Seattle Thunderbirds defenceman Austin Strand lit the lamp early against his former team.
Just six minutes into the game against the Red Deer Rebels Wednesday night, the 20-year-old’s dream season in Seattle continued with a one-timer from the point for his eighth goal of the season.
The goal was his seventh on the power play, first among WHL defenders. His eight goals in fourteen games this season are one behind his nine in 74 games last year.
“Our head coach is (using) me on the first power play unit … right in that one-timer spot where I like to hang out. It was nice to get one … early. I was hoping I could pot one more. It was fun, good to get the win,” Strand said.
The six-foot-four, 193-pound Calgary native spent three seasons in Red Deer from 2014 to 2017 before he was dealt to Seattle for defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus last year. In 163 games with the Rebels, Strand had seven goals and 41 points.
He said it was great being back and even practicing in the Red Deer rink.
“Some of the fans with a couple welcome back signs,” he said after a 4-2 win at the Centrium Wednesday. “Just saying hi and stuff …. Bunch of family here, old billets, it’s cool. Awesome to be back. Miss the city and miss all the fans.”
Strand is enjoying a renewed sense of confidence after both attending the Edmonton Oilers training camp this summer, but also more power play time to start the 2017-2018 WHL campaign. Along with Oilers camp, Strand credits Thunderbirds first year head coach Matt O’Dette with giving him some extra freedom on the ice this year as a reason for his success.
“It was nice to get that experience under the belt. I think it gave me more confidence in my skating. Been able to do what I want to do on the ice. Coach has given me the leeway to do it. He’s been really supportive with helping me out,” Strand said.
“A bit of off-ice too, seeing what those guys do… mostly on-ice with just confidence, and I think I figured out what it takes to play at the next level, with what you need to do with passes in the d-zone, and I’ve started to figure out just get it to the forwards.”
The blueliner has also been to the Memorial Cup in consecutive seasons with the Rebels at home in 2015-2016, and with the WHL Champion Thunderbirds last year. Although Seattle dropped all three games in the Memorial Cup, Strand said the experience his second time around helped spread the word about his play.
“Another Memorial cup year was awesome, I had a pretty big role. It was nice to get a goal there, too. I think that really helped get my name out there. I think I was playing the best hockey I’ve played. Some prime focus,” he said.
The third round draft WHL Bantam Draft pick of the Red Deer Rebels in 2012 has come a long way in his final WHL season and is looking for a third straight Memorial Cup appearance.
“Going game-by-game right now, we lost a lot of guys from last year but we’ve been doing really well lately,” Strand said. “So, not sure what’s going to happen, but just going to go out there and do my best. Team is just hopefully going to keep going like this.”