25th Anniversary Special – Top 25 Rebels in franchise history; No. 13 Ross Lupaschuk
It was the first major trade Brent Sutter conducted as owner/general manager/head coach of the Red Deer Rebels, and it turned out to be a truly terrific transaction.
Just months after purchasing the WHL team from Terry and Wayne Simpson, Sutter swung a deal with the Prince Albert Raiders in November of 1999, a trade that netted him rugged forward Craig Brunel and offensive defenceman Ross Lupaschuk. Headed to the Raiders were rearguards Regan Darby and Scott McQueen and forwards Brent Hobday and Steve McIntyre.
If the popular belief that the team that gets the best player is the winner of any trade is indeed fact, then the Rebels won the transaction hands down with the acqusition of Lupaschuk.
“We were trying to build our team to win the next season,” said Sutter. “We knew Bruno would come in and be a good leadership guy, but Lupey was the key to the trade as far as him becoming an impact player.
“He was good that season, but he was really good as a 19-year-old for us. It was a big trade, a trade that really set up our defence.”
Following his second season with the Raiders, Lupaschuk was selected by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 1999 NHL entry draft.
After being dealt to the Rebels 22 games into the ’99-2000 season, he went on to score 13 goals and collect 40 points in 46 games with Red Deer through the remainder of the winter.
He truly came of age the following season and was an integral part of the Rebels 2001 Memorial Cup championship team. Lupaschuk and team captain Jim Vandermeer anchored the team’s power play, with the Edmonton native potting 28 goals and recording 65 points during the regular-season and scoring five times and assisting on another 10 goals in 22 WHL post-season outings.
Lupaschuk, who carried over 200 pounds on his six-foot-one frame, also played with an edge, racking up a total of 158 minutes in penalties in ’99-2000 and 135 minutes in his second and final year in Red Deer.
“Lupey was a real good offensive guy, but he had some bite,” said Sutter. “He was a big kid with some beligerence to his game, which was important for our back end. He complemented Vandy (Vandermeer) and we had some young kids back there with (Jeff) Woywitka and (Bryce) Thoma and we knew Derek Meech was coming in for us the next season as a 16-year-old.”
Lupaschuk capped his junior career with not only a Memorial Cup championship, but the honour of being named to the tournament all-star team.
His NHL rights were traded from Washington to the Pittsburgh Penguins in July of 2001 — particularly notable because the multi-player deal included future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr — and Lupaschuk, after two seasons in the AHL, made his NHL debut with the Pens in the 2002-03 season.
He appeared in a trio of games with Pittsburgh, and in fact they were the only three games he would play in the NHL.
After two more seasons with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL, Lupaschuk headed overseas and played in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany and Austria over the next eight years.
Sutter remembers being re-acquainted with the defenceman while he was a member of Omsk Avangard, a Russian team in the Kontinental League.
Sutter was in Omsk at the time as head coach of the Canadian junior team during the eight-game 2007 Super Series versus the Russian national juniors.
“I walked in the rink and from down the hall I could hear, ‘Sutsy, Sutsy’,” said Sutter. “He was coming in the door with his two little kids.”
Sutter also talked to Lupaschuk last June while the now 36-year-old was in Red Deer for the Memorial Cup tournament hosted by the Rebels.
To this day, the Rebels boss sees the trade that brought Lupaschuk to Red Deer as a key move in helping the club become a WHL power in 2000-01 and beyond, even after the departure of the solid two-way blueliner.
“It was a real good trade. He was a really good player for us,” said Sutter.
Lupaschuk retired from the game in 2013 is now out of hockey — after playing briefly with the senior AAA Stony Plain Eagles last season — and resides in Edmonton with his wife and children.