What was looked at as an unknown in training camp after goaltender Chase Coward decided not to report to the team for medical reasons, the Red Deer Rebels seemed to have found a reliable goalie tandem.
While Kyle Kelsey was acquired by trade in the offseason from the Moose Jaw Warriors, Rhett Stoesser was signed as a free agent after he impressed in training camp. Both goalies showed up to play during the opening weekend of the 2022-23 Western Hockey League (WHL) season, which also happened to be both of their regular season debuts.
Stoesser played in the home opener Saturday night against the Edmonton Oil Kings in front of a rowdy crowd at the Peavey Mart Centrium where he made 22 saves in a 5-3 win.
He said it was awesome to get his first win and hoped he played better but admitted it could have been worse.
“That’s the main thing but lots to improve on for sure,” Stoesser said adding he also had some solid games in the preseason. “[The regular season] is a bit more of a tight game with a lot less grade A chances. Everything’s more to the outside.”
Stoesser played last season with the Airdrie CFR Bisons U18 AAA where he had a 3.67 goals against average and a .885 save percentage. In the offseason, he began his underdog story by taking part in the Rebels training camp where he earned a spot on the roster.
“I was planning on going back to midget AAA so this is a bit of an upgrade,” he added. “Reading shots is a lot harder here and just the speed overall is way faster and the playmaking.
After his first start with the Rebels, the 17-year-old said he needs to work on his speed both in the net and while handling the puck.
Assistant general manager Shaun Sutter said Stoesser was originally invited to camp on a tryout basis with no expectations because no other team in the league had provided it to him yet but added his underdog story is made-for a movie.
“He’s obviously jumped over multiple hurdles to get where he’s got to and you know credit to him. We always tell the players that you get what you earn and he had a great camp and earned the right to get into exhibition and be a part of our roster. You like to see those underdog stories,” Sutter said.
Kelsey made his WHL debut on the road in Edmonton last Friday and stole the 5-2 win from the Oil Kings on their championship banner-raising night after he made 28 saves.
The 18-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C. said it was a great feeling and thought it was a great team win. It was quite a step up from playing last season with the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL.
“That was definitely the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of. It was a pretty unreal experience going out there and seeing all the fans. The lower bowl was basically packed and it was really cool,” Kelsey said. “I love playing in the away games. I love disappointing the away crowd it’s something I thrive for.”
“Obviously it was a little bit faster, and the plays were a little bit better. I mean just that extra second where the players hold onto the puck compared to back then.”
As the season goes on he hopes to be quicker in anticipating plays before they happen and work on his lateral movement in the crease.
Sutter explained coming into this season they wanted to make sure they had two goaltenders who were capable of starting and winning games. After a great season in the BCHL, Sutter said acquiring Kelsey was important to form an effective tandem in the net.
“I imagine he’s going to continue to get better and better you know to build on what he did last year in Junior A and he’s continued to improve with us so far. We’re kind of excited about where he can get to as he keeps building,” Sutter said.