Heading into this season Ethan Sakowich felt he had a good chance to make the Red Deer Rebels full time.
But the 17-year-old native of Athabasca wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“Not at all. I wanted to come here and show I still had a hard work ethic, could do the little things well and work hard every day.”
So far he’s done everything head coach/GM Brent Sutter has expected of him.
“Sak is where we thought he’d be,” said Sutter. “There’s been no surprises. He has got to work hard, compete hard and be a responsible player, plus bringing an edge and he’s done all that.”
Sakowich, who played major midget hockey in Fort Saskatchewan for two seasons, came to camp knowing what to expect after playing four games with the Rebels at the end of last season.
“That was good for me,” he said. “I came here with a lot more confidence. I knew what to expect, which helped a lot.”
He also was with the team during the Memorial Cup, although he trained but didn’t play.
“The Memorial Cup was a great experience. I didn’t expect to play, but just watching I learned a lot,” he said. “As well the intensity at practice was higher and it helped me training that hard.”
Sakowich, who was drafted in the third round (46th overall) in the 2014 WHL bantam draft, has played in all four Rebels preseason games this year and has chipped in with three assists and is a plus-three.
“It’s been good so far, I’m definitely enjoying it,” he said. “As for the three assists I’ve been a bit lucky. It’s not something I’m focusing on. I think I can be a two-way player, but my main responsibility is my defensive end.”
Sakowich is listed at six-foot-one and 177 pounds.
“I’m a little slighter than some of the guys and I need to put on a couple of pounds,” he said.
Sutter isn’t worried about that.
“He’s a tall, rangy kid who plays with some bite to his game. He’s good in his end and moves the puck well.
“I like his fire. He’s a fierce competitor who will only continue to get better. He put some weight on this summer, which is good for him. He’s a bit stronger now.”
Both Sakowich and Sutter realize he’s still young and has to be patient.
“We will have to be patient. There will be some mistakes, but I like Sak, (Carson) Sass and (Alexander) Alexeyev. They’re all 17 and understand the game. They’re smart players and will continue to improve.”
The Rebels have a young defence with 16-year-old Jacob Herauf also in camp. All four youngsters will be counted on this weekend as the Rebels face the Medicine Hat Tigers in a home-and-home set to finish their exhibition season. They meet Friday in Ralston and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.
“All three 17 year-olds are slightly ahead of Herauf as they’re a year older,” said Sutter. “I’m a bit leery of keeping a 16-year-old if he’s not in your top six. But we’ll continue to monitor him and see how it goes.”
The Rebels will be even younger this weekend as they lost seven players to NHL rookie camps and Evan Polei is out with an upper-body injury.
Forward Jeff de Wit (Detroit), Grayson Pawlenchuk (Dallas), Brandon Hagel (Buffalo), Michael Spacek (Winnipeg) and Adam Musel (St. Louis) and defencemen Colton Bobyk (New York Rangers) and Josh Mahura (Anaheim) left for camp Wednesday.
The Rebels hope the majority of the seven will be back for the home opener, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. against the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Centrium.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com. His work can also be seen at Danny’s blog at rdcathletics.ca