The Red Deer Rebels announced their leadership group for the 2023-24 Western Hockey League season on Friday morning.
New captain Kai Uchacz headlines the Rebels’ group followed by assistant captains Mats Lindgren, Kalan Lind, Hunter Mayo, and Jhett Larson.
The announcement prompted some backlash on social media, because of Uchacz’s checkered past.
National hockey reporter for The Athletic Scott Wheeler wrote on X.com, previously known as Twitter, that he was “speechless” by the news.
Meanwhile, a reporter for The Hockey News Ian Kennedy wrote, “So the WHL brought back a racist coach this season, names a player captain who was suspended for racism, and has a current coach suspended for allegations that have been reported to include racism.
“What is the WHL and CHL doing here? And where is the response from Hockey Canada?”
The 20-year-old Uchacz is in his third season with the Rebels after he was acquired from the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2021.
Uchacz 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.
Sanders’ agent Scott Norton also took to social media on Friday writing, “Unfortunately it’s another case of a club/ league being tone deaf to the issues of the world! Racism has no place in the world!”
Rebels owner, general manager, and president Brent Sutter defended their decision to name him captain in a statement by the team noting Uchacz was named the team’s MVP and Humanitarian of the Year last season.
“With Kai, he has been a model citizen in our dressing room and community, and is very well-liked and respected by his teammates,” Sutter explained.
“He made a mistake a few years back and has owned that mistake fully. That is not lost on us. He was rightfully disciplined at the time by Seattle, and worked hard both on a league-mandated program, as well as on his own, to better understand and learn from his actions.
“In his time in Red Deer, he has taken every opportunity to engage in the community, and will continue speaking to school classes this season.”
The Rebels’ forward was required to complete diversity training before he could return to the league and continued that training once he arrived in Red Deer.
In terms of the rest of the leadership group, Lind is entering his second full season with the team and was selected by the Nashville Predators in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft over the summer.
The Shaunavon, Sask. product also took part in the Predators training camp and appeared in one preseason game.
Lindgren just returned from Buffalo Sabres training camp after he was selected by them in 2022. He will be playing his second season in Red Deer and will play in his first game this season on Friday.
Mayo also just attended the Los Angeles Kings training camp and will play in his third season with the Rebels.
Larson will play in his fourth season in Red Deer and has been a part of the Rebels top line the last two years.
“This is a well-deserved honour for Kai, Kalan, Hunter, Jhett, and Mats. They are good kids, who’ve worked exceptionally hard on and off the ice to represent our organization,” Sutter added.