The Red Deer Rebels have added another forward to the mix.
The Western Hockey League announced Friday that the Rebels had acquired Kai Uchacz from the Seattle Thunderbirds in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2021 WHL Prospects draft.
Uchacz, 18, was dropped from the Seattle roster in March after it was reported that he and a teammate directed racist remarks at another player on their team.
“I take full responsibility for my actions and I deeply regret my decision making in the past,” said the Calgary native in a news release.
“I have taken this time away from hockey to learn and grow as a person and have expanded my knowledge about this topic and how impactful it is. I thank the WHL for taking the time to work with me and believe in me as a person. I am thankful for the opportunity to play again.”
Red Deer Rebels owner, president and GM Brent Sutter said the organization carefully considered what acquiring a player with that type of history might mean for the organization.
He said the Rebels only made the deal with the Thunderbirds after Uchacz completed the WHL Diversity Coaching Program conducted by Kamau Consulting Group and Shades of Humanity Consulting in June.
“We only considered this if four things occurred. The player was removed from the league for a prolonged period of time. Through that, he took a mandated level of education and training by a third-party professional. They endorsed his reinstatement based on his progress,” Sutter said.
“There was a punishment that he had to sit out the season. He’s a young kid, he made a mistake and as far as we’re concerned with everything that we know, we traded for the changed person. There’s zero-tolerance with us regarding diversity and inclusion.
“We want to be part of the solution with how we deal with individuals who go down the wrong path and help him through this.”
In a statement from the agent for Mekai Sanders, the victim of the racially motivated remarks, Scott Norton says more action was needed from the league.
“We are very disappointed that the Western Hockey League has not issued a statement or any disciplinary actions following the racially motivated situation which occurred on the Seattle Thunderbirds during the 2020/2021 season,” said Norton, president of Norton Sports Management in a statement.
“We appreciate the actions of General Manager Bil LaForge and the Thunderbirds management during the season, but a league which claims “Zero tolerance” should have stepped up and dealt with the individuals as well.”
Uchacz, a former first-round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft will continue to undergo diversity and inclusion training upon arriving in Red Deer. He has been permitted by the league to play in the pre-season and regular season during the 2021-22 WHL season after “demonstrating he has made significant progress” through diversity training.
The six-foot-one, 191-pound forward didn’t play at all in the 2020-21 WHL season and has eight points through 57 WHL contests.
Sutter said it will take some time to get the forward up to speed on the ice after missing the past year and a half but he likes what he can bring to the table.
“He’s a really good player, first-round draft pick, in the same year that (Jayden) Grubbe was taken and when Kyle (Masters) was taken. He’s going to be an important player for us,” Sutter said.
“He hasn’t played hockey in a year now, so it’s going to take some time to get him going. He’s going to fit in with the group and hopefully we can get him to the level he needs to be at.”
Sutter added that as an organization, the Rebels hope they can help Uchacz grow and develop as a person as they would do with any other player.
“It’s part of our society too, to help these young kids understand things. That’s all part of it too. I’m not a believer in kicking these young kids to the curb. They need help and you gotta help them with it,” he said.