There he was, barking out commands like he has been for so many years, even if the faces on the ice were unfamiliar.
Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter was at his familiar post, putting the players on Team Cherry through a short skate Tuesday at the Centrium. He was getting the group ready for the highly anticipated CHL/ NHL Top Prospects game against Team Orr that will go on Wednesday night (8 p.m. puck drop).
Sutter is the assistant coach to another local legend, as Ron MacLean is the main man behind the bench for Team Cherry at the pseudo-all-star game, that pitches the 40 best CHL prospects against one another in a showcase style event in Red Deer.
MacLean said seeing the talent up close that he’ll get to coach on Wednesday has already been a special experience.
“The power right, we were all just blown away by 17-year-olds that are so skilled and so big,” MacLean said.
“Just the way they fell into every flow drill that Brent initiated. They knew what they were doing and they were actually coaching us. They’ve all attending academies or high level… they seem to have an innate feel for one another and whatever else it is that we’re doing.”
— Byron Hackett (@RDAbyronhackett) January 22, 2019
Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Dylan Cozens is one of the big draws for the game and has played some big-time hockey at the Centrium as a visitor. He hopes he can at least draw a few cheers on Wednesday.
The centre is usually in the middle of jeering from Red Deer Rebels fans, but as the captain of Team Cherry, he might get a different reaction.
“Every time I come here, we obviously have a big rivalry with Red Deer. It’s always tough, high-impact games. Just expect it’s going to be a tough game for all of us, might not be as tough as playing Red Deer, we’ll see,” said Cozens.
“Really good fans here, they’re all really loud and they get into the game a lot. That will be really cool for sure.”
Cozens is one of 40 CHL top prospects in Red Deer this week, all in anticipation of the top prospects game. A six-foot-three forward from Whitehorse, Yukon, Cozens understands what is at stake in the showcase.
There will be hundreds of NHL scouts in attendance as well as GMs and owners of NHL clubs.
He was ranked number three among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in the mid-term rankings on Monday. He is expected to be picked in at least the top 10 at the 2019 NHL Draft, but could very well go in the top five. While there’s pressure in that, Wednesday he’ll try and avoid thinking too much about it.
“It’s a busy week, you just have to take things one step at a time. Not worry about all the outside noise. Just focus on yourself and be ready to play and show up,” Cozens said.
Unsurprisingly, Dylan Cozens was among the top performers in just about every category in the first group. More surprisingly, Arthur Kaliyev showcased some impressive agility even if his north-south skating is only average. Was a top performer in drills while carrying the puck.
— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) January 22, 2019
Red Deer Rebels Oleg Zaytsev will also play for Team Cherry in the prospects game.
Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram, also a member of Team Cherry, said after meeting his teammates over the last few days, he really wants to just soak up the experience as much as possible over the next 24 hours.
“It’s exciting being with the top players from across the country my age. Its fun and it’s a great learning experience,” he said.
“I think the point of this event is to have fun and get to know people, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
While the players are looking forward to just having a good time, the coaching staff has some external pressure.
Sutter simply doesn’t like losing, so he’s pushing for W in front the Red Deer faithful.
“We’ll see what (Wednesday) brings, we’re playing for keeps,” Sutter said.
MacLean, on the other hand, knows he’ll hear it from Team Cherry namesake Don Cherry, on Coach’s Corner next Saturday, if his team doesn’t win.
“We have so much talent, so do they. As I said to them, ‘I have to face grapes on the weekend, so for god’s sake, win the effin thing’. That was my strategy,” MacLean said with a chuckle.
“They know I’ll face the wrath of grapes if they don’t do it, that’s all the motivation they need. They don’t want to look bad on Coach’s Corner.”