Fresh off a breakthrough Western Hockey League season, Mason McCarty looks determined to take his game to yet another level.
So far, so good.
The Red Deer Rebels forward notched 21 goals and accumulated 37 points in an injury-shortened (45 games) 2016-17 season with the Saskatoon Blades, and already has recorded 10 points — including five goals — in five games this fall during his second stint with the Rebels.
The 20-year-old winger was on a unit with Grayson Pawlenchuk and Jared Dmytriw for the first two outings of the season, then had Brandon Hagel and Kristian Reichel as linemates during the club’s three-game trip which concluded Sunday at Regina.
“It’s nice playing with high-calibre players. They’re all good players and a I think our team has a lot of skill and depth,” McCarty said Tuesday.
Count the Blackie native among the top of the talent heap with a current production average of two points per game, good for third place in league scoring.
A fourth-round selection — 69th overall — of Red Deer in the 2012 WHL bantam draft, McCarty excelled as a 16-year-old with the midget AAA UFA Bisons, scoring 22 goals and collecting 42 points in 32 games.
He started the 2014-15 season with the Rebels and garnered two assists in nine contests before being deal to the Blades, where he closed out the year with an additional seven goals and eight assists.
As an 18-year-old, he produced 18 goals and 28 points in 64 games with the Blades and realized he simply wasn’t living up to his potential.
“I started working hard that summer (of 2016),” he said. “My 18-year-old season wasn’t very good, then in the summer I said ‘what do you want.’
“I started working harder in the summer and started playing good last year. I got hurt, which was unfortunate but just part of the game, and kept working hard this past summer.”
McCarty worked out five to six days a week with a weights/cardio regimen and also honed his stick skills.
“There’s a shooting booth where I worked out and I was shooting pucks and doing some extra stick-handling,” he said.
The bottom line — while McCarty has always had natural ability, it took extra effort to bring out his best.
“I’d be lying if I said my confidence didn’t drop when I was 17 and here the first time,” he said. “Going to Saskatoon I had to kind of find my way again and as an 18-year-old I was coming off a summer when I worked out but did stuff like just stick-handling in my basement.
“I realized I had to keep working, and working harder.”
That realization and his ensuing on-ice success last season also made him mentally stronger.
“I believe hockey is 90 per cent mental, that all sports are 90 cent mental. It’s a key part of the game,” he said.
The Rebels coaching staff and scouts took notice of McCarty’s labour habits last winter and re-acquired the five-foot-10, 180-pounder from the Blades last May in return for a second-round draft pick.
To date, he’s been everything the Rebels expected, and more.
“We knew of his work ethic over the last couple of years in Saskatoon,” said associate coach Jeff Truitt.
“He’s a hard worker and plays at a high pace. He has a great shot and uses his speed to his advantage. He opens up holes for that shot and he’s getting it through.”
McCarty is also a Rebels alternate captain, a tribute to his leadership skills.
“His mindset right now is one of wanting to be a leader on this team and really wanting to be a contributor night to night, and he’s done that,” said Truitt.
After opening the season with home-and-home wins over the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Rebels downed the Brandon Wheat Kings 5-4 in a shootout last Friday before falling 4-2 at Moose Jaw and 6-1 at Regina, where they gave up four unanswered third-period markers.
Red Deer returns to action Saturday against the visiting Wheat Kings.
“I thought we were good in Regina for the first two periods and in the third . . . you can’t have mental lapses like that,” said McCarty. “Whether it was (a lack of) cardio or focus . . . there are so many excuses, but none of that is relevant.
“Same thing in Moose Jaw. Their top players outplayed our top players. We have to do our thing and we didn’t and it came back to bite us. As a team we just have to be better and we have to bear down.”
Alexeyev out week to week
The news wasn’t great, but it wasn’t all bad, either.
The Rebels have learned that defenceman Alex Alexeyev will be out for an undetermined — but not indefinite — period after suffering an upper body injury last Friday at Brandon and undergoing an MRI Tuesday morning in Red Deer.
He’s listed as week-to-week on the club’s injury report.
“It’s the best-case scenario,” said GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who lost the talented Russian rearguard to injury for the second half of last season and was fearing a similar situation this time around. “We can’t put a timetable on his return. It will depend on his rehab.”