Alex Petrovic was only too happy to switch colours.
The Red Deer Rebels defenceman took off his yellow practice jersey this week and began participating in full-contact drills in preparation for his return to the lineup on Friday against the visiting Kootenay Ice.
The 17-year-old has appeared in only two games this season due to a high ankle strain he suffered during a practice session in late September. But he’s ready to roll now.
“I have the ankle taped up and it doesn’t hurt at all, so I just have to work real hard in practice the next two days and try and get my wind up,” Petrovic said on Wednesday.
“I might be a little rusty in the first period Friday, but that’s part of it. It’s just a matter of preparing yourself and staying mentally focused.”
The Edmonton native has been idle for six long and annoying weeks.
“It was pretty frustrating just watching practice and taking game stats upstairs (in the Centrium press box). I wanted to get out there and get rolling again, but you just have to live with it day by day,” he said.
This is a huge Western Hockey League season for Petrovic, who’s eligible for the 2010 NHL entry draft and has drawn the attention of pro scouts with his play as a Rebels rookie last season and his performance as a member of the Canadian team that struck gold in the under-18 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic in August.
“I felt really good coming into training camp this year, but then I had a groin problem that set me back a bit and then this (high ankle sprain),” said the six-foot-three, 180-pound rearguard.
“But you just have to keep going, you can’t really let it get to you and this is a big year for me. It’s my draft year and I have to come out hard on Friday and just progress from there.”
Petrovic feels that he’s a better player after representing Canada for a second time in August, his second international experience after suiting up with Team Pacific in the World Under-17 Challenge last winter.
“There a lot of pressure on you as a player putting on the Canadian sweater. To play well while under that pressure is a huge thing and it’s great experience,” he said.
Petrovic’s return to the Red Deer lineup is timely considering defenceman Nick Bell recently underwent ankle surgery and likely won’t return until late January, at the earliest.
Even with the acquisition of Aaron Borejko from the Kelowna Rockets two weeks ago, the Rebels have employed only five healthy defenceman along with forward Jordie Deagle on the blueline.
“We’ve been hurting a bit back there but hopefully I can help solidify the defence by coming back,” said Petrovic.
Friday’s contest will be the Rebels’ ninth home date in a 10-game stretch dating back to Oct. 9.
Red Deer is in Cranbrook to face the Ice on Saturday and then begins a four-game B.C. Division road trip in Kamloops on Tuesday.