When the Swift Current Broncos won the WHL Championship on home ice in 2018, one wide-eyed prospect stood in awe of it all.
Then living at home with his parents, Red Deer Rebels goalie Chase Coward will never forget that day.
“We got to go on the ice, I got to see the trophy. I want to see that again in my hands,” said the 16-year-old netminder.
His family hosted several WHL players over the years and that season, they just happened to billet goalie Stuart Skinner.
The netminder was dealt from the Lethbridge Hurricanes to the Broncos at the trade deadline. He led them on a magical run that ended in a WHL title and what a mentor it must have been for Coward, who was getting ready to chase his own WHL dream.
During last season with the Prairie Hockey Academy, Coward posted a 2.71 goals against average in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, along with a .911 save percentage.
He was never selected in the WHL Bantam Draft but was listed by the Rebels last winter. He also remembers that day well, at lunch with his PHA teammates. He tried to hide his surprise and excitement for as long as possible.
“It was very exciting because it wasn’t just me when I found out, it was the whole team,” he recalled.
“It was a team supper, I got the call and I was trying not to smile too much. The boys asked me what was going on and I told them I got listed– very good experience.”
Now, the five-foot-11, 134-pound goalie is in his first main camp with the Rebels, getting a quick taste of the WHL life. It’s a long shot that he’ll make the team with Ethan Anders as the likely starter and Byron Fancy all but secured as the backup.
Still, for a kid who lived alongside WHLers like former Rebels goalie Taz Burman, the dream of playing in the league one day doesn’t seem so far off.
“It would mean so much,” he said.
“I’ve been dreaming of it ever since we got our first billet, I’ve always looked up to them. I want to be like that for little kids.”
Coward said it just seemed like goaltending was in his blood from the first time he stepped on the ice. He stuck around his own net from the earliest days and when they called on someone to play goalie in novice, the youngster didn’t think twice. When they needed a permanent goalie, it was an easy decision.
For the Rebels prospect, what draws him to the position might sound odd to most and he recognizes that.
“Honestly, this probably sounds crazy but (I like) getting pucks shot at me, it’s pretty fun,” he said, adding that quickness is one of his best assets.
That somewhat odd duck approach, along with posting a shutout in 30 minutes of play during his debut scrimmage at Rebels camp, has the team intrigued about his future.
“Being part of this culture, work ethic is huge and making sure he’s working hard,” Rebels goalie coach Kraymer Barnstable said.
“In games, just to show confidence and act like you belong, which I think he did. Everyone figures it out at different ages. If you can sort it out at 16 and get a head start on the group, that’s what you’re looking to accomplish.”
According to Barnstable, the next step for the young goalie is just fine-tuning some of the finer points of the position.
“He has a pretty well rounded technical package. He does certain things the right way,” Barnstable said.
“I want to see him up his speed, his tempo. Up his compete level a little bit. He’s going to get square to the puck, then little details around the net. Tough angles, try to use as much body as you can.”
While he might not make the Rebels out of camp, you can bet this week won’t be the last WHL fans hear of Chase Coward.