The Red Deer Rebels have hired their new head coach.
On Wednesday the Rebels announced Derrick Walser will become the eighth head coach in franchise history.
The 45-year-old New Glasgow, Nova Scotia product spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
He told The Advocate the opportunity with the Rebels felt like a home run.
“The situation with [Brent Sutter’s] experience and his work ethic. The culture that he’s built there is exactly the same as what we built here in Peterborough.
“I’m on cloud nine. I can’t wait to get to work and dig my heels in… To put your name next to the Red Deer Rebels as head coach it’s mind-blowing.”
Last year he helped the Petes to an OHL championship and an appearance in the 2023 Memorial Cup.
He also served from 2015-2017 as a player-coach of the Belfast Giants in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) in the UK.
Before his coaching career, he played four seasons from 1994-98 in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the Beauport Harfangs and the Rimouski Oceanic.
During that time he was named QMJHL and CHL Defenceman of the Year in 1997-98.
That led him to play 19 seasons of professional hockey in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, Swiss-A, DEL, and in EIHL.
He also won plenty of championships in his playing career, including winning the Spengler Cup (2012-13), AHL Calder Cup (2000-01), European Trophy (2010-11), and the German DEL Championship (2004-05, 2005-06, and 2010-11).
Walser explained from what he’s seen with the Rebels he’s not concerned with scoring goals but rather keeping pucks out of their own net.
“A crazy stat that over the last five years in the CHL the teams that won championships all finished in the top four in goals against,” he said.
“That’s how we’re going to play. We’re going to be a stingy team and you’ve got to learn to play defence if you have any hope of winning. With that D-core and solid goaltending, we’re going to have a chance to compete.”
After talking with a number of candidates, Rebels owner, and general manager Brent Sutter determined Walser was the right man for the job.
“Throughout the process, it always just kept coming back to Derrick,” he said.
“There’s boxes I want to be checked off as a head coach that I believe allows a guy to be a good coach… A lot of things just seem to be a fit for me and my way of thinking. Is he a young coach? Yes. Does he have a tremendous amount of head coaching experience? No, but he’s got a lot of coaching experience.”
Sutter added a key factor in selecting Walser was that he’s been coaching at the junior hockey level for six years.
“He understands and gets the communication part of it and the way you’ve got to be with the players today as a coach,” Sutter said.
“There’s just so much to it now in today’s game to be a head coach and to me, it just seemed like it would be a good fit.”
Sutter has faith in his new head coach to improve the Rebels’ specialty teams and their discipline. Both of which were issues during the 2022-23 playoffs.
“That’s something he’s very firm on. If you’re not a disciplined hockey team and don’t stay out of the penalty box it’s going to catch up to you and beat you… You’ve got to be able to communicate well, listen to your players and help your players. At the end of the day you’ve got to be firm with them too and he has that firmness.”
The Rebels will also fill their vacant assistant coach position after Ryan Colville resigned and they will make an announcement later this summer.
Assistant coach Mike Egener and goaltending coach Ian Gordon will both remain with the Rebels.