With nearly 500 career WHL between them, the Red Deer Rebels said goodbye to a pair of veteran forwards on Monday.
Overage forwards Grayson Pawlenchuk and Mason McCarty played for the final time in the WHL when the Rebels lost in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final and were eliminated from the playoffs by the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Pawlenchuk, the Rebels captain in his final season, played all of his 282 WHL games with the Rebels.
The Ardrossan native made the team at 16, but struggled through injuries in both the 2013-14 and 2016-2017 seasons.
He was admired by the coaching staff for his work ethic and competitiveness.
“The one thing I never questioned was that he’s a great young man and he cared,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said.
“He was certainly a player that deserved to be here for the five years and he was here as far as being a Red Deer Rebel and not playing somewhere else as a 20-year-old. He was a responsible player and someone the coaches could trust.”
The six-foot, 186-pound left winger finished this year with 18 goals and 34 assists in 72 games. He said he took great pride in being a Rebel and can’t believe his time in the league has come to an end.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, but I’m sure in the next few months it will hit me pretty hard,” Pawlenchuk said.
“Looking back to when I was 15 or 16 to how I am now, grown up a lot and matured a lot. Learned a lot of new things. Very thankful for my time here and everything the Rebels have done for me.”
Pawlenchuk was also influential in the community and was named the team’s humanitarian of the year award winner this spring.
“Red Deer has given me a lot and the team has given me a lot. The fans and the community, I owe it to them to give back and make kids happy going to the schools and stuff. Making their days and bring some joy,” he said.
McCarty, 21, originally drafted by the Rebels in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, returned to Red Deer this year in a trade from Saskatoon to play out his final season in the league.
The five-foot-10, 185-pound winger scored 39 goals and added 36 assists in 69 games in 2017-18.
For the first time in his five-year career, he also made the playoffs.
He noted that looking back on his short tenure in Red Deer, despite the ups and downs, he was happy the way it played out.
“I was happy I could make playoffs finally. There was a time it wasn’t looking very good. The team rallied and we got in,” McCarty said.
“A lot of ups and a lot of downs. We weren’t too consistent but when we needed to be, we were good at times. It was hard, some days it was tough coming to the rink. Other days it was unreal, that’s why you find a flat-line and stay even.”
He was the team leader in goals and points for the 2017-2018 regular season.
“We knew that when we acquired him that there would be work and time spent with him to improve areas in his game. We felt he could score and provide us offence. Give us some goals that we thought we’d be lacking. He did that for us,” Sutter said.
Pawlenchuk recorded 60 goals and 84 assists over his career and while his point totals weren’t wow-worthy, the veteran was able to make the players around him better.
“He was a very responsible player, great young man,” Sutter said.
“Hopefully something good will come out of this for him. Maybe he can get a pro camp or something can happen. If not he can go to a real good CIS school and continue to be a good, responsible player.”
McCarty, for all he did to help the Rebels in his final season, said he’ll be anxious to see how the future unfolds in Red Deer.
“It was exciting, it was fun,” he said.
“Hopefully, I helped the young kids learn some stuff. Helped them improve. I’ll be following them along in the future.”