The two goaltenders remaining in the battle for the Red Deer Rebels back-up position both have the potential to block rubber at the major junior level.
However, neither incumbent Cam Gorchynski nor newcomer Kraymer Barnstable, who guarded the Vancouver Giants net for 14 games two years ago, have stepped forward as the front-runner.
“Yeah, they both have potential, but it needs to be fulfilled,” Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin said on Thursday, one day after watching both ‘tenders, as well as projected starter Darcy Kuemper, allow questionable goals in the McDonald’s Black and White intrasquad game that marked the end of training camp.
“We need one of these guys to step up and show he’s going to be the guy who’s going to take the job and be a guy who can push ‘Kuemps’,” Wallin continued. “We expect ‘Kuemps’ to be a real good goaltender in the league this year, but he has to prove that.
“The message to the other two is No. 1, they have to make the team, and No. 2, whoever that is has to push ‘Kuemps’ for that No 1. job. If you’re just there to be a No. 2, then you’re selling yourself short. The guy who’s going to give us the best chance to win is going to be the guy in the net.”
Wallin agreed that neither of the back-up contenders performed at a consistent level through the three days of training camp and again during the intrasquad contest.
“They’ve both shown flashes and yet there have been some soft goals on both of them, as well,” said Wallin. “Last night was an opportunity for one guy or both to really step up and stand out. Both of them made a couple of good saves and yet there were a couple of soft goals on both, and we can’t have those.”
Both Gorchynski, 17, and the 19-year-old Barnstable are expected to see action on Saturday when the Rebels open their Western Hockey League preseason schedule with a 3 p.m. meeting with the Moose Jaw Warriors at Servus Place in St. Albert.
Czech defender Jindra Barak, who saw spot duty in the Black and White game after falling ill earlier last week and missing training camp, will also play on Saturday, although forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who also sat out during camp with flu-like symptoms, won’t make his exhibition debut until Wednesday versus the Hitmen at the Centennial Arena in Calgary.
l Matt Pufahl’s chances of suiting up with the Rebels this season were dealt a major blow when it was disclosed on Thursday morning that the 16-year-old defenceman has two torn ligaments in the shoulder he injured early in camp.
“He’s actually done quite a bit of damage to his shoulder,” said Wallin. “He’s going home to Saskatoon and he has an appointment there to see an orthopedic specialist. From there it will be determined whether he needs surgery or if he’ll be able to play with a brace through the season and have the surgery next year, if it’s necessary.
“We certainly hope that it doesn’t need to be surgically repaired, but our guess right now is that it will probably come to that.”
If Pufahl plays this season, he’ll likely return to the Saskatoon midget AAA Contacts.
l Defenceman Matt Dumba and forward Mason Burr, the Rebels’ top two picks in this year’s WHL bantam draft, were the only 15-year-olds retained following the Black and White game.
Both will see at least some preseason action before being reassigned, and might actually get plenty of exhibition ice time.
“We’re going to use both of them in the first two games, for sure,” said Wallin. “And we’ve asked them to be prepared to play all six. That will depend on how the other guys play.”
Of the 12 players who were sent home following the intrasquad game, 11 remain on the Rebels’ protected list. The only outright release was handed to Red Deer native and defenceman Mitch Kaufmann, who’s expected to rejoin the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior League.
“Mitch had a pretty good camp but ultimately we just felt he wasn’t quite at this level yet,” said Wallin. “He’s not quite ready for the speed at this level, but he’s a good, intelligent player who moves the puck well and should have a good year in Grande Prairie.”
Another casualty, 17-year-old rearguard Luke Madill of Red Deer, is reportedly headed to the Drayton Valley Thunder of the AJHL, while defencemen Kirsten Odendaal of Red Deer and forward Colten Meaver of Edmonton, both 16, have hooked up with the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits. The Bandits are in Trail, B.C., this weekend for a series of exhibition games.
If both return to the midget AAA ranks, as expected, Odendaal will likely suit up with the Red Deer Optimist Rebels and Meaver will be with Edmonton Southside.
Madill is still listed with the Rebels, at least for now.
“He’s a big body and a very good skater, but we just don’t think he’s quite ready to play here. He needs to go somewhere where he’s going to continue to develop,” said Wallin.
As for the other reassigned players, Channing Bresciani of Winnipeg, a 16-year-old defenceman, will stay at home and play junior A with the Blues of the MJHL or rejoin his midget AAA club; 15-year-old forwards Joel Hamilton of Cochrane and Chase McMurphy of Chestermere will attend the Edge Hockey Academy in Calgary; forward Marc McCoy, 15, will play with the Edmonton Southside midget AAA squad; Red Deer goaltender Brenden Mandrusiak, 16, will try his luck with the Optimist Rebels; goalie Zach Rakochy, 16, will either rejoin the Yorkton midget AAA team or earn a spot with the SJHL’s Melville Millionaires; forward Tyson McCallum, 16, is expected to play midget AAA in Prince George; and defenceman Lucas Grayson, 15, is ticketed for the midget AAA ranks on Vancouver Island.
l The Rebels will send four players to NHL rookie camps as early as next week, with Landon Ferraro and Willie Coetzee headed to Detroit on Friday and Kuemper and Cass Mappin off to Minnesota and Columbus camps at roughly the same time.
“I’ll talk to their NHL teams to determine when Kuemper and Mappin leave,” said Wallin.