Thiel works way into Rebels’ ranks

As Cody Thiel learned the hard way, patience is a virtue.

As Cody Thiel learned the hard way, patience is a virtue.

The Red Deer Rebels rookie defenceman was a healthy scratch through the early weeks of the Western Hockey League season and gradually worked his way into the lineup.

He’s pretty much earned a full-time job on the blueline and with fellow rearguards Justin Weller and now Devan Fafard out with injuries, won’t be vacating that spot any time soon.

“When you’re not playing much you have to work for every inch of ice time that you get and it was tough to break in that way,” the 18-year-old native of Bruno, Sask., said Friday.

“Getting more ice time has been good for my confidence, especially with this being my first year in the league.”

Passed over in the WHL bantam draft, Thiel — a former forward who didn’t move back to the blueline until he was 16 — was listed by the Rebels in June after being contacted by Randy Peterson, the club’s director of scouting and player development.

Thiel wasn’t harbouring any lofty expectations when he checked into training camp.

“During the summer I looked at last year’s Red Deer roster to see which guys were leaving and there was just one (Colin Archer),” said Thiel, who played in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League with Battleford the past two seasons. “I just came to camp and gave it my all.”

Thiel played a handful of preseason games with Kindersley of the junior A SJHL the previous fall, although he claimed the experience did little to prepare him for the WHL.

“This (major junior) hockey is way faster (than junior A) and everyone is bigger and stronger,” he said.

While he was relegated to the press box earlier in the season Thiel received words of encouragement from Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin. “He told me to just keep practising at a high level and that I would get in there eventually,” said the six-foot-two, 175-pound defender.

Thiel, who has recorded three assists, seven penalty minutes and is a minus-three performer through 25 games, has decent offensive instincts and doesn’t shy away from physical play.

As a virtual walk-on at training camp, he has been a rather pleasant story.

“Coming into the season he wasn’t a guy we had on the radar, but he played well in camp and through the preseason and showed more upside than the younger guys we had in camp,” said Wallin. “He didn’t play a lot early (in the regular season) and when he did he was somewhat sporadic.

“But he was a guy who benefitted from the increased opportunity when we had guys out of the lineup. He was able to play a lot for us through December and really elevated his game. I thought he really played well through the month of December and really stepped up his game and started to gain confidence.”

But in recent days . . .

“I think he’s fallen off a bit over the last few games,” said Wallin, whose club will attempt to snap a two-game losing streak tonight against the visiting Prince George Cougars. “We need him to be a good player for us. With (Weller) going down, he’s going to continue to get the opportunity to play and we need him to get back to the level he was at through December.”

Fafard was added to the inactive list this week with an upper-body injury. His status is recorded as week-to-week.

Fafard joins Weller, goaltender Patrik Bartosak and forward Brooks Maxwell and Marc Mackenzie on the injury list.

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

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