In the longest offseason of his hockey career, it was easy to find motivation for Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland.
After being picked 22nd overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, his first full season in the WHL wasn’t what he envisioned.
Playing largely in the bottom six of the Rebels lineup last year, Rowland scored just three times in 57 games, along with a minus-13 rating, 44 penalty minutes and 39 shots on goal.
He admitted the way last season went was hard to take and the extra-long offseason didn’t make it any easier.
“It was hard. I didn’t think at all about the draft. I just thought of it as another season. I thought I had an off-year last year. I wasn’t as good as I wanted as I should have been or wanted to be,” said Rowland, who is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft with a September birthday.
“It was more just proving people wrong and showing people the way I really could play.”
With two goals through seven games in the abbreviated 24-game Central division season, Rowland has nearly matched his three-goal output from last season.
Although there wasn’t much growth physically, the teen said he came in more physically mature this season and it’s helped so far.
“I’m really more dialed in to playing every night – the best that I can and doing everything I can for the team. Even with the short season, may be no playoffs. For me, I’m really motivated, it’s my draft year too,” he said.
“I’m doing everything I can to get the looks from Brent and from everyone else.”
That extra jump he’s feeling this season has shown early in periods. Rowland’s first goal of the year was just 82 seconds into the second period against the Medicine Hat Tigers in the home opener. His second came last Friday, three minutes and 39 seconds into the game and sparked a run of four straight for the Rebels.
“Especially scoring early in a game, it just gives you that confidence to get another one or that motivation,” he said.
“Feel good, feel happy with yourself and the boys are cheering you on. When you score early in the season and produce, it helps in the long run.”
Rowland and the other centres on the Rebels will be forced to step up for the remaining 17 games this year. Captain and top centreman Jayden Grubbe underwent ACL surgery this week and is out for the year.
That leaves a huge void down the middle. Rowland knows they can’t replace Grubbe, but he believes as a collective, they can bring some of what the 18-year-old brought to the rink every night.
“Grubber is a motivator and everything for us. He’s 18-years-old and our captain, I think that shows we all see a lot of upside in him and a lot of motivation,” Rowland said.
“He’s someone that a lot of people can learn from, myself included, on just every night bringing it all and bringing it in the details and providing us with everything you need to.”
This weekend, Red Deer will face its toughest test of the young WHL season.
They’ll take on the Edmonton Oil Kings, who have outscored opponents 21-6 in four wins this season. Edmonton forward Dylan Guenther leads the WHL with six goals in four games and five Oil Kings are averaging over a point per game (Kaid Oliver, Jake Neighbours and Jalen Luypen).
Rowland says the Rebels have spent this week ironing out so of the problem areas in their game.
“Working on our D-zone, working on details and being able to support each other better. Edmonton is going to be a tough team,” he said
“We gotta be ready to play a full sixty and be very detailed, efficient throughout the game and shut down their top players.”
The Rebels are in Edmonton Friday and Sunday, and home Saturday at the Centrium. Puck drop on all three games is at 6 p.m., and they can be streamed on WHL live.