It will be important to pick up a program when you attend the Red Deer Rebels regular season opener tonight.
The Western Hockey League squad will be filled with new faces as they host the Edmonton Oil Kings at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.
Five of last year’s regulars — Adam Musil (St. Louis), Jeff de Wit (Detroit), Michael Spacek (Winnipeg), Brandon Hagel (Buffalo) and Josh Mahura (Anaheim) — are still at NHL camps, leaving only 10 veterans available.
“From what I’m being told we can expect most of the guys back next week,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “Most teams, except for Winnipeg have updated us on our players. The only player who possibly won’t be back is Adam (Musil) who’s a signed player and has had a great (rookie) camp.
“This year is a bit different because of the World Cup, it just delays everything by a week,” he said. “It’s affecting every team with players away.”
Two players who attended NHL rookie camps — Grayson Pawlenchuk (Dallas) and Colton Bobyk (New York Rangers) — returned late this week.
Winger Evan Polei, who missed his opportunity to attend an NHL camp because of an upper body injury, is expected to suit up tonight along with veterans Austin Pratt, Reese Johnson, Pawlenchuk and Taden Rattie. Austin Strand, Bobyk and Austin Shmoorkoff are the lone veterans on defence although Ethan Sakowich and Carson Sass did play briefly at the end of last season. Import Alexander Alexeyev is expected to play an important role with the team this season with 16-year-old Jacob Herauf also on hand.
Twenty-year-old Trevor Martin is one of three goaltenders still in camp, joining 18-year-old Riley Lamb and 17-year-old Dawson Weatherill. Although Sutter didn’t say who would start tonight there’s a strong indication Lamb will get the nod.
He put together a strong preseason, posting a 2-1-0 record, a 1.98 goals-against average (gaa) and a .940 save percentage.
Sutter will keep all three netminders, at least for now.
“We’re very content on keeping all three,” he said. “They can all play. We’ll see how it goes after the first weekend and take it from there. We have the two games this weekend (tonight and Saturday in Edmonton) and then have five days off until we play three-in-three (on the road). Things can happen quickly. But right now I feel comfortable that things will sort themselves out.”
Sutter made a decision last week to trade 20-year-old netminder Rylan Toth, keeping Martin, who had a 18-8-11-1 record, a 2.63 gaa and a .911 save percentage last season.
“We truly believe he is underrated, looking at the way he came in last year and won games for us and the way he played. He was strong down the stretch when we lost Tother with an injury, and he played well against Calgary in the playoffs. I think he tired as we went along, especially with four games in five nights.
“I believe our goaltending is ahead of last year at this time. We have two excellent young goaltenders in Riley and Dawson and a very good 15-year-old (Byron Fancy) in our system. I believe goaltending is an area of strength for us. Not every team has that. We’re fortunate.”
Newcomers up front include centres Ben Hiltz, D-Jay Jerome and Austin Schellenberg and wingers Brandon Cutler, Quinn Martin, Akash Bains and Jordan Roy.
“We have a bunch of younger kids who are good players,” said Sutter. “There will be some ups and downs. We all know that, but we’re excited about this group.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com. His