A year older and a year wiser, Tyson Ness is contributing to the Red Deer Rebels in the manner the coaching staff envisioned when the Grande Prairie product came on board last season.
“I think I’ve really progressed since last year. I’ve started to put points up on the board for the team. That’s what they need from me and hopefully that’s what I can keep doing,” the 18-year-old forward said Thursday prior to a practice session at the Centrium.
“It’s important that I use my speed to get to the net. I can’t score the nicest goals all the time but I can still find a way to put them in.
“Being a year older, it seems like the play almost slows down at times, even though it doesn’t. You feel that everything comes more natural now because you’re used to the pace.”
Entering tonight’s 7:30 p.m. clash with the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds, Ness, in 14 games, has four goals and six points to his credit in his second Western Hockey League season.
Last winter, as a rookie, he sniped seven goals and added an equal number of assists in 68 games.
While he’s on pace to easily eclipse his 2010-11 numbers, Ness realizes that he and virtually all of his teammates have even more to give. And that’s out of necessity.
“We lost three key players from last year who got us a lot of goals. Now everyone — every guy — has to pick up his role on offence and everyone needs to contribute to the scoring,” said the five-foot-11, 174-pound winger.
Ness, selected by the Rebels in the seventh round of the 2008 WHL bantam draft, hit the weights with a passion during the summer and the extra grunt work has paid off.
“I didn’t really get any heavier during the summer, but I feel a lot stronger,” he said.
“When you’re stronger you’re able to keep the puck on your stick more during the battles along the boards.
“You don’t get knocked off the puck as easily.”
Ness continues to lift and press weights in an attempt to gain even more power.
“Actually, I’ve been working out a lot more this season,” he said.
“Last year I didn’t get as many workouts in during the season and this year I’m keeping my strength up. I’m using the (locker room) gym a lot more.”
Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin suggested that Ness is a good advertisement for off-season training.
“The extra work he’s done is noticeable in his play. He’s stronger on the puck, he’s stronger in battles.
“He’s not getting knocked off pucks as easily because he’s able to protect it better,” said Wallin.
“He’s stronger this season and just having that strength and experience of a year under his belt allows him to play with a little more confidence. He’s not rushing things, he’s just a little more of a presence on the ice this year.”
Ness is currently a plus-3 player after closing out at an overall plus-14 last winter.
“He’s coming along and we think he’s going to provide more offence than he has so far,” said Wallin.
“He’s capable of doing that for us, but he’s also been a very consistent player and a very reliable guy. Even last year we felt comfortable once he kind of got his feet under him and got a feel for the league . . . we were comfortable with using him in a lot of different situations.
“He moved up and played with (Brett) Ferguson and (Byron) Froese in our top six at times. We can use him on the penalty kill and he’s just a very consistent guy. You know what you’re going to get from him pretty much each shift he’s on the ice.”