Rebels captain Ethan Sakowich reflects as WHL season ends abruptly

It is rare to catch Ethan Sakowich in a bad mood.

Even among the uncertain times ahead and the sad news from Wednesday, the Rebels captain was pleasantly optimistic and happy to take a look back.

Now back at home in Athabasca, Alta., the 21-year-old defenceman said when he heard the WHL was canceling the remainder of the regular season, disappointing but was somewhat expected.

His season, the swansong of his WHL career came to an abrupt end this week, with little chance to say goodbye to the fans and the community where he played his entire career.

“It’s definitely bittersweet. Definitely didn’t want to see my career end like this, but there’s nothing you can do. Kinda expected we got sent home last week and we were expecting it to wrap up, it is what it is,” he said.

The Rebels, even if the playoffs were to be played, missed out by one point and a few percentage points based on winning percentage (Red Deer had a 24-33-3-3 record and a 0.429 winning percentage, eight per cent behind the Seattle Thunderbirds, who have the final playoff spot).

All that could easily weigh on someone, but not Sakowich, the ever-energetic defender who took over as the team captain on Jan. 10, after his good friend Dawson Barteaux was traded to the Winnipeg ICE.

He instead, wants to focus on the good times, the fact that he got to live out his dream for four years in the WHL, where he played 268 games in a Rebels uniform.

“The last day at the rink was definitely tough, it was an awesome year overall. Great group of guys to finish it off. It would have been nice to have more of an end to the chapter, but I can’t complain, it was awesome,” he said.

Sakowich originally joined the Rebels blue line in the 2015-16 season, the year they hosted the Memorial Cup. In just his second game that year, with a large contingent of family and friends at the game in Edmonton, he broke his elbow and missed the majority of the regular season and playoffs.

While that was a low point, there have been plenty of highs. In particular this season, Sakowich pointed to the improvement he saw from the young roster until the final month of the season when they beat a playoff-bound ICE group and strung together some strong performances against other top groups.

“Obviously we were a young team, we didn’t have lots of expectations but I think towards the end of the season we were beating a lot of good teams,” said Sakowich, who had a career-high 11 goals and 17 assists in 63 games this year.

“It’s going to be a great showcase for what this team has in the future, I think they’re going to be very good.”

As for his own career, Sakowich plans to make the jump to USports hockey next season. He’s optimistic about the future, as usual, and happy for the chance he got in Red Deer.

“It was a long four and a half years, but it was the best four and a half years of my life,” he said.

“I met a lot of good people through this opportunity and it was the best time of my life. I was doing what I loved and just really enjoyed it.”

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