Since the first time Rhett Stoesser stepped on the ice as an undrafted free agent at Red Deer Rebels training camp, to now as the starting goaltender, his mindset has remained the same – to have fun.
It is a game after all.
Just ask Stoesser…
“It’s hockey. It’s a sport. It’s a game,” he said. “I’m just going out there having fun… If the team can score for me as long as I can keep them down a couple of goals or less it makes it easy on me.”
And after three straight wins last week, Stoesser has looked like a seasoned veteran.
The first came in a 4-3 shootout win against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Wednesday where the 17-year-old netminder stopped all three shooters solidifying a 27-save performance.
Two days later he looked downright unbeatable in a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings and made 34 saves in the effort. On Saturday Stoesser picked up where he left off making 31 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. It was also his team-leading 16th win of the season.
Statistically, the rookie has been solid in his first Western Hockey League season posting the second-best goals-against average of 2.25.
He also has two shutouts this season and is a couple shy of the league-leading four shutouts by Seattle Thunderbirds goalie Scott Ratzlaff.
Despite his encouraging play this season, Stoesser remains humble and modest giving his teammates all the credit for their success. His mindset is team prosperity over individual accolades.
“It’s more the team game, I like getting wins above everything,” Stoesser said.
Stoesser’s journey to the WHL is unlike many others. A year ago he was the starting netminder for the U18 AAA Airdrie CFR Bisons in the Alberta Elite Hockey League. After he went undrafted in the WHL Prospects Draft Stoesser flew under the radar but earned an invite to Rebels training camp in September.
The young man didn’t look too much into it and saw it as a fun experience. He was focused on doing his best and letting the chips fall where they may. Once Stoesser made the final roster he admitted he was a bit surprised.
“I was excited for sure but I had no idea coming into camp what their goalie situation was looking like,” he added. “I would just say I went out there and I guess the puck was just bouncing my way.”
Head coach Steve Konowalchuk said coming into training camp nobody expected Stoesser to be where he’s at right now but right from day one of camp he gave up the least goals out of any goalie.
“He earned a position,” Konowalchuk said. “From there he’s gone out and done it in games. He’s faced different challenges in games, whether it’s the first game he played or the first back-to-back, but he battled and all of a sudden learned how to get his confidence.
“He just goes at it every day with the right approach, works hard, and it’s been fun to watch.”
The Rebels bench boss gave credit to Brent and Shaun Sutter, the general manager and assistant general manager of the team, for finding him.
Stoesser has received a lot of support from the coaching staff, his teammates, but also his fellow goaltending partner Kyle Kelsey. Kelsey, who is also a rookie, hasn’t played since Dec. 17 with a lower-body injury and has essentially played the same amount of games as Stoesser who’s started every game since his absence.
“[Kelsey] is awesome. He’s the best goalie partner I’ve ever had. He’s super supportive all the time,” Stoesser said.
This week Kelsey was upgraded to day-to-day instead of week-to-week which means he could be returning to action very soon. Once he does return that’ll leave the coaching staff with a tough decision on who to turn to.
Do they stay with Stoesser who has been on fire as of late or return to Kelsey who started the majority of the games before his injury?
Until that choice comes up there is no question the coaching staff feels confident with Stoesser between the pipes.
“He’s been improving all year,” Konowalchuk added. “His compete and the way he makes saves is what gave him a chance every game early on but now you see more of his game evolving… He’s a really good kid with good character.”