You almost always remember your first and for Red Deer Rebels defenceman Kyle Masters, the circumstances might help his hold a little bit of extra weight.
There was the fact that the 16-year-old suffered a lower-body injury in November, one that kept him out almost three months of his rookie WHL season.
In only his sixth game back from the nasty injury he suffered at the World U17 Hockey Challenge, Masters fired a pretty routine shot on net.
It was on the road against the Kelowna Rockets and the shot bounced in of a couple people, including Rockets goalie Roman Basran. On first look, it also appeared to hit Cam Hausinger’s stick. At first, Masters’ first career WHL goal was credited to Hausinger.
“It’s definitely good to get it out of the way, it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while. (Jayden) Grubbe passed it cross-ice and I just tried to get it on net. We’re still not sure who scored that one, but I’ll take it,” Masters recalled with a smile.
After the video was reviewed in the intermission, they announced it in the second period, Masters officially had his first WHL goal.
“It was nice of them to give it to me, even if Haus did touch it,” Masters added.
Somewhere back in Edmonton, his dad Kevin, who played defence for the 1992-93 Rebels, was smiling.
Masters said his dad makes it out to almost every home game and it’s still a trip to think that he once played in Red Deer, all those years ago.
“He’s given me some guidance, it being my first year. Whether it’s phone calls or him coming to watch and helping me out, it’s just been a great experience,” Masters said.
“It’s nice being close to home, not too far he always tries to make it out. I have a little brother, so he has to balance both.”
This season it has been especially tough for Masters and he’s had to lean those phone calls and chats with his dad. Sitting high above the ice, missing a chance to play with his teammates for 30 games this season, was understandably tough.
“Honestly, just not being able to go on the ice, it was tough watching everyone else and you’re having to rehab or watch. You always want to be out there and help the team,” he said.
“Over time, it was small increments. You gotta start walking again and strengthen the ligaments. Once you’re skating again, it’s pretty easy. Just have to work on the little things.”
How he got through that is not only a lesson in perseverance but also making the most of sitting out. He studied his teammates, he learned what they did and didn’t do well, and used it in his own game.
“Missing some time, he got a different vantage point than he wanted or us as an organization wanted for such an extended period of time, but that’s hockey. Credit to him, he learned a lot. He watched, he understood how he has to play defensively,” said Rebels assistant coach Brad Flynn.
“Now it’s about getting those game touches and getting back up to game speed. When he keeps the game simple, he’s very very effective. He makes some high-risk plays, but that’s part of the way he plays as well. It’s learning when and how to use that skill set.”
One such set of lessons came from former Rebels captain Dawson Barteaux. The 20-year-old, traded to the Winnipeg ICE at the trade deadline was a mentor for Masters. They lived with the same billet family and even in his absence, Masters still finds himself leaning on Barteaux’s advice and some of his play.
“It was nice, we joke still about the spin-o-ramas, learned it a bit from him,” Masters said with a laugh.
“He’s helped me a lot, living with him was a blessing. He’s always helped me on or off-ice. Just the little skills. Being able to make plays quick and a big part is learning to play defence at this level. Helped me, even though he’s not still here.”
While those lessons will help in the long run, there still lots to learn for the young defenceman.
Flynn, who is a fan of metaphors, offered this simple one up for Masters. In restaurant terms, he’s still working the fryers and is not yet a sous chef.
That’s understandable, given the 16-year-old is still wet behind the ears, not yet having played 20 games in the WHL.
So with 12 games left in the WHL season, how is it that Masters will move past the frying stage? Especially so, as the blueliner will be NHL Draft eligible in 2021.
“You just gotta do what the coaches say. They’ve talked to people and they know what you need to do to get to the next level,” he said.
“They’re going to help me with skills and hockey IQ and the gym. They’re just going to help get you ready for next year, whether it’s the NHL Draft for me, which is big.”
The Rebels play only once this week, taking on the Tri-City Americans Saturday night at 7 p.m. It is the first Rebels home game since Feb. 8.