Like so many other Canadians, Alex Petrovic watched Wednesday’s disaster at Buffalo in disbelief.
And like the vast majority of TV spectators who took in Team Canada’s third-period implosion and subsequent 5-3 loss to Russia in the gold-medal game of the world junior championship, Petrovic felt for the losing side.
“They worked so hard and had all those fans going to the games and supporting them. And then just that little letdown at the end proved costly,” said the Red Deer Rebels defenceman.
“It was an emotional letdown and you have to feel sorry for those guys. Better luck next year, I guess,” added Petrovic, who is well-acquainted with Team Canada players Quinton Howden and Erik Gudbranson, having played on the national under-18 team with both and attended Florida Panthers training camp with Gudbranson.
Speaking of next winter, Petrovic could very well be a member of the national junior squad when the world juniors are played in Edmonton and Calgary.
“Hopefully. That would be great, with Edmonton being my hometown,” he said. “I’ll finish out this season hard and hopefully I can get a summer tryout (an invitation to the national junior development camp).”
Rebels head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin feels Petrovic is a definite candidate for the 2012 Canadian squad.
“No question. I think he was a candidate this year,” said Wallin. “He was certainly on the cusp this season and not far away from at least being invited to the (final evaluation) camp. Certainly next year, should he continue to progress and develop, I would be hard hard-pressed to not see him playing with the national team.”
Now in his third season with the Rebels, the 18-year-old has hit his stride and is looking very much like a future NHL rearguard.
“This is probably what I expected of myself,” said the six-foot-four blueliner, who was selected by the Florida Panthers in the second round of the 2010 NHL entry draft. “I think I’m bringing my game more consistently each shift and being a leader out there too.
“I’m also contributing offensively, which is a part of my game I’ve worked on. Hopefully I can keep that going.”
Petrovic, while seeing plenty of power-play duty with the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Byron Froese and Andrej Kudrna, has collected 30 points — including four goals — in 38 games this season. He’s also a highly respectable plus-12 and his 76 minutes in penalties are a team high.
Petrovic, who keeps in touch with Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on a weekly basis, is truly enjoying himself this season. Winning has that affect.
“From two years ago, the atmosphere surrounding the team is just so much better,” he said. “The winning environment around the rink is awesome. We’ll keeping winning here and keep the fans proud.”
Wallin is thankful for Petrovics’s presence and ongoing contributions, but is adamant that the club’s second-round pick in the 2007 bantam draft is capable of more on a more consistent basis.
“He’s a big guy with a lot of tools,” said Wallin. “He came in here at 15 and you could see some of the ability he had then. He was put in some tough situations as a 16- and 17-year-old, he was probably asked to play minutes and in situations that he wasn’t ready for. That was part of his growth and development as a player, like the evolution of our team, and I think he’s grown from that.
“I thought his first quarter of the season was real strong, but I thought he levelled off a bit through the end of November and to Christmas. But during the last couple of games he’s shown signs it turning it around again, which is huge for our team. He’s a go-to guy, a leader, and we need a lot out of him and ask a lot of him. When he brings that he’s a real good hockey player.”
Wallin, as he previously noted, saw pro potential in Petrovic when the youngster attended his first Rebels training camp in 2007. And the Red Deer bench boss is confident his prize blueliner will eventually find his way to the NHL.
“He’s quite a package with his skating ability and the size that he brings. And he thinks the game real well,” said Wallin. “The biggest thing for Alex to take that next step is just to find that consistent intensity level. When he plays with an edge and a real intensity he’s a real tough guy to play against at both ends of the rink.
“That’s his challenge right now — to play with that high level of intensity each and every shift.”