The Red Deer Rebels are days away from kicking off the 2019-20 WHL season.
The team announced its Training Camp schedule on Thursday. They hit the ice Saturday with a pair of practices, the first getting underway at 2:30 p.m.
Throughout the week, both rookies and main camp participants will skate. Camp will culminate with the annual black and white game on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 11 a.m.
All ice times are open to the public at the Centrium and fans can get into the black and white game with a $2 donation to the Red Deer Firefighters Children’s Charity.
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said there’s excitement around the organization about a fresh start for the 2019-20 season.
“Everyone is excited about getting started. Whether it’s the staff or the players. Just get going again and get into the flow and the routine of it all,” Sutter said.
The team will feature close to 15 players 18 and under, one of the youngest Sutter has guided in his long WHL coaching career.
That’s largely a product of the club being four years removed from hosting the Memorial Cup and prospects finally starting to refill the depth chart after many were offloaded in the 2016 season.
He noted that those plans began almost two years before the Memorial Cup and would take 5-6 years to build the prospect depth back up.
“We’re going to have a young team. It’s going to be the youngest team I’ve coached since I’ve been here, but that’s exciting at the same time,” Sutter said.
“The fact we can develop players and hopefully build championship calibre team again. That’s just the way it is… we thought this would be the situation last year. Instead of making a drastic change last year, we worked in a few young players and take the bigger step with them this year.”
Filling the void left from departed veterans Brandon Hagel, Reece Johnson, Jeff de Wit and Alex Alexeyev is a major challenge for Red Deer.
Those four accounted for 105 of the team’s 223 goals last year. The Rebels bench boss is proceeding into camp and the season with the expectation that 2018 CHL Import Draft pick Oleg Zaytsev will not attend.
Forwards like Chris Douglas, Zak Smith, Alex Morozoff, Arshdeep Bains and Dallon Melin are a few names from the next wave that will be relied on going forward.
“You hope the young guys from last year can take another step this year. They should. They are going to be getting opportunities to,” Sutter said.
“They went through a process of learning and it’s a tough league to play in. I think they learned a lot, now they have to take that next step. Has to be another level they get to now.”
Youngsters Kyle Masters (03), Jayden Grubbe (03), Jeremy Hancock (03), Josh Medernach (03) along with goalie Chase Coward (03) will all also participate in main camp. In total, main camp will have 17 forwards, 12 defencemen and four goalies. In net, it will be Ethan Anders, Byron Fancy, Mason Ward and Coward.
The rest of the Rebels’ rookie crop will take part in abbreviated rookie camp which the club has run for the last two years. They will hit the ice for the first time on Aug. 28.
Johnson and Hagel, along with a few other pros will be in camp to both get ready for their own camps and help develop the young talent.
“They want to get ready for pro camp and they’ll be coming in and skating with the team,” Sutter said.
“A couple of NHL guys for three or four days, you try to surround these guys with guys that are pro players or going into pro hockey so they can learn from them, too. It helps those guys get ready for the journey they’re going to start.”
Sutter also indicated that the club will announce a captain for the upcoming season in the next few days.