Just a short trip down highway two is a welcome distraction from Red Deer Rebels hockey.
It’s been a miserable stretch for one of the youngest teams in the WHL, losers of nine of its last 10.
As it stands, they have an average age of 17.75, with somewhere between 5-7 players in their rookie season suiting up for the team this year.
In the cycle of junior hockey, there often comes a time for growth over winning and in that painful process of growth, comes a lot of losing.
In the win-loss record, things are obviously more negative than positive,” said Rebels assistant GM Shaun Sutter.
“But the feedback that I get from a lot of agents and NHL scouts is they can see the potential of our young group of players. Especially the guys on our team coming up.”
While there isn’t much comfort and solace in that– after all people pay good, hard-earned money to see an entertaining and competitive product. Entertaining, on some nights you can that’s been true of the Red Deer Rebels, but competitive, maybe less so (they have just one win on home ice this year).
They’re kids, and they’re trying – but on a lot of nights, their youth paints the picture.
“I don’t think people truly understand how young our team is. If you were to go watch a junior A team, there are some teams that might have one or two 17-year-olds on the team and they don’t even play,” said Sutter.
“We have some younger guys that are in and out of the lineup, if they were on other teams, they might be their best 17-year-old.”
Two 16-year-old players in particular who have been a bright spot in their first WHL season are centre Jayden Grubbe and defenceman Kyle Masters.
The Rebels duo are representing the club on the international stage for the first time in their hockey career. Grubbe for Team Canada Black and Masters for Team Canada Red at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Medicine Hat and Swift Current.
With one point in three games, he has stood out among the crowd early for his side.
“Every player there is going to be a feature piece or a cornerstone for each team going forward. Jayden had to work his way up and got the opportunity to play with better players and played very well,” Sutter said.
“He’s a guy that the coach relied on to play all situations. They played 3-on-3 versus the Americans and he’s on the ice. His team has some excellent players.”
Grubbe has taken a strong step playing regular minutes on most nights as the second centre for the Rebels, taking a lot of faceoffs and even carving out some power play time. That’s more than most 16-year-olds across the WHL.
“If you go through and look at their stats, a lot of these guys are just learning to play in their respective leagues. They’re adjusting to major junior hockey and learning the grind. That’s just all a part of the process developing into being good players,” Sutter said.
Masters earned his way on to the Canadian roster with strong play in the summer and is continuing to play all situations through round robin in the tournament.
“Kyle had a great summer camp and pretty much cemented his status with the team. He’s gone and played for team red in all situations and playing a lot of minutes for that team,” Sutter said.
He’s been one of the Rebels young players that are in and out of the lineup and as a 16-year-old with offensive upside, it’s been tough some nights for the Edmonton product.
“Guys adjust to that, it’s always harder for defencemen, especially a guy like Kyle, who you classify as an offensive defenceman who has to learn how to balance between being nifty and risky,” Sutter said.
The Rebels, minus Grubbe and Masters are back on the ice Friday night in Saskatoon, before finishing the six-game road swing Saturday in Prince Albert.