BY ZACHARY CORMIER
It’s been almost three months to the day since the Memorial Cup final in Red Deer and, after going through some minor symptoms of withdrawal, I’m happy to say that hockey’s finally back. Kind of. Look, it’s been a long off-season, okay? I’ll take what I can get.
The Red Deer Rebels’ training camp officially opened on Wednesday, marking the start of preparations for the upcoming Western Hockey League season and I, for one, could not be more excited.
Now if you’re not a die hard hockey fan, you’ll probably be asking yourself something along the lines of ‘why is this weirdo so excited to watch what essentially amounts to a series of glorified hockey practices with the occasional scrimmage thrown in there?’
The answer to that question is fairly simple – some of these players are the future, not only of the Rebels’ organization but of hockey as a whole.
Training camp, both in the WHL and the NHL, is the only time of year where young players, many of whom will likely be competing at lower levels of hockey come October, get the opportunity to showcase their skills on the big stage.
In the case of the Rebels, or any WHL team for that matter, that means you get to see some of the best young talent in the country giving their all every day for a shot at the big club.
As a result, you get some dynamic and heart-filled hockey that you wouldn’t be able to see at any other time of the year.
You also get a chance to check out some of the new talent the team acquired over the course of the off season and to truly see how they’re going to fit into the team’s bigger picture.
Take new Rebels’ defensive prospect Alexander Alexeyev. The team acquired him during the 2016 CHL Import Draft earlier this month in order to fill some holes that opened up after last season’s run at the Memorial Cup.
Alexeyev, 17, played last season for St. Petersburg SL of the Russian Junior league putting up respectable numbers for a defenseman, but I’m excited to see how he fits into a Rebels team that will be considerably younger this year than they were last season.
Then there’s the other elephant in the room – the overage players.
WHL rules dictate that each team can have a maximum of three 20-year-old players on their roster at the start of the WHL season. At the time of writing, the Rebels have four – goaltenders Rylan Toth and Trevor Martin, left winger Evan Polei and Red Deer-born defenseman Colton Bobyk.
Based on those, it would make sense that Polei and Bobyk will be back on the main roster this year while Toth and Martin will battle for the starting goalie role.
That being said, the Rebels do not have to make a final decision on their three overage players until Oct. 15th. Still, training camp is where the seeds of that decision can be sown.
Finally, training camp is also an opportunity for fans to get reacquainted with their team. This is especially important for a WHL squad like the Rebels because their rosters tend to change pretty drastically from year to year.
For example, the Rebs will have about 15 players from last season on their training camp roster this week. That means that at least three spots will for sure be up for grabs for any young players coming into the league. By comparison, most NHL teams tend to fill their roster holes through off-season signings and trades, meaning at most one or two regular roster spots would be open to players coming up from the minors.
So, if you happen to be around Red Deer at any point over the coming few weeks, I’d suggest stopping by the ENMAX Centrium to see some of the up and coming players at work.
Who knows? You may even catch a glimpse of the next captain of the Edmonton Oilers. (You know, the one who will replace McDavid when the Oilers inevitably trade him for a bag of pucks and a smile in a couple of years.)