He’d eagerly accept the challenge of playing major junior hockey in his hometown, but Mitch Kaufmann has an attractive option in the event that his attempt to earn a roster spot with the Red Deer Rebels doesn’t pan out.
The 18-year-old defenceman can always head back to Grande Prairie, the home of the defending Alberta Junior Hockey League champion Storm.
The Red Deer native was a member of the 2008-98 AJHL championship squad, appearing in 38 regular-season games and eight playoff contests.
“Being part of a winning team was unbelievable, I’d never had the chance to do that,” Kaufmann said on Monday, at the conclusion of the second day of the Red Deer Rebels training camp at the Centrium.
“Going all the way in the AJHL was great, but in the end it was kind of bittersweet because we lost to the Vernon Vipers (in the Alberta-B.C. junior A championship series).
“But we have to be proud of what we did.”
As a Storm rookie, Kaufmann was a part-time player, but he gladly accepted his role.
“It’s tough being a young guy, you have to take your turn and sit out your games,” he said.
“But that’s just a part of the process.
“Everybody does it so it’s not that big of a deal.”
The five-foot-11, 181-pound rearguard ias now trying to earn an opportunity to play regularly at the next level.
With three spots open on the Red Deer blueline and Czech import Jindra Barak yet to skate in camp — and show that he can compete — due to an illness, Kaufmann has a fighting chance.
“I just wanted to come out and see how I compared to the other guys here,” said Kaufmann.
“There’s a lot of good players here on the back end, that’s for sure.
“I know there are four returnees and that they’ve signed a couple of guys, so really I’m not too worried about it. I’m just kind of showing my stuff. If they want to have me here, that would be great. If not, I still have another great team to go to.
“I know Grande Prairie would love to have me back and I’d love to go back.”
Kaufmann, who went to camp with the Calgary Hitmen two years ago and played in the intrasquad game before returning to Red Deer to join the midget AAA Optimist Rebels, will lose his U.S. college scholarship eligibility if he appears in a Western Hockey League preseason game.
“That’s something that would have to be discussed with the coaches, but for now I’m just happy to be around,” he said.
According to Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin, Kaufmann hasn’t looked out of place during the first two days of camp.
“I think Mitch has played well. He’s been steady,” said Wallin. “He’s got some junior A experience so he’s come in here and played with confidence because of that. He’s a steady guy. He doesn’t do anything real flashy but he’s solid in his own zone, he makes a good first pass and doesn’t get himself in much trouble. As a result, he’s certainly garnered some attention that way and he’ll get a longer look.”
The rookies will scrimmage from 8:30 to 10 a.m. today and the main camp participants will be on the ice from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Players competing in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. McDonald’s Black and White game will scrimmage from 5 to 6:30 p.m. today.
The Rebels first preseason game is on Saturday versus the Moose Jaw Warriors. The 3 p.m. contest, to be played in St. Albert, is part of the Edmonton Oil Kings tournament.
Red Deer’s other exhibition outings are Sept. 2 against the Hitmen at Calgary’s Centennial Arena, Sept. 4 and 5 against the Oil Kings in Stettler and Leduc, and Sept. 11 and 12 versus the Kootenay Ice and Hitmen at Innisfail and Lacombe.
The Rebels will host the Hitmen in the Red Deer Advocate regular-season home opener Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
• After posting a narrow 2-1 shootout win on Sunday, Team Black fell 6-3 to Team Grey 24 hours later. Nathan Green, with two goals, Willie Coetzee, Colin Archer, Nick Bell and Adam Kambeitz tallied for the victorious contingent, with Landon Ferraro, Connor Redmond and Josh Cowen replying for Team Black.
• The Rebels coaches were still waiting Monday evening for the results of blood tests carried out on prize rookie forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as well as Barak, both of whom have yet to skate due to illness.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old defenceman Matt Pufahl will see a doctor today after suffering a shoulder injury on Sunday.
“We just want to get it checked and make sure that nothing is seriously wrong there. It’s a precautionary thing,” said Wallin.
Sophomore rearguard Alex Petrovic, who tweaked his groin on Sunday, was also a spectator on Day 2.
“It’s nothing too serious, but we’re going to give him a bit of time to heal up and make sure it’s OK. He won’t skate through the rest of camp,” said Wallin.
• Forward Steve Oursov, who missed much of his WHL rookie season with injuries, is still recovering from a severe concussion he suffered during a fight with Saskatoon’s Charles Inglis in February. He remains at home in Chilliwack.
“At this point he’s still symptomatic,” said Wallin. “He hasn’t been able to train at all so we’ll just have to kind of see how he progresses. Steve is still on our list and part of our team and we’ll just have to play it by ear.”
Oursov will likely be placed on the Rebels’ injurey list next week.