Jace Weir slips on his Red Deer Rebels uniform these days with much more confidence.
Even three months ago, the opportunity he’s had this season may have seemed like a well-intentioned dream.
The Rebels have played 15 games this season and Weir suited up for all but one – something that was not a guarantee when the 16-year-old defenceman got the call in February that he would be joining the club for the 24-game WHL season.
“I was pretty anxious to see what’s going to happen and what they think about me. So when I got the call and they said they want me to come to the team I was pretty excited,” said Weir, who will celebrate his 17th birthday shortly after the season ends.
“I didn’t know if they wanted to bring me into the bubble or not, I had a good feeling. I came here and it’s been nothing but positives.”
Back then, the Vernon, B.C. product was just happy to join the team and learn what the WHL was all about when the season started.
Suddenly, a teammate went down with an injury. Then another. Then another.
And in last weekend’s three-game series with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Rebels only had four defencemen of the eight that were on the roster when the pandemic-shortened adventure began in March.
That’s meant Weir, who likely would have been used sparingly in his WHL rookie season, has taken on a gigantic responsibility on the blueline.
“I didn’t think I was going to be playing this much but here we are. I wish we didn’t have any D hurt, I wish everyone was in the lineup. I miss all the guys,” he said.
“The way it’s turned out, you can’t waste it. (I have) Just made the best out of it and had an open mind and just ran with it.”
The trial by fire has not been without its hiccups but for the most part, Weir looks and feels like a steady, veteran defenceman in his first WHL campaign.
“It’s tough when we have four D and a forward comes back and plays D. There’s a lot of minutes. I didn’t think this was going to happen coming into the season. I felt like I’ve adjusted to it pretty well. I just love playing hockey,” said the six-foot-two, 190-pound defenceman.
“If there’s a lot of minutes, I’m up for the task. I think all of our d-men have really risen to the occasion.”
He attributes some of that to the coaching staff, as well as the guys who are still left on defence, like Joel Sexsmith, Kyle Masters and Mason Ward.
Chase Leslie, who is likely out for the season, has also helped Weir find his footing.
“All the older guys, they’ve helped me a lot and same with (assistant coach) Brad Flynn. The stuff I know now and the stuff I’m continuing to learn from them and from Flynn and everyone in the organization is pretty crazy, they just look at the game in such a different way,” he said.
“When you do that you learn more about the game and add things to your game that you didn’t have before.”
Weir has already knocked off one WHL milestone in April, scoring his first career WHL goal. The celebration might have left something to be desired on his end but he’ll always cherish the moment.
“Just a point shot that found its way in. The celly was pretty questionable. Didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t even know it went in. It was pretty cool,” he said with a laugh.
“Just the moment, when all the boys celebrate. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
With nine straight losses, it hasn’t been an easy stretch to learn on the fly for the young defenceman. He said as a group, they’ve tried to forget about the losses and take life one period at a time.
“It’s hard to lose. No one likes to lose. We all want to win here. I think the boys have just stuck with it, every game is a new game and we reset,” he said.
Heading into the weekend for a three-game set against the Medicine Hat Tigers, it’s another challenge that the steady defender believes the young group is ready for.
“They’re a good team– skilled and fast. I think we just have to stick to our systems and stick to what we do best. When we play our game and make them play our game – we forecheck everything and when our d-zone is on point, we’re a tough team to play against,” he said.
Red Deer will travel to Medicine Hat Friday, before hosting the Tigers Saturday and heading back to Medicine Hat Sunday.