With time at a surplus as the Red Deer Rebels continue to live at the Westerner Park Centrium, Ben King has discovered a new talent.
The impact Rebels centre, like many of his teammates, is finding his days occupied by the ping pong table inside the team’s bubble.
“I’m big into it,” King said.
“I wouldn’t say I was bad when I first came, but I never really played. Now, I’ve played a lot of games in here, so I’ve gotten pretty good.”
King, 18, is a de facto leader on this year’s club, both because he wears a letter and has played 125 games across three WHL seasons.
The Vernon, B.C., native is hoping his impact on and off the ice will be a big part of the Rebels’ 24-game shortened season.
“I got here and I just wanted to be the man that was leaned on. The guy that can win games for teams and win it for the guys and also play hard in the D-zone,” said King, who was a first found, 13th overall pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft by the Swift Current Broncos.
“I think I had a good start to the year and I just want to keep going and get better as we go.”
Although he wasn’t selected in the 2020 NHL Draft, King knows if he plays a big role this season, he might be able to open some eyes about his potential to play at the next level. So far, he has three goals and five points in eight games.
“With the low number of games, you just want to play your heart out every game,” said King, who scored 16 times and added 22 assists in 46 games with Red Deer last season.
“Just compete and make something happen every game and play your best. You just keep building on every game. There’s only 14 left, you gotta make it happen now.”
King missed the Rebels’ last two contests against the Edmonton Oil Kings with an upper-body ailment and especially in a shortened season, it was hard to sit out.
With two weeks off, he’s had plenty of time to recover and the team has had a chance to reset for the final 14 games of the year. They visited Brent Sutter’s farm where a few players took on some ranching duties, as well as a visit to The Dome Red Deer for some soccer and baseball action.
“It was a long time off after playing every weekend. I think the group really needed it to recover, we had a couple injuries and they’re all healed up. Everybody is back and at it,” King said.
“We had a couple days off, we went to Brent’s farm and stuff, nice to go outside. (At the rink) a lot of ping pong, board games and just hanging out… it was good, flew by faster than I thought it would.”
Back at it for three games over the next four days against the Oil Kings, King believes the Rebels have a simple recipe to hang with one of the top teams in the WHL.
“I think if we play a hard D-zone and hard in the -O-zone– just play hard everywhere on them and they won’t get much and we can beat them. We just have to play our game and stay out of the box and I think we’ll be fine,” he said.
It will also help to have a few players returning from injury, as defenceman Joel Sexsmith and Mason Ward will both return to the lineup. Blueliner Kyle Masters still remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury and centre Jayden Grubbe is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery.
The Rebels host the Oil Kings Friday night, then travel to Edmonton Saturday, before finishing off the three-game set Easter Monday in Red Deer.