounts, was pretty happy with him,” said Peterson. “We would have liked to see him put up a few more numbers there (Burr had two assists prior to the final), but at the same time it was a good experience for all four players.”
As for Hamilton and Stener . . .
“‘Hammy’ was really good on the penalty kill and created turnovers from being really strong on the forecheck,” said Peterson. “When he did get the puck he did some very good things with it in terms of creating plays. He’s just a tenacious little guy. He’ll be a five-foot-10, 180-pound guy down the road and he’s going to be a good player.
“In regards to Davin, he was pretty steady. He’s not going to be a big guy, but hopefully we can surround him with bigger players of the same age group.”
While Burr and Stener are toiling in the Alberta Midget Hockey League with the UFA Bisons and Fort Saskatchewan, respectively, Dumba, Hamilton and another Red Deer ‘09 draft pick, forward Chase McMurphy, are enrolled at the Edge School just west of Calgary.
Dumba and McMurphy are members of the school’s varsity team and have posted four (1g,3a) and 10 (5g,5a) points in four and 13 games. Dumba’s lack of activity is due to an early-season shoulder injury.
“McMurphy has some good numbers and I’m going to see him (at a tournament) in Prince Albert this weekend,” said Peterson. “I want to make sure that he’s going in the right direction in terms of his compete level. He has all the tools and if he maintains his work ethic he’ll be a good player for us down the road.”
Hamilton has appeared in one game with the Edge varsity team but otherwise suits up the school’s Gold team. The Cochrane native has recorded two goals and four points in five outings.
The Edge teams compete in various tournaments in both Canada and the U.S. throughout the hockey season, and Peterson is confident the Rebels prospects attending the school will develop at an acceptable rate in comparison to those playing at the midget AAA level.
“They’ll face their best competition they’re up against (U.S.) prep schools,” said Peterson. “(The Edge School) offers a very good program in terms of education and training opportunities and the fact that everything is under one roof. The kids and their families think highly of it and so far, so good.
“The thing with Matt is he’s such a driven kid, he’s going to be fine wherever he plays. He’s going to push himself to be the best he can be all of the time.”
The Rebels have three prospects playing at the junior A level, including goaltenders Zach Rakochy and Cam Gorchynski and forward Tyson Ness.
Rakochy, 16, has appeared in eight games with the SJHL’s Melville Millionaires and sports a 4.22 goals-against average and .890 save percentage.
“He getting a good opportunity in Melville. They’re not happy with their older guy right now and they seem to be quite pleased with (Rakochy),” said Peterson. “I watched him play the other night and he was good.”
Gorchynski, 17, has a 4.03 GAA and .867 save percentage in five games with the Westside Warriors of the BCHL, while Ness has scored once and added one assist in 10 games with the Grande Prairie Storm of the AJHL.
“Tyson and his family decided that it would be better for his development to play junior A and he’s getting decent ice time with an older team,” said Peterson.
Defenceman Channing Bresciani and forward Chad Robinson, both drafted last year, were given the option of playing in the MJHL this season, but decided to return to their midget AAA teams.
Bresciani, who was courted by the Winnipeg Blues, has collected nine assists in 12 games with the Winnipeg Wild.
“He had an opportunity with the Blues and decided that playing as a first or second defenceman with the Wild would be better for his development,” said Peterson.
Robinson could have stayed with the Neepawa Natives but instead returned to the Yellowhead Chiefs and has three goals and nine points in 10 games.
“The Yellowhead coach, Garth Mitchell, has worked with the under-17 Team West program and Chad and his family felt that being exposed to that kind of coaching would be the best thing for him,” said Peterson.
Another goaltender of note on the Rebels protected list is 2009 draft pick Bolton Pouliot, the top stopper in the Southern Alberta 15-year-old league with a 1.13 goals-against average.
Red Deer product Brendan Mandrusiak is also on the Rebels radar and has a 2.75 GAA, .909 save percentage and a 2-1-1 record with the midget AA Red Deer Elks.
Colten Meaver, a 16-year-old forward drafted in 2008, is another midget AA player and leads the Edmonton and Rural League in scoring with 12 goals and 20 points in 10 games as a member of the Southside Athletics.
The Rebels scouts are also high on six-foot-four forward Tyson McCallum, a listed player who has registered two goals and 13 points in 14 games with the Caribou Cougars of the BC Major Midget League.
“He’s a big kid with really good potential,” said Peterson. “He’s another one of those kids who has to figure out how to compete consistently. But he can skate and shoot and he’s a good student of the game.”
Additional forwards on the Rebels list include Edmonton Southside midget AAA player Mark McCoy and Brooks Maxwell, one of the leading scorers in the Southern Alberta 15-year-old league with 15 points (4-11) in eight games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Defenceman Matt Pufahl of Saskatoon was expected to contend for a job with the Rebels this season, but the 16-year-old suffered a shoulder injury during training camp and is currently recovering from surgery.
“He’ll be out most of the season but he’s a hard-working kid and he’ll bounce back,” said Peterson, who has been impressed with the development of 16-year-old Red Deer midget AAA Optimist Rebels rearguards Kirsten Odendaal, the team captain, and Sam Jardine.
“They’re both six-foot, six-foot-one guys, and they’re still growing,” said Peterson. “(Odendaal) is a really steady guy who makes great decisions. He’s an excellent skater and a good puck-moving guy who’s starting to look more and more like a hockey player.”
Defenceman Lucas Grayson and forward Jackson Playfair, both 15, are in B.C. playing with the midget AAA Comox Chiefs and at the Okanagan Hockey Academy, respectively, while American forward Nikolas Olsson, also drafted this year, is with the Los Angeles midget Selects as well as the U.S. development program.
“We’re keeping in touch with Nikolas,” said Peterson, who estimated the Rebels chances of landing Olsson, who will be courted by U.S. colleges, are “50-50”.