Talon Brigley still has to pinch himself sometimes, when he steps on the ice wearing the Red Deer Rebels uniform.
The Sylvan Lake native grew up as a wide-eyed kid idolizing Rebels’ players from just outside the glass. At just 16, he’s quickly becoming one of those players he looked up to.
“Obviously growing up here, watching all the games since I was a little kid and always wanting to… this has been my dream,” he said Thursday.
“It’s what you grow up as a kid in Central Alberta – you want to be a Red Deer Rebel. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Brigley was a second-round pick, 24th overall by the Rebels in the 2020 WHL Prospects Draft. Although he’s a long shot to crack the roster for the 2021-22 WHL season, Brigley said suiting up for a preseason game last weekend was a dream come true.
“The game against Edmonton, I thought it was awesome. It was really fun playing against all those guys that I used to watch when I came here, so that was pretty cool,” he said.
It’ll be even more surreal when he puts in the uniform in front of friends and family for Friday night’s exhibition contest with the Calgary Hitmen.
“Maybe some first shift jitters, I’m really excited,” he said.
The winger, listed at just five-foot-10 and 155-pounds has also earned the praise of Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk, who played with Brigley’s dad Travis, in Colorado during the 2003-2004 NHL season.
Konowalchuk said the younger Brigley is a quick study and has progressed while through camp.
“He’s had a good camp. I like that he shows a good skill level. He’s picking up a lot of the things we’re asking… he doesn’t seem like a rookie in that sense. I think he’s got an exciting future ahead of him,” he said.
“You first watch and you see – for Brigley, I haven’t had to say much to him. He’s naturally picking up and paying attention every day,” Konowalchuk said.
“When you tell him something he learns it. We were working on the power play the other day and he was running through the options we want and understands his job. Seems like a smart hockey player. A focused hockey player.”
Brigley said camp has been an eye-opener so far and he hopes to soak in as much information as he can.
“Getting used to the speed and pace. All these guys are really big, quick and fast. They move the puck harder, shoot harder. Just getting used to everything like that,” he said.
“Just whatever advice anyone is giving me and what the coaching staff is telling me. Little things in my game that maybe I didn’t see before.”
It’s been a long year and a half for the teen, after only playing five games with the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs before the season was shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I went up to Kelowna for awhile until about April and practiced down there, that’s pretty much all the hockey I got in last year,” he said.
Whatever the future holds, he’s excited he gets to be a part of the organization.
“My confidence is growing day-by-day, I’m getting better. Just my confidence, carrying the puck more, moving it and making plays, that I probably wouldn’t have made day one. I’m feeling a lot better than what I did before,” he said.
As for Friday, the Rebels will host the Hitmen minus Ben King and Jayden Grubbe upfront, as well as Kyle Masters on the blueline and Connor Ugnar in goal. All four players are at NHL development camps.
Konowalchuk said the players in the lineup will need to take a step forward after last weekend’s preseason opener in Edmonton.
“The first game was very scrambly. That has to change. We introduced a lot of stuff through camp. We’ve had a week to practice it, for me it’s now time to go out and execute,” he said.
“I’m looking for players who are smart hockey players. You need to be able to play smart all game, with energy and with emotion, but within a game plan. I’m looking for guys to be battling that way and take a big step with our system and structure.”
Puck drop is 7 p.m. at the Peavey Mart Centrium.