He arrived somewhat behind schedule; now it’s just a matter of whether or not local product Scott Feser will stay with the Red Deer Rebels for the remainder of the WHL season.
After scoring 18 goals and collecting 40 points in 34 Alberta Midget Hockey League games last winter and helping the Red Deer Optimist Rebels capture the Canadian midget AAA hockey championship in April, Feser appeared to be a good bet to crack the WHL Rebels’ lineup last fall. Adding to the likelihood of his sticking around was the fact he played nine games with the Rebels last season.
But the 17-year-old forward was on the outside looking in following a lacklustre training camp and a quiet preseason (no points and a minus-7 rating in four games) and was reassigned to the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL Oct. 12. He was summoned by the Rebels last month and in six games with the big club has a goal and one assist.
“Making this club was kind of my mindset after the year I had in midget. We had a lot of success as a team last season and I had some individual success,” Feser said Thursday. “But for whatever reason things just weren’t up to speed in training camp. That happens . . . you just have to take what you’re given. I thought I did well in Camrose. I thought I did what I needed to do.”
Feser worked a regular shift with the Kodiaks while notching seven goals and adding 10 assists in 23 games.
“It’s all about confidence and it’s tough to build up that part of your game when you’re hanging around the team and not in the lineup,” said Feser, who was in that situation with the Rebels through the first three weeks of the regular season. “Even in practice you just don’t have that feeling that you belong.
“Going to Camrose and getting some ice time . . . I was able to regain my confidence. When you’re playing you’re contributing and feeling much more confident in your abilities and that’s made me feel more comfortable here.”
The level of play in the AJHL — albeit not equal to the WHL — helped Feser find the second gear that was missing prior to his reassignment.
“There’s some good players in that league. The size of the players and the gap between the top-end and lower-end guys are the biggest differences (between junior A and major junior),” said Feser. “But it’s still a good brand of hockey and a step up from midget. I have to be proud of the success I had in Camrose.”
Feser may be contributing more to the Kodiaks in the near future. He’ll stay with the Rebels for at least the next few games — including home-ice engagements with the Vancouver Giants and Moose Jaw Warriors tonight and Saturday and a Sunday date with the host Kootenay Ice — and his immediate future with the WHL club will be decided next week.
“Unfortunately everything is up in the air right now because of our injury status, plus we’re waiting for guys to get back from the World Under 17 Challenge and the world juniors,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who has to finalize his roster by next Thursday, the WHL trade deadline. “We’ll have a better feel at that point of what direction we’re moving for the remainder of the season.”
For now, Feser is enjoying the moment.
“It’s good to be back (with the Rebels), but I don’t know if my time in Camrose is done yet,” he said. “If I get to stay here, great, but going back to Camrose wouldn’t be a bad thing. It would be a chance to get more opportunities and more ice time and keep developing. Right now, I’m just taking it day by day.”
Feser notched his first-ever WHL goal in last Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings. It was his 15th game with the Rebels, including the nine contests he played last season.
“It’s been kind of a longer process with me here, so to get that one at home was special,” he said. “To do it here in front of a bunch of friends and family members just made it that much more exciting.”
Clearly, Sutter would be comfortable with keeping Feser on the roster for the rest of the season.
“He’s played really well for us since we recalled him,” said the Rebels bench boss. “The biggest thing with him now is that he’s just a little more mature, a little more confident.
“His development and progression has been good and that was the reason we sent him to Camrose. We knew he’d have good coaching there with Boris (Rybalka) and that he’d develop the way we would like him to while helping their hockey team at the same time.”