STETTLER — Turner Elson was warming up to the prospect of playing with the Abbotsford Heat this season, but his American Hockey League assignment will have to wait.
With an NHL lockout imminent, the Calgary Flames contacted the 20-year-old forward Saturday and advised him not to report to their AHL farm team’s training camp next week.
That means Elson is staying put for an overage season in the Western Hockey League with the Red Deer Rebels.
John Wisebrod, the Flames’ assistant general manager of player personnel, broke the news to Elson a few hours before the Rebels bused to Stettler for Saturday night’s WHL exhibition game against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“I’m staying back and not attending (Abbotsford’s) camp, because of the lockout,” Elson said after Red Deer’s 2-1 loss.
“(Wisebrod) called me and said there’s just too many guys going there, and it would be better for my development to stay down here, so that’s what I’m doing.”
Elson, who just turned 20 on Thursday, made waves last fall as a walk-on at the Calgary and Abbotsford camps. He earned a two-way pro contract before returning to the Rebels.
This season, he was banking on taking it one step further and hoped to at least knock on the door of pro hockey.
“I was going to make sure they remembered me, and even if I did get cut, that they thought of me every time something happened,” said Elson, almost six feet and 185 pounds.
“I was going to go there and be a tough kid to play against, be hard-nosed (and) fight a little bit. I was just going to be that guy that they remembered. Too bad it can’t happen, but I’m still glad that I’m back here.”
Elson was slated to open the WHL regular season with the Rebels this coming weekend, and then report to his AHL camp. Although the labour unrest in the NHL has derailed the pro part of those plans, he wasn’t necessarily caught off guard by Saturday’s directive.
“I was preparing for it,” Elson said. “I always prepare for the worst thing, instead of preparing for the best thing, because it’s easier to fall back on. I was ready for it. I thought it was going to happen, but I didn’t know for sure. But it’s OK for me.”
It’s more than OK for the Rebels, who need the experience and grit that Elson can provide.
“Most of the guys heard that I’m staying back,” he said. “They’re pretty pumped, and I hope I can bring us a championship this year.”
Just one day before Elson learned he would be staying with the Rebels, the WHL team cut his younger brother Trace, who has been assigned to the junior A Whitecourt Wolverines, the newest team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“It’s tough, but he’s a good player and he has a lot of abilities that can make him play in this league (the WHL), so hopefully he gets another chance somewhere else during the year, and I hope he takes advantage of it,” Turner said of Trace.
“I thought he was very close (to earning a forward job with Red Deer).”
Former Rebels star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, an NHL rookie last season, was among the Edmonton Oilers assigned to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons on Saturday.
“It’s kind of hard situation for everybody,” Turner Elson said. “It’s really a trickle-down effect. I know it’s going to affect a lot of players in the league, but as long as you’ve got a good place like here (Red Deer) for me to stay, it’s all good.”