Red Deer Rebels defenceman Jackson van de Leest (24) will play in his 250th Western Hockey League game this Saturday, as the Rebels host the Edmonton Oil Kings at they Peavey Mart Centrium. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Jackson van de Leest (24) will play in his 250th Western Hockey League game this Saturday, as the Rebels host the Edmonton Oil Kings at they Peavey Mart Centrium. (Advocate file photo)

Van de Leest to play 250th WHL game as Red Deer Rebels host Oil Kings

Jackson van de Leest says it’s difficult to describe how he feels heading into his 250th Western Hockey League game.

“It’s felt long, but at the same time it’s gone by very quickly,” the 20-year-old Red Deer Rebels defenceman said Friday.

“Obviously I wish it could’ve been more with COVID and everything that’s happened, but I’m super excited to be hitting that milestone. It feels awesome.”

Van de Leest will reach the 250-game mark when the Rebels host the Edmonton Oil Kings Saturday at the Peavey Mart Centrium.

The game will be the first in a home-and-home matchup with the Oil Kings, the only team ahead of the Rebels in the Central Division.

“We’ve just got to play our game,” van de Leest said of this weekend’s matchup against one of the league’s top teams.

“They’re going to be a tough team to play against, but I think we’re looking for that heading into the playoffs – some action against a good team to really rev us up for that.”

Red Deer, which will play Edmonton in four of its final six regular-season games, is currently nine points behind the Oil Kings. Both teams trail the Eastern Conference-leading Winnipeg ICE.

Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk said this weekend will be a nice challenge for his team.

“I suspect both teams are looking forward to playing each other – teams that are towards the top of the standings. They should be competitive games in that sense,” said Konowalchuk.

“With that being said, at this point, no one is fighting with desperation for any points. But I think it’s important for us to maintain the way we play every game and every shift, and making sure we’re trying to keep our habits good and our compete level up. That’s going to be so important these last six games and going into the playoffs.”

After a pair of home wins last weekend against the Medicine Hat Tigers and Swift Current Broncos, the Rebels clinched home ice for the first round, which begins April 22.

The WHL hasn’t had playoff games since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For a lot of guys, it’ll be their first time going into the playoffs,” said van de Leest, who has 11 games of post-season experience.

“It’s a very exciting time of the year and I think regardless of how many playoff games of experience they have, we’re all super excited to be going into it.”

The big, six-foot-seven, 238-pound defender has only been with the Rebels for 28 of his 249 career games. He was traded to Red Deer after playing with the Calgary Hitmen since the 2016-17 season.

“The group of guys (in Red Deer) is phenomenal and that’s made the transition seamless and super easy,” he said.

“With (Konowalchuk) and the coaching staff pushing us day-in and day-out, I feel like I’ve developed a lot as a player. Right now I think we’re humming and I’m happy to be a part of that.”

Puck drop for Saturday’s game is 7 p.m.



sean.mcintosh@reddeeradvocate.com

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