Skip to content

Rebels mutually part ways with head coach Derrick Walser

Time for a new voice
Former Red Deer Rebels head coach Derrick Walser talks to his players during training camp last August at the Peavey Mart Centrium. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

The Red Deer Rebels announced they mutually parted ways with head coach Derrick Walser after Friday night’s 7-5 loss to division rival Swift Current Broncos.

The decision came at a unique time in the Rebels season.

They’re currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with less than nine games to go in the WHL regular season before the start of the playoffs.

But ultimately the inconsistent play cost the first-year coach his job and Rebels owner and general manager Brent Sutter felt his team needed a new voice.

“It’s been a tail of three seasons into one so far,” Sutter said. “You look at our start to the year. We didn’t play very well at all until the middle of November. We started to get some traction. We had a pretty decent December, and played pretty well in January.”

However, toward the end of January Sutter started to see things in their game that he hoped would get corrected but they didn’t.

They struggled through February posting a record of 3-8-1-1 and then lost their first game of March on Friday night to the Broncos.

“As we went along you just didn’t see the change in the dressing room you need to have this time of year where you’re moving up. There was just no traction,” he said.

“I’ve been around the game a long time and you just know. I thought we played OK in Saskatoon and then we struggled in Prince Albert. [Against the Broncos] we were too loose. We’re not a team that has checked well enough. You’ve all got to be good checkers if you want to have the puck.”

The Rebels needed a change in the locker room but Sutter explained that’s no slight to Walser. Sutter described him as a great man who worked extremely hard but a shake-up was needed. It also wasn’t an easy decision to make.

“The message just wasn’t getting through. I just knew it, I could sense it, and I knew we had to make a change.”

When asked why now was the right time for the coaching change, Sutter said they were playing a similar game to when they struggled in October.

The intensity level of the team was also lacking.

“I just wasn’t prepared to let the season go to waste. We’ve underachieved… I believe in this group and we’ve got good players in here. We’ve shown that we can be a good team. We’ve got to get back into a different mindset.”

He hopes with the change they can get back to the basics of hockey in how they need to play to win. This includes not always worrying about the X’s and O’s all the time.

“We need to get back to that passion and drive you need to have… Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast. Being a head coach in sports and hockey today is a very tough position, probably the hardest position in the game.”

Sutter also noted that things started to get complicated for the players mentally and said it’s important to slow things down and let them reset.

With that in mind, they’ve hired Dave Struch as interim head coach until the end of the season. He will begin coaching the team as of Sunday.

Struch, a native of Flin Flon, Man., served as Director of hockey at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask. this past season.

He played four seasons in the WHL for the Saskatoon Blades before he played 14 seasons professionally, including a brief stint with the Calgary Flames.

He has five years of head coaching experience in the WHL with Saskatoon and Regina, and 12 years as an assistant coach with Saskatoon, Regina, and Everett.

“He can relate well to the players. This wasn’t a position in the summer that he was interested in… He was running the hockey side of things at Notre Dame and yet he’s excited about wanting to come in and help out,” Sutter said.

“I think it’s awesome… We’ll have a different voice come in here, look at things differently, and bring some more excitement and energy.

“We’ll go through the year and hopefully take this deep into the spring. The biggest thing for us, I want to see all those things I brought up back into our game. If we do that we’ll have success.”

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
Read more