Chase Coward, who started a handful of games for the Red Deer Rebels, will battle Connor Ungar for the starting nod this season. The Rebels play their home opener on Oct. 2 at the Peavey Mart Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)

Chase Coward, who started a handful of games for the Red Deer Rebels, will battle Connor Ungar for the starting nod this season. The Rebels play their home opener on Oct. 2 at the Peavey Mart Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)

Red Deer Rebels goalies battle for the crease

Two goalies looking to make a mark are battling for the starting job

Chase Coward has only had a taste of life in the WHL.

In two stints with the Red Deer Rebels, he’s played a whopping 259 minutes.

He had two forgettable appearances in the 2019-20 season – but four strong starts late in the pandemic shortened year last season have 18-year-old goalie ready for the full-on WHL experience.

“It’s like I went halfway into the pool and this year is going to be the full head-first dive,” said the native of Swift Current, Sask. with a laugh.

Coward lives and breathes hockey – a self-proclaimed rink rat who says he more or less feels at home on the ice. He was a literal rink rat last year, living in the Centrium along with his Rebels’ teammates as the pandemic forced them to spend 90-plus days isolated from the outside world.

This summer, after taking just a few weeks off, Coward was back in the rink, whether it be in Regina, back home in Swift Current, Lethbridge or Edmonton, he never quit working on his game.

“I skated two-three times a week, then ramped it up to five times a week or sometimes I’d skate twice. I took some time off,” Coward said, adding he put on about 10-pounds of muscle in the offseason.

“I’ve always been pretty busy in the summer, more lately. I’ve been hitting the gym a little earlier, trying to put on some weight which I did this summer. I’ve always been a guy around the rink, even if it’s coaching, I’ll spend hours doing that. I kinda live at the rink.”

After posting a 3.02 goals against average and a 0.914 save percentage in his four starts last year, Coward explained that he simply has to bring more of that mindset to the club to have success this season.

“Just keep playing my game. Work on my puckhandling a bit but be calm and collected back there and contribute to the team, hopefully, make a playoff run,” he said.

That’s the nature of the young Rebels goalie, who will carry a more significant load this season than he ever has in his hockey career.

How significant that load is, remains to be seen. Coward will split the net this season with Connor Ungar, the 19-year-old netminder who the Rebels acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings this summer in exchange for defenceman Mason Ward.

Ungar, himself doesn’t have much longer of a WHL resume than Coward.

In three seasons with the Wheat Kings, he’s played just 15 WHL games, eight of which came last season.

Even with the inexperience tandem, Rebels new bench boss Steve Konowalchuk said he’s eager to see who emerges between the two goalies.

“For us as an organization, Chase and Ungar – we’ve got two goalies that give us a chance to win every night and are capable of helping us win games when the team isn’t going. Very exciting,” Konowalchuk said.

“The two of them have shown (already) that they can be reliable goalies in the WHL.”

Through training camp, Coward said it’s been great to compete and learn from Ungar. He believes the two can battle this season and make each other better.

“We’re getting along good. I think we’re going to have a good, healthy relationship where we’re going to push each other on the ice and push for a starting spot together,” Coward said.

Konowalchuk hopes that’s the case.

“At any position, you want competition to keep out complacency,” said Konowalchuk.

“At times, if you need to back off the workload of one guy you can, I hope they have the mindset as individuals that they’re going to get into the net and they’re not giving it up. That should be their mindset. Make us want to go to one guy. As of right now, it’s been a good competition. It will sort itself out.”

The Rebels will start the WHL season on Oct. 1 in Edmonton, before playing their home opener at the Peavey Mart Centrium on Oct. 2, with puck drop set for 7 p.m.