For Red Deer Rebels prospect Matthew Gard this season is all about improving his skills.
The 15-year-old Winnipeg, Man. native was selected by the Rebels in the second round, 39th overall in the 2022 Western Hockey League (WHL) Prospects Draft. He was signed
Since being drafted by the Rebels he signed a WHL Standard Player Agreement in May and reported to training camp where he played in intrasquad games throughout the week. Most recently he was also in Red Deer practicing with the Rebels while his team in Winnipeg was on Christmas break.
“It’s a big step up from where I am right now but you’ve got to earn everything there, which I learned,” he said. “You’ve just gotta be consistent.”
In order to crack the Rebels roster next year and for years to come, Gard explained in addition to learning to pass harder the coaching staff encouraged him to get bigger, faster, and stronger.
“Just keep developing my game… I’ve been doing lots of workouts and getting extra reps in practice to just keep trying to get better,” he added.
Fellow 2022 WHL draftee defenceman Luke Vlooswyk was selected before Gard, 17th overall in the first round but during training camp, the two youngsters became close friends.
“He’s just a great kid and it was nice to meet him at camp. It’ll be exciting to hopefully play with him one day,” Gard said.
The six-foot-two, 160-pound left-shot forward said some of his strengths are his ability to bodycheck and be an effective scorer around the net. However, Gard believes he can take a step up in getting faster on the ice and moving his feet more.
In November, Gard and several of his teammates in Winnipeg were selected to represent Team Manitoba at the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island from Feb. 18 to March 5. He made the cut after performing well at a 40-player camp held in May.
“It’s exciting to be named to that team and I’m really looking forward to it,” he added.
Gard joined the U18 Winnipeg Rink Hockey Academy this season in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League where he’s played 12 games and contributed five goals and five assists. He missed some time after suffering a wrist injury but returned to the team before Christmas break.
“The team’s been doing ok we had a bit of a slow start to the year but we’re picking things up,” he said.
“I broke my wrist at the start of the year and I’ve just been trying to get back to the way I was before that and do my best out there.”