As with most Western Hockey League rookies, nothing is coming easy for Tyson Ness.
“I’ve been just working as hard as I can trying to make something happen every shift I’m out there. I’m trying to battle my way through games,” the Grande Prairie native said Tuesday.
So far, so good. Ness, a 17-year-old forward, has scored twice and collected six points in 14 games, all the while attempting to contribute at both ends of the ice.
“Nesser has come in and played well for us,” said Rebels head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin. “He’s not a guy you necessarily notice a whole lot, he’s not a flashy guy but he gets things done.
“He kind of plays on the ice the way his personality is off the ice. He’s just a guy who goes about his business, yet he’s very effective. He’s intelligent, he makes smart decisions with the puck. He’s pretty dedicated at both ends of the rink and has a good understanding of the game, and you know he’s going to put in the effort every day to get better. He’s been solid for us so far.”
Ness, a seventh-round pick in the 2008 bantam draft, was eligible to play for the Rebels last season but was reassigned in late August. He wasn’t overly confident that he’d make the club this fall, despite adding a few inches/pounds of muscle during the summer.
“I needed to get bigger and when I came to camp this year I worked as I could to make a good impression,” said the five-foot-11, 166-pound winger.
Ness joined the Grande Prairie Storm of the AJHL upon returning home last year, but played sparingly and was eventually sent down to the midget AAA Storm, with whom he scored six goals and added three assists in 10 games.
“Playing junior A was a really good learning experience for me. It got me used to playing against older, bigger guys,” he said. “When I went back to midget I had a better sense of timing and I was bigger than some of the other players.”
When Ness checked into training camp in August of this year and hit the ice for the first main-camp scrimmage, Wallin saw a more confident, physically-prepared player.
“There’s not a lot of 16-year-olds who are ready to contribute at this level and he (Ness) is an example of that,” said Wallin. “He had a very good training camp last year, but he’s a smaller guy and he needed some time to grow and mature physically.
“He went back and had some experience at the junior A level, and while he didn’t play a whole bunch it was good for him. When he headed back to midget he played a lot and had the opportunity to play a major role on their team. He came in here this year with confidence and was more prepared to contribute.”
Ness insisted he was never tempted to stay home, suit up with the Storm full-time and pursue a U.S. college scholarship.
“This is where I wanted to be all along. It was always my goal to play in the WHL and I really like it here in Red Deer,” he said. “We have a good team here. We have a lot of speed and depth. Everyone can put the puck in the net and everyone plays his position well.”
l Hard-luck winger Josh Cowen will likely be out of the Red Deer lineup for another one to two weeks as he recovers from a bout of mononucleosis. Tests have revealed that his spleen hasn’t been affected but the 19-year-old is lacking energy.
Meanwhile, Wallin is hoping that rookie defenceman Matt Pufahl will be available for Friday and Saturday games against the visiting Vancouver Giants and Saskatoon Blades after missing the better part of two weeks with a concussion.
Rookie winger Locke Muller had the pin removed from his broken hand early last week but won’t make his Rebels debut until closer to mid-November.