Rebels veterans moving on to next chapters in lives
The exit meetings were over and the exodus of players was underway late Wednesday morning.
Of the 26 Red Deer Rebels players who walked away from the Centrium for the final time this season, as many as seven won’t be back. The list includes graduates Evan Polei, Austin Glover and Colton Bobyk, most likely Adam Musil and Michael Spacek and quite possibly Matthew Campese and netminder Lasse Petersen.
Less than 24 hours after the Rebels fell to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in Game 7 of an opening-round Western Hockey League playoff series, Musil, the team captain, reflected on the season that was.
“I thought it was an up and down season with a young team,” said the 20-year-old forward who last year signed an entry-level deal with the St. Louis Blues after being selected in the 2015 NHL entry draft.
“I thought we battled hard and had a pretty good playoff. It sucks the way it (ended) but that’s the way it goes.”
Wearing the captain’s ‘C’ in what was almost certainly his final major junior season was a badge of honour for the Delta, B.C., product.
“It was a great responsibility. I got the trust from Brent (GM/head coach Sutter) and all the coaching staff,” said Musil. “I thought I got better as the year went on and it was a good experience for me.”
Musil played four years in Red Deer after being selected in the first round — sixth overall — of the 2012 WHL bantam draft.
“The time flew by, definitely. Getting drafted at 14, getting to play here at 15 . . . it seems like it was yesterday,” he said. “I had a blast here. I can’t say anything bad. I had a great experience.”
Musil, who scored 20 goals and collected 51 regular-season points this winter and added four assists in five playoff games, praised Sutter for helping him become the solid pro prospect that he is.
“Brent treats you like a pro,” said the big centre, who along with Spacek suited up with the Czech Republic in the 2017 world juniors. “This is a first-class organization and he taught me how to play the game the right way and that’s all you ask for as a player.”
Musil hasn’t been officially informed if he’ll be joining the Blues’ AHL farm team — the Chicago Wolves — in short order, but suspects that will be the case.
“I think so. I’m not sure when I’m leaving but I think I’m heading to Chicago,” he said.
As a signed player, it’s almost certain that he’ll play for pay next season.
“I’m hoping so, but if that doesn’t happen I’ll come back here which is also a great opportunity for me,” said Musil. “I’m going to work my ass off to make the jump.”
° Polei is another four-year Rebels veteran after being acquired from the Saskatoon Blades in 2013.
Unfortunately, he was unable to help his team in Tuesday’s Game 7 versus Lethbridge due to a league-imposed suspension.
“It’s tough, the guys played hard last night,” he said. “It’s definitely not how I wanted to end my junior career here in Red Deer. It was a great four years, a great run, I have a lot of memories and met a lot of great brothers here.”
As well as being the team’s designated heavyweight and a valuable sniper who potted 33 regular-season goals this winter and three more in the playoffs, the Wetaskiwin native also filled a leadership role with a team in a rebuilding phase after hosting the Memorial Cup tournament last May.
“We lost a lot of good players after last year,” said the six-foot-one, 228-pound forward. “But we did really well this season in making the playoffs with a hard push. We bore down and got it (landing a post-season berth) done, but we just didn’t finish Lethbridge.
“We had them down 3-1, but we gave them life and they won in seven.”
Polei developed into a pro prospect during his time in Red Deer and recently signed an American League deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
“I thought I developed really well here,” he said. “Brent Sutter gave me an opportunity when I was 17 and I got all the help I needed in the summer time training and working on my skating.
“He just kept me in the right mind frame, told me what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. I stuck with it and it helped me out big time.”
Polei interacted with Red Deer fans young and old throughout his time with the team.
“The fans have always been great to me,” he said. “They’ve treated me with tons of respect. They were great every game. They came out to support us and I’m very grateful for them making my career as good as it was.”
A Rebels nominee for the WHL humanitarian of the year award, Polei was a constant presence in city schools and was heavily involved with community work.
“I enjoyed it, I like getting out and spending time with the kids,” he insisted. “I liked it when I was a kid so me getting our there is just giving back what I learned when I was growing up. I hope lots of kids do the same when they grow up.”
Polei will leave for Bakersfield, Calif., early next week to join the Oilers’ AHL farm team, the Condors. While he’s toiling with the AHL squad next season he’ll keep tabs on the Rebels from afar.
“I see lots of potential here,” he said. “The Rebels have a great group of young guys, a great group with amazing attitudes. They are amazing people and I am happy to have got to known them.”
° Glover wasn’t in Red Deer for a long time, but a good time.
“I really enjoyed it. Coming in after Christmas I was hoping for playoff life in my last year,” he said. “This is a great group of guys and a great coaching staff.
“I couldn’t have asked for more. To end it here is pretty special and I won’t forget it.”
Acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders in late December, Glover scored 22 goals and collected 58 points in 69 regular-season game between P.A. and Red Deer, including 10 goals and 32 points in 34 games with the Rebels.
Playing for Sutter was a plus, he said.
“He knows how to get the most out of his players,” said Glover, a native of Clavet, Sask., who celebrated his 21st birthday in January. “I learned a lot about working hard and some valuable lessons. I can’t thank him enough for bringing me in for the last half of the season.”
Glover suggested the Rebels have a bright future.
“The are some really good players here,” he said. “The team is in pretty good hands for the next few years. There’s lots of talent and more importantly, they’re good kids.”
Glover is uncertain of what his own future holds . . . whether he’ll be playing pro or post-secondary hockey next season.
“I’ll go home and settle in and take things as they come,” he said. “I’ve got a few things to figure out.”
° Bobyk is likely facing a similar scenario with his WHL career barely concluded.
“I’ll just have to wait and see if I get a (pro tryout). If not I’ll probably go to school somewhere,” said the defenceman, who turned 21 in March.
The local product started his WHL career with the Spokane Chiefs and was traded to the Rebels in 2014.
“It was a dream come true, being in the league and then finding out when I was 18 that I was getting traded back home,” he said. “It was unreal. My mom was happy, my family was happy, I was happy. Living at home and playing hockey is what every kid wants.”
Bobyk enjoyed a career year in 2015-16, scoring 20 goals and recording 47 points from the blueline. He slipped to five goals in 2016-17 but did register 45 assists.
“It was a pretty good season, after (hosting) the Memorial Cup you’re going to have a young team,” he said. “We had some ups and downs through the year but I think we battled hard.”
As Bobyk noted, the Rebels will return all but himself on the back end next season.
“I think the team will have a very good D corps next year. Obviously we built chemistry all year and next year should be very good,” he said.
What will Bobyk remember most about his time with the Rebels?
“Good fans, unreal coaches, from Brent to Truey (Jeff Truitt) to Pierre (Lamoureux) and even last year with Steve (O’Rourke). Working with Lodgey (Erik Lodge) and Dakes (Tayler Dakars) . . . they’re unreal coaches.”