With Western Hockey League training camps looming, Turner Elson was consigned to the fact he’d soon be heading to northern B.C.
But when the 17-year-old St. Albert product checked his voicemail upon returning from a summer vacation, his new destination was Central Alberta.
“I was going to Prince George (to attend the Cougars camp) because I didn’t get a letter or a call from any other team,” the Red Deer Rebels rookie forward said on Thursday, prior to a practice session at Kin City. “But I guess (the Rebels) called me when I was away, about two weeks before camp, and I decided to come here.”
Elson had his reasons for choosing Red Deer over Prince George.
“It’s just a better place to be, a nice town with a better team and organization,” he insisted. “Plus I liked (Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin) from when he coached me as a player trying out for (Team Pacific under 17). He’s the one who called me last month.”
Wallin, who was lending a helping hand at the northern Alberta camp for Team Pacific last spring, was already aware of Elson’s potential after the player attended the Rebels training camp as a 15-year-old in 2008.
“He had a good camp with us (Rebels) but he was just a five-foot-five kid then,” said Wallin. “His size was an issue at that time. This year he was one of the later invited players. He was still on our list and we decided to give him a call. We needed another body and he came in five or six inches taller than last year. He hit the ice ready to go and here he is.”
Elson didn’t put up great offensive numbers with the midget AAA St. Albert Raiders last season, collecting 11 goals and 23 points in 33 games. But he was a solid, physical (77 minutes in penalties) and respected two-way performer while serving as team captain.
“I didn’t have a good season for points but I played well defensively,” he said. “I played a lot of penalty kill which is what I do best. I play with energy and I like to talk a lot.”
His abrasive nature led to a pair of scraps in last Saturday’s 7-1 thumping of the Kootenay Ice. He also scored a goal (originally credited to Willie Coetzee) and added an assist.
Not bad for basically a walk-on training camp participant who admitted he never expected to earn a spot on the Rebels roster.
“I came into camp and played the way I’ve always played and I guess it was good enough,” he said. “I just played my game (through camp and the exhibition schedule), which is the Red Deer Rebels’ game . . . get the puck deep and lay on the body. That’s the kind of game I focus on playing.”
As for his memorable Saturday night performance versus the Ice . . .
“Really, I just had fun, that’s the main thing,” said Elson. “After the fights I was energized and I was able to get to the net and make plays. It was just a fun game.”
The more he watched Elson during training camp and through a series of preseason contests, the more Wallin liked the five-foot-11, 185-pound winger.
“He came into camp and worked hard and earned himself a place in our lineup,” said the Rebels head coach.
“He’s a guy who’s not afraid to get his nose dirty. He’ll fight, go to the net and take a hit to make a play. Basically, he’s done everything we’ve asked of him. We couldn’t ask for more from a first-year player.
“He had a pretty good first weekend with two fights and a goal because he went to the tough areas of the ice.”
But the Red Deer bench boss appreciates Elson for more than his energy .
“He’s one of those kids who just wants to play so bad,” said Wallin. “He’s a very intelligent player and as a coach you just feel real confident when he’s on the ice. You can put him out there against everyone because he’s never going to cheat on his effort. He’s responsible defensively, he just battles to no end and has no quit in him. He’s just a fun guy to have on your team and he’s gained the respect of all his teammates. He’s been a great addition for us.”
Elson actually played his first game of hockey in Vancouver at the age of three and was a member of the Burnaby Winter Club for three years before moving to Bon Accord. From there, his family relocated to Seattle, where he competed against players four years older.
He then played in the St. Minor Hockey Association from atom to midget AAA.
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