Donohoe a promising apprentice on Rebels’ blueline
Hunter Donohoe is willing to learn the ropes of being an everyday WHL player the old-fashioned way.
He’s willing to earn his playing time.
The Red Deer Rebels defenceman was a constant with the major midget Greater Vancouver Canadians last winter and even appeared in three games with the junior A Surrey Eagles.
But the 17-year-old has had to play a waiting game with the Rebels, and only recently has played mostly regular Western Hockey League minutes with teammate Alex Alexeyev away due to the death of his mother.
Regardless, he’s been patient and has shown an inclination to develop through practice sessions as much as actual game action.
“When you come from playing quite a bit to where you kind of have to work for it, it’s a little bit different,” Donohoe said Thursday. “But I think from talking to older guys who have experienced it, a lot of younger guys go through this.
“It’s just about practices and game time and focusing on getting better each day and developing. I guess I expected both, but it’s been good so far.”
Donohoe’s game has risen to a higher level in recent weeks as he has drawn into the Rebels lineup on a regular basis.
“Just getting game experience helps your confidence. It’s been nice to be able to get on the ice and get this opportunity,” said the six-foot-four and one-half inch, 182-pound Surrey, B.C., native, who has appeared in 35 games this season.
So far, he’s been OK with the manner in which his game has developed.
“It’s been good. Looking at it as an overview from where I was at the start of the season to where I am now, I think it’s been a big improvement,” he said.
“When you get an opportunity you have to really excel at it. That’s what I’ve learned since I’ve been here and I think I’ve done an all right job.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter knew Donohoe, who along with teammates Chris Douglas and Sam Pouliot were listed by the Rebels last year, would be a work in progress this season. But so far, so good.
“He’s one of those guys who’s a late bloomer. He came out of nowhere and where he was at a year ago to where he is now, it’s night and day,” said Sutter.
“He’s had a year of learning. It’s been a huge step for him. The thing about Donohoe is he’s grown almost two inches this winter, now he just has to get stronger.
“It’s been a huge learning curve, but there’s so much potential there. He’s a big guy, he skates well. He still has to work on reacting to the pace of the game and work on his coverage, and I really think that all of this stuff will come as he gets stronger. He’ll be stronger on pucks and stronger in one-on-one battles.”
Sutter is impressed with Donohoe’s desire to become a productive player on a regular basis.
“He has a big heart and he cares. He wants to do well and he wants the team to do well. He’s a good teammate,” said the Rebels boss. “There’s certainly a huge upside there. Now he just has to develop.”
Because of his bright potential, it’s difficult to fathom that the Rebels will give up on Donohoe any time soon, if at all.
“It’s hard to find big defencemen who can skate,” said Sutter. “If he fills out and gains that confidence with his strength and stuff, I think his game will just continue to grow.”
Donohoe, who has scored once and added a single assist in his rookie WHL campaign, said the mood surrounding the Rebels is currently more upbeat than ever, thanks to the recent surge that has drawn them to within four points of a playoff berth.
“Coming out of that trench we were in brings guys a lot closer,” he said. “It’s a really happy dressing room right now. It’s nice to be a part of.
“Our practices are snappy and quick and a lot of fun right now.”
Considering the Rebels were 12 points back of the Kootenay Ice not so long ago and have closed the gap to four, there’s now something tangible for the team to focus on.
“That’s pretty cool. The guys are really pushing now for playoffs and we’re all pretty confident,” said Donohoe. “We’re riding this wave and hopefully we can make a pretty good push here.”
The Rebels have gained points in each of their last eight games — going 6-0-2-0 during that stretch — with their latest positive result being a 3-2 shootout win over the Calgary Hitmen Wednesday.
Next up are two games against the Edmonton Oil Kings — Friday at home and Saturday in the provincial capital — a team that trails the Rebels by 10 points.
“These two games coming up are pretty big and the guys are pretty focused and dialled in for them,” said Donohoe.
Notable: Alexeyev, who left for his home country of Russia Jan. 22, was slated to return to the Rebels Thursday, but his flight from Hamburg, Germany, to Calgary was postponed due to weather conditions. He’s now slated to arrive in Calgary Friday, but it’s unlikely he will return to active duty until Monday when the Rebels open a four-game road trip versus the Prince George Cougars.
Rebels vs. Edmonton Oil Kings, 7 p.m. Friday, Centrium
The Oil Kings are coming off Wednesday’s 6-0 loss to the host Medicine Hat Tigers and are 2-7-1-0 in their last 10 games. Edmonton possesses a record of 14-31-5-2 and is sixth in the Central Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference . . . RW Trey-Fix Wolansky is far and away the Oil Kings’ most productive player with 22 goals and 61 points. C Tomas Soustal has contributed 13 goals and 44 points and RW Colton Kehler has garnered 38 points, including a team-leading 23 goals . . . Overage G Travis Child sports a 4.21 goals-against average and an .868 save percentage. Josh Dechaine, who was granted the starters’ job in early January, owns a 4.29 GAA and .862 save percentage.
Injuries: Edmonton — C Scott Atkinson (lower body, to be determined), G Boston Bilous (illness, week-to-week). Red Deer — D Colin Paradis (upper body, indefinite).
Special teams: Edmonton — Power play 16.4 per cent, 21st overall; penalty kill 70.4 per cent, 22nd. Red Deer — Power play 16.9 per cent, 20th overall; penalty kill 76.9 per cent, 16th.