By DANNY RODE
Special to the Advocate
Riley Lamb has been one of the biggest surprises for the Red Deer Rebels this season.
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter admits he didn’t know anything about Lamb when he arrived in the Western Hockey League team’s camp in late August.
“Our scouting staff knew him and he was high on our radar and believed he would be a solid player,” said Sutter. “Whether he could push ahead of the Dawson Weatherill or the other players, like our 20-year-olds (Rylan) Toth and (Trevor) Martin we didn’t know.
“But he’s more than proven he can handle playing at this level.”
Lamb himself didn’t believe he would be with the Rebels for the opening of the season.
“I knew they had two 20-year-olds and Dawson, so I knew it would be tough. I wasn’t expecting to stay and thought I’d likely be going back to Weyburn of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.”
It was during the exhibition season that Lamb began to feel he had a chance to make the team.
“I thought I played well against Edmonton and when we were in Tri-Cities I really started to feel I had a chance to play.”
It more than worked out. He not only forced his way on the roster, but has taken over as the starting goaltender. Gone are Weatherill, Toth and Martin.
“It’s been good and it’s nice to be playing a lot,” he said.
Lamb has played in eight of the Rebels 11 league games and has a 3.23 goals-against-average (gaa) and a .902 save percentage.
He’s had the odd bump in the road, but he has the mental strength to not let it bother him. In fact he’s even better after having an off game.
“I’ve been hot and cold, which isn’t always the best thing, and hopefully I can stay hot rather than cold,” said the 18-year-old native of Rivers, Man. “It happens, teams have bad games, we just have to forget and move on and play our game.”
Sutter wasn’t about to bench his rookie netminder just because the team had an poor game. In fact it was the other way around.
“We wanted to test him to see how he handled it and he responded,” said Sutter. “He’s able to forget things easily and move on.”
The fact Sutter’s confidence in him, helps Lamb’s mental outlook.
“I love it when the coach has confidence to put me back in. So far I’ve been able to respond. Now I have to get that first game better so I don’t have to have a huge second game. I want to be steady every game.”
Lamb came to the Rebels from the midget AAA Yellowhead Chiefs in Manitoba. He has a spectacular final season with the Chiefs, posting an 1.82 gaa and a .939 save percentage. In 10 playoff games he had 2.54 gaa and a .911 save percentage. He was a first-team all-star and the league MVP.
“That was a nice award and it helped get my name out there a bit, like to the Rebels … I’m grateful for that,” explained Lamb, who didn’t receive a lot of offers from WHL clubs.
“I think my parents talked to one other team, but I was interested in the Rebels as they talked to me.”
Lamb doesn’t pattern his game after anyone in particular.
“I just hope to get in front of the puck,” he said with a laugh.
That’s something Sutter likes to hear.
“When people ask me what style he is I say I don’t care as long as he stops the puck. I’ve seen and played with a lot of goaltenders over the years who really don’t have a style. They did whatever it took to stop the puck. They were engaged, energetic and just made the saves. That’s what he does.”
Lamb recorded his first WHL shutout — 5-0 over the Kelowna Rockets — last Friday at the Centrium.
“That’s nice to have, but it’s not something you play for,” he said. “You play to win first and personal stats second. But it’s nice when you get the win and the shutout.”
As for the future, that’s something in the back of his mind, along with the possibility of getting picked one day in the NHL draft.
“I’m taking it day-to-day and hopefully we continue to improve. As for being drafted I’m not holding my breath. I’m just trying to win games here.”
Lamb will be backed up by newcomer Lasse Petersen, who was just acquired from Everett. The Rebels also host the Prince Albert Raiders Saturday at 7 p.m.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.