From big goals to broken bones, the Red Deer Rebels look back at WHL firsts

With such a young roster, it has already been a season of firsts for the Rebels

Ethan Anders distinctly remembers hearing it from Brent Sutter in his first WHL game.

He let in two goals in the first 14 minutes against a stacked Moose Jaw Warriors team back on Sept. 30, 2017.

Although he bounced back and stopped 31 shots in a 4-2 loss, that chat with Sutter is etched in his mind.

“First period didn’t go too well. I didn’t come up with two saves in that one. Brent gave me a bit of a hard time. After that, I figured it out. Nerves got out of the way and I felt good,” said the now 19-year-old netminder, with 105 WHL games under his belt.

“It was close to home so my family came too, so it was nice.”

Like Anders, up and down the Red Deer lineup, from veterans to rookies, every player has a story about a WHL first.

This season in particular, with a roster that has an average age of 17.75, one of the youngest in the WHL, there have been a lot of firsts already, just seven games into the season. Nine Rebels have already made their WHL debut in 2019.

Rookie Jaxsen Wiebe notched his first career WHL goal this past weekend in Medicine Hat and recalled the play right down to the finest detail.

“I saw (Jayden Grubbe) driving wide and he had some good speed around the d-man, my initial thought was to support him for a pass. I saw him go around the net, so I went to the front and he found me out in the slot, I was fortunate enough to burry it,” Wiebe said.

I just kind of blacked out. It was super exciting, my parents were there to watch it. It was awesome for them to get to see it.”

Even his first WHL game earlier this year, Wiebe was a difference-maker and had an electric shift that rocked the Centrium crowd to their feet.

“It was nerve-racking for sure, we had a big crowd out there– home opener. Everybody was going nuts. I remember it just being fast and being nervous. Settled in, threw a couple of hits and got comfortable,” said the 17-year-old.

Cohner Saleski has only played two games in a Rebels uniform, yet the 17-year-old got two firsts out of the way on the same night. He picked up his first point, an assist in his first game after he was acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders.

“Was able to get my first point in my first game, it felt really good and we ended up winning two games, so that’s an even better feeling,” said Saleski.

For the Rebels in 2019-20, with a young roster, it will inevitably be jam-packed with first games, first goals, first points and more.

That comes along with youth and collectively, the group doesn’t miss a chance to celebrate these moments.

“It’s good, guys get down when they don’t get their first goal or aren’t getting points,” said second-year Rebels forward Zak Smith.

“When you see a couple of guys get ther first goal out of the way, you can see it takes the weight off their shoulders and they can become more confident with the puck.”

Smith remembers his first WHL goal, only four games into his career last season against the Swift Current Broncos. As he retells the story, every detail in tidy order – even cheekily describing the pass from teammate Arshdeep Bains as a “crappy sauce”.

“I remember it exactly. Me (Chris Douglas) and Arsh on the same line against Swift Current. Dougie cycled it down low to Arsh and I was in the slot. Arsh gave me a crappy sauce and I put er far side shelf,” Smith said.

For veteran Ethan Sakowich, the memory of his first game came with a caveat. He played alongside Austin Strand on a stacked Rebels team bound for the Memorial Cup. It was a surreal experience, until the next night when he broke his elbow and missed the rest of the season.

“It was pretty cool, it was in Red Deer when I was 16, playing against the Oil Kings, growing up in Athabasca, watched a lot of Oil Kings games. Pretty special, had lots of my family there, something I’ll always remember,” Sakowich said.

“Second game, I broke my elbow, in Rexall (Place), the arena I dreamed of playing in.”

Whichever way debuts go for these teenagers experiencing moments of a lifetime in the Western Hockey League, it’s clear you never forget your first (or second).

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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