When the challenge was issued to Chase Schaber this fall, he eagerly accepted.
Entering his third Western Hockey League season, the Red Deer native was asked to fill a bigger role with the Calgary Hitmen.
So far, so good.
After putting up 20 points (8g,12a) in 53 games during the 2008-09 campaign, Schaber is off to a comparatively torrid start this season with 12 points — including five goals — in 13 outings.
“With this team, we’ve had a lot of depth every year. This is such a great organization, a great team all around,” said the 18-year-old, Calgary’s first-round bantam draft pick in 2006. “We’ve had some great players over the last two years and you have to pay your dues. When it’s time to step up you have to take that responsibility. I feel I’ve done that. I told myself I can do that and I’m succeeding so far and hopefully it will continue.”
Hitmen first-year head coach Mike Williamson said Schaber has become a valuable member of the team with the manner in which he has accepted the challenge of being a go-to guy.
“There’s a lot of guys on this team who, even though they have a lot of games under their belts, didn’t play big roles here last year,” said Williamson.
“Guys like Chase Schaber and Tyler Fiddler are stepping up and having to play bigger roles, and we’re really happy with the way Chase has come along.
“He’s a great leader too, a guy who could definitely wear a letter for us. We’re really happy with his game, but he can’t get complacent and happy. He has to keep pushing and making sure he’s getting better.”
Schaber is full cognizant of the fact he can’t afford to be satisfied with his ongoing performance. He’s always looking for ways to improve and he’s a good student of the sport.
“I’m just trying to get better every day,” said the six-foot, 194-pound centre.
“I make a mistake every once in a while, but every day is a learning experience and that’s what I love about the game — there’s always a bright side, there’s always a second chance. You can always redeem yourself.”
Speaking of redemption, Schaber was passed over in the 2009 NHL entry draft, but will force the pro scouts to sit up and take notice with a continued strong showing this season.
“I had injuries last year that kind of brought me down. I was in and out of the lineup, and that takes its toll mentally,” he said. “Hopefully I can be drafted next year.”
Schaber, as Williamson pointed out, is having success offensively because he’s continually involved in the play.
“The thing with Chase is he’ll get an opportunity to get points if he keeps the grit in his game,” said the Hitmen bench boss. “If he’s finishing checks, winning draws and getting to the net, he’ll have an opportunity to not only gets lots of ice time, but get those points. That’s the biggest thing with him — when he’s playing that way he’s going to get rewarded.”
Personal success aside, Schaber has enjoyed being a part of a Hitmen team that has excelled in each of his previous two seasons and is continuing along that same path to this point in the 2009-10 campaign.
“It’s amazing to play with so many great guys, guys who will work hard, guys who want to get to the NHL and will do anything to get there,” he said.
“There’s just a great feeling with this team, as in the past, a great atmosphere in the dressing room.”
On paper, at least, the current edition of the Hitmen is not as strong as the team that captured the WHL regular-season championship last year and fell to the Kelowna Rockets in a six-game league final.
Just don’t tell that players that.
“We’ve just put it into place that we have to try and follow in the footsteps of last year’s team, try and fill those leadership roles and just build on what (the graduating players) left us,” said Schaber. “We want to keep making positive strides and get to where we were last year.”