Former Red Deer Rebel forward Evan Polei is enjoying his time as a pro hockey player in his first season. (Photo By Byron Hackett/ Advocate Staff)

Polei embracing pro hockey journey

“If you don’t know how to cook, I suggest you take lessons or classes because you’ll be hooped.”

Former Rebels forward Evan Polei was never one to mince words throughout his four-year WHL career in Red Deer and that was his latest sage advice as a first-year pro hockey player. Polei said he’s not a master chef in the kitchen, but quickly learned the tricks of the trade in his first year on his own.

“Living on our own, we don’t have our billet families to cook for us anymore or do our groceries,” he said.

“None of that is taken care of. If you know how to cook, you’re set up.”

In a phone interview from his hotel in Bakersfield, California, the 21-year-old Wetaskiwin native said he’s learned plenty of other lessons in just his short 36-game pro hockey journey.

Polei, who spent most of the season in the ECHL with the Wichita Thunder, was recently recalled by the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors, the affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.

As a member of the Thunder, Polei scored eight goals and added nine assists before earning the recall last week. He made a quick first impression, scoring his first career AHL goal in just his third game, but first since he was called back up in the new year.

The story will likely change with age but based on his reaction, it didn’t look like he even knew the goal went in. Either way, his teammates were plenty proud of the young forward.

“I didn’t even realize (Braden Christoffer) tried to pass it over and it hit me in the skate. I just stayed with it and put it on net,” Polei recalled.

“Took me a couple seconds to realize it was in the back of the net, but I was pretty pumped. Everyone was pretty stoked.”

The beloved former Rebels forward who was known for his gritty, hard-nosed, do-anything to win attitude has been figuring out the pro-life on the fly.

In his overage season in Red Deer, that style of play translated into 33 goals and a contract with the Condors. He said pro hockey has been wildly different from junior, where most of your life is scheduled and regimented.

“Just how serious guys are about this. In junior guys go through the ranks and it’s fun and games. You like to have a good time. In pro, you show up to the rink and its business. It’s a job now,” he said.

“We’re all getting paid to do this. If one person is not performing and it’s hurting the team, there’s another guy that’s going to step up and take that spot.”

As a member of the Rebels, Polei was always a fan favourite and he said that support helped him throughout his time in Red Deer and even now, during his pro career.

“It makes me happy to know that I made a big impact in Red Deer,” he said.

While his future in Bakersfield is currently temporary, his work ethic and commitment to the game remains a constant in the hope that, one day soon he’ll make the jump to the NHL.

“I’m one of the youngest guys in the league. I’m told you’re young, you’ve got so much time ahead of you. Guys that are 30, almost at the end of their career, (say) it goes fast. I’m trying to work my way to hopefully play in the NHL by 23 or 24 and that’s only three years away,” he said.

“Four years in Red Deer flew by. I blinked and it was done. It’s not that much time if you really think about it.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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