Alex Morozoff could not have dreamed up a better first career WHL game.
The Saskatoon, Sask. native was called up to the Red Deer Rebels to play against the team he grew up watching and idolizing.
The five-foot-11, 171-pound winger made his initial WHL appearance on Jan. 5, when the Rebels were visiting the Saskatoon Blades.
Morozoff proceeded to score in the second period, in front of a huge contingent of family and friends.
“That was cool, all my friends and family were there, grew up watching the Blades so it was kind of cool to score my first goal,” Morozoff said.
“I was a little nervous but once I got on the ice, just played hockey.”
It was part of a whirlwind week for the Rebels seventh round WHL Bantam pick in 2016, after he was named on New Year’s Day the MVP of the prestigious Mac’s Midget Tournament in Calgary. He registered 13 points in four games.
Although individually he had a standout tournament with the Saskatoon Midget AAA Contacts, Morozoff tends to prefer his first experience at the event, when his team made it all the way to the final.
“That was a lot of fun. Great tournament to go to,” he said.
“Went to it my first-year midget and we went to the final. It was awesome. Was a lot stronger (this year) had a lot of opportunities and it was a lot of fun.”
As a 15-year-old with the Contacts in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League, Morozoff had a modest campaign with five goals and 16 assists. He made a big leap forward this year, with 15 goals in and 10 assists through just 27 games before being called up to the big club.
The biggest lesson for the talented winger in the jump from midget to major junior hockey has been an adjustment to the speed but also, doing more with less ice time.
“Usually, those skill guys, when they have the puck they know what to do with it. They read and pressure real well. They know when to shoot and pass. Sometimes when you move up levels, it’s the play without the puck,” Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt said.
“A lot more stops and starts rather than looping. You can get away with it and you can curl back and go after guys. The puck moves a lot quicker here.”
Morozoff has played four games since joining the Rebels and already the coaching staff has noticed the talent of the 16-year-old forward.
“He’s got a good skill set. Good skater, as a young player there’s still lots to learn with systems and things like that,” Truitt said.
“He’s got a real good package with his awareness, the skating and he’s getting better every day.”
With the Rebels average age sitting around 17.6, the young winger is part of a major rebuild for the team that currently sits one point out of last in the WHL standings.
While the remainder of this season likely represents a struggle for the team, going forward the development of a strong core of young talent will be critical to future success.
“We got some skating, some size, some power and we’ve got skill,” Truitt said.
“These guys will develop together which will be real good for the future. Those younger guys are going to push for years to come. It’s good to see.”
The Rebels will host the Prince Alberta Raiders on Friday night at the Centrium then welcome the Kamloops Blazers to town on Saturday.