For Red Deer Rebels forward Kai Uchacz receiving the captaincy in his third season with the team was the ultimate honour.
He followed former Rebel Jayden Grubbe as the new leader making him one of many to take over as captain in franchise history.
“This is a top-tier organization and to be able to get the honour from management and coaching staff is something I’m really proud of and something I’ve worked really hard for in the years being here,” Uchacz told The Advocate.
On Thursday last week, the coaching staff announced the leadership group to the team which also consists of assistant captains Kalan Lind, Mats Lindgren, Hunter Mayo, and Jhett Larson.
Uchacz gave a speech to his teammates which he said was a great way to kick off his first few moments as captain.
However, on Friday when the Rebels announced the decision to the public, Uchacz and the Rebels came under fire on social media for their decision because of his checkered past.
The 20-year-old from DeWinton, Alta. explained on Tuesday that he didn’t let the comments get to him and reiterated that he’s done a lot of work to deserve the title.
“Over the years I’ve grown into a mature young man so that’s something that I feel I deserve,” he said. “I have changed and grown to be a leader for this team and lead these guys to success.”
Uchacz was acquired by the Rebels from the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2021. This came after he was released by the Thunderbirds in March of that year after it was reported he and another teammate directed racist remarks towards black teammate, Mekai Sanders.
Uchacz claims he’s reached out to Sanders on multiple occasions including two apology letters, and a text message, and even reached out to his former teammate when the Rebels went on their U.S. road trip last season.
“I haven’t been able to be in contact which is his decision and I respect that,” Uchacz said.
“I hope one day I can get in contact. He deserves an apology… I try each day to better myself as a person, learn more, and grow. I hope for Mekai and his family that they can see that I’ve tried and I’ve reached out.
“I hope for them and for everyone in the community and around the world to know that I’ve put in the work and each day trying to grow as a man. Just get better as a human each day and learn more about myself and the world.”
Speaking with Scott Norton on Tuesday, agent of Mekai Sanders, he said Sanders wants to put the situation behind him.
Norton also explained he isn’t against someone getting a second chance but claimed Uchacz’s racist remarks weren’t a one-time incident.
“Mekai wasn’t the only victim in the locker room and some of the words and actions I think they have no place in our society much less in a sport that you’re fortunate to be given the opportunity to play,” Norton said.
“From our standpoint, this is a player who probably shouldn’t be in the league… To put him in a leadership role with his past transgressions probably goes beyond what we think leadership is about.”
Uchacz said that he regrets his actions and stated that he has remorse for what he did and said.
“I know my actions at the time were not correct and from that day I’ve learned almost every day how my actions truly have an effect on other people,” he said.
Uchacz was required to go through diversity training in order to be reinstated by the league at the time of the reported incident.
Since then Uchacz said he’s gone to courses, spoken at schools, and is currently working with a professional in diversity, equity, and inclusion training.
“I had one of my first calls yesterday morning,” he said about a new program he’s participating in.
“I’ve also been to schools trying to teach kids younger than me to not do what I did… With my teammates just showing up to the rink every day with a positive attitude and being a great teammate is something I take pride in.”
Rebels head coach Derrick Walser said Uchacz, who won the Rebels Humanitarian of the Year award last season, maturity stuck out in the process of their decision.
“He’s able to socialize with the young guys and be hard on the old guys,” he said.
“He just has the heartbeat of the room right now. He just seems to know what’s going on and he’s a mature kid that knows what he wants and he’s working his tail off.”