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From the garage to the ice: How Rebels Kai Uchacz became the WHL’s top goal scorer

Uchacz leads the WHL with 33 goals
Red Deer Rebels forward Kai Uchacz celebrates after taking the Western Hockey League lead in goals. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

Red Deer Rebels forward Kai Uchacz’s elite goal-scoring ability hasn’t developed overnight.

The 19-year-old has 33 goals in just 36 games making him one of the most feared snipers in the Western Hockey League (WHL).

Just last season he mustered 14 goals in 52 games which bodes the question of why such a massive leap.

Through continuous training over the course of his young hockey career, Uchacz has seen success on the offensive end in the 2022-23 season scoring 32 per cent of the time he shoots the puck.

That can be credited to a nightly family tradition growing up in De Winton, Alta. just south of Calgary.

“We had our net in our garage. My brother, dad, and I would all be out there every night after dinner just either shooting the ball around or shooting pucks,” Uchacz told The Advocate.

“By the time we moved out of that house the drywall on that one side was all gone. There was some repair to be done but I’ve always been a kid who loves to play road hockey and just out with the buddies on the outdoor pond.”

The friendly family competition between the trio would often have different outcomes but looking back he’s thankful for those moments.

“I give credit to both of them for always pushing me. As a young guy I never wanted to lose to my older brother and having my dad there too it was always fun competition,” he added.

Ever since he started playing the game as a boy he hated getting off the ice, whether at practice or just skating with friends. Following many on-ice sessions he always wanted to be the last player on the ice, which continues to this day.

“Shooting the puck around, stick handling, and just practicing. That’s always been a part of me to keep pushing myself and see how far I can go with it,” he added.

His work ethic can certainly be attested to by former U18 AAA Okotoks Oilers associate coach Brett Pilkington.

Pilkington saw firsthand Uchacz’s abilities while coaching him during the 2018-19 season, his last year before heading to the WHL.

“When he was 15 he was a big powerful kid that played the game the right way,” Pilkington said. “He had all the right habits, had the willingness to compete in the tough areas, and had the scoring touch.

“To be honest I’m not too surprised he’s having success right now in the WHL.”

In his final year of midget AAA hockey, Uchacz scored 16 goals and had 15 assists for 31 points. However, even though he could score, Uchacz was special in other ways.

“He was a prime example of a kid that understood the meaning of when no one was watching that’s the time to get better,” Pilkington said.

“He was always going the extra mile, he was always in the gym, and he was always on the ice late. He would do the little things that make you successful not only as a player but as a person.”

What separates him from other players according to his former coach is his skating ability.

Uchacz worked on his shot in the offseason, both power, and accuracy on and off the ice.

He’d be blasting pucks inside his shop by himself or lead the way in a shooting competition among his friends picking corners to test accuracy. More off-ice workouts but would hit the ice whenever time was available.

The work has led him to have his best season yet including 10 goals in the last four games and back-to-back hat tricks. The fantastic week led him to win WHL Player of the Week honours and helped the Rebels go 4-0 since returning from Christmas.

“I guess pucks were going in for me so it was a good week and for the team to get four wins is a really good start to the second half for us,” Uchacz said.

“I’ve never received player of the week in the WHL so to see my name up there on social media was really cool and a great honour.”

Rebels assistant coach Ryan Colville said despite the hot run last week, Uchacz’s effort has remained the same all season.

“Right from the start of camp, he came out and he was ready to play. You can see the growth in his game and confidence,” Colville said.

“You’re always hoping for that jump from a player and for him, he’s definitely met the expectations for us… For as long as he’s been here he’s worked on his shot and I give him a lot of credit for that.

“He puts in a lot of work before and after practice just to develop those skills. He puts a lot of work in and it’s paying off for him.”

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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