Looking around the room, it was easy for Ethan Sakowich to see he was the elder statement.
A veteran of 246 WHL games, all in a Red Deer Rebels uniform, the defenceman from Athabasca wondered if he might get called into the coach’s office this week.
With the Rebels trading captain Dawson Barteaux to the Winnipeg ICE, there was a vacancy in the captain’s chair and only two 20-year-olds remained on a roster chalked full of 17-year-olds.
The Rebels chose the 20-year-old blueliner to lead the club and wear the ‘C’ for the final 27 games, an honour and responsibility he’s proud to take on.
“It’s pretty cool. Not the best circumstance obviously, we all miss Barts but we’re happy that he’s getting that opportunity,” Sakowich said.
“I was really excited. It’s something I’ve dreamt about, being apart of this team since I was 16 and I’m just really happy to finish my career here, also wearing the ‘C’.”
During his tenure as captain, Sakowich was the yin to Barteuax’s yang. The latter led the Rebels’ by example, quietly taking players aside and mentoring them that way.
That won’t be the case for Sakowich, who wears his heart on his sleeve and is an emotional leader on the Rebels as much as a mentoring presence.
“We both complimented each other well. He was more the quiet guy, leading by example and I had to be a prick sometimes. I was the more vocal guy, trying to get the guys going,” he said.
“I think with the new leadership group, it’s going to be good because we have guys that lead by example and are quiet and guys like me that try to get the guys going– more of an energy guy.”
— Red Deer Rebels (@Rebelshockey) January 15, 2020
He has no shortage of examples to draw from, as in his 17-year-old season, Sakowich had Adam Musil as a captain. That was followed by Grayson Pawlenchuk and last season, Reese Johnson. From all those voices, Sakowich understood how to lead. He said ultimately, a leopard still can’t change its spots.
“Those are some really good captains and they all brought something different. I try to bring a little bit of everything. Having this role, I’m not changing myself. Just keep doing what I’ve been doing,” he said.
For Rebels assistant coach Brad Flynn, who has spent the last two seasons working with Sakowich as an anchor and consistent force on the backend, it is no surprise he was named captain.
Flynn said not only is Sakowich the perfect example as a leader on the ice and in the weight room, but the way he carries himself as an individual will also be a strong example in years to come for the Jayden Grubbe’s and Kyle Masters’ of the world.
“He’s a classic, throwback, not only defenceman but a person. His leadership is unquestionable. His values, he’s a good person and he’s a hard worker. He’s what we want. He’s what our culture is all about,” said Flynn.
“He’s come up in the culture. He is the culture. He’s passing it on to the young guys. Brent said from the beginning of the year, it’s about the guys that are here, the veteran guys that are going to help this young group mold to be what we need them to be down the road.”
— Byron Hackett (@RDAbyronhackett) January 14, 2020
Sakowich will be tasked with supporting one of the youngest teams in the WHL. With the trade of Brett Davis, 20, and Barteaux, 19, Red Deer now sports an average age of 17.77, the fifth-youngest team in the league.
So far this season, it hasn’t been a problem. In his final WHL season, Sakowich is having a career year. He has more than doubled his career goal output with eight and set a career-high in points with 21 through 41 games.
“I think I’m getting more opportunities this year. You get that with being on a younger team. In years past, I haven’t played any power play. I think when I’ve got that opportunity this year I’ve run with it a little bit,” he said.
“A little bit of puck luck. Last year and years before, I’d been hitting lots of posts and crossbars and goalie pads. This year they seem to be going in for me, which is definitely really nice.”
With Sakowich vacating an ‘A’, veteran Zak Smith will now wear a letter full-time, with Josh Tarzwell wearing one at home and Chris Douglas sporting it on the road.
The Rebels are on the road Friday in Lethbridge before they welcome the Prince Albert Raiders Saturday to the Centrium.