Mayo, as usual, to play key role in Rebels-Hitmen series

Rob Wallator

Rebels defenceman Hunter Mayo hasn’t talked to an NHL scout this season, but a conversation could certainly be forthcoming in the near future.

While the third-year blueliner has mostly flown under the radar, it’s difficult to ignore what his impact has been on the team with his heavy shot and 18 goals, including an impressive dozen on the power play.

In fact, the Saskatoon area product has been an all-around gem for the Rebels this season, recording 42 points in 67 games while posting a plus/minus rating of plus-24.

Mayo has been mainly overlooked by the likes of NHL Central Scouting, but he’s listed as a sixth-round pick in a complete 2023 NHL Entry Draft mock draft by

Rebels assistant coach Ryan Colville isn’t surprised that the six-foot-one, 195-pound right shot rearguard is receiving at least some draft attention.

Certainly, Mayo product has some pro attributes.

“Absolutely,” said Colville. “He’s got a pro shot now.

“Defensively, he plays hard. He’s strong, he can finish checks, he moves the puck really well and he can skate. It doesn’t surprise me at all he’d be getting looked at that way.”

Mayo, who will turn 19 in May, was the Rebels’ first pick in the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft, 23rd overall as the first selection of the second round.

He joined the Rebels for the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season and, due to injury, appeared in only six games.

The following season, as a 17-year-old, Mayo made huge strides while scoring three goals and collecting 17 points in 63 games while also posting a plus/minus of plus-19 in the process.

This season, his game has progressed even more.

“I feel like I’ve developed a lot this year, I’ve come a long way with all parts of my game,” Mayo said Thursday. “I’ve developed well and I’m happy with the season and I’m ready for playoffs.”

Added Colville, “He didn’t get to play much in the COVID year, then came in last year and played well. This year he’s taken another step, which is good to see.

“He’s pretty decisive in where he wants to move the puck and what he wants to do with the puck. So the last couple of years you’ve really seen the growth in him.”

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Mayo and his teammates held one final practice session Thursday in preparation for Friday’s WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final opener with the Calgary Hitmen at the Peavey Mart Centrium. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series also goes at the Centrium Saturday.

The Rebels defensive corps has been a team strength all season and Mayo and his blueline mates are ready for a stiff struggle. Although Red Deer finished first in the Central Division, 22 points ahead of their provincial rivals and won six of eight meetings this season, the Hitmen could certainly be a tough out.

“I know it will be a hard battle for us but we just have to take them right to the end and keep on our game this whole time,” said Mayo.

The teams are similar in that they both play a north-south game and can play a physical style.

“We both like to advance the puck north. We’ll just try to get hard on the forecheck and see if they can go the seven games with us,” said Mayo.

While the Rebels can match the physicality of their QE II rivals and then some, one of their keys to success will be steering clear of the post-whistle shenanigans, the stick penalties and the 200-foot infractions.

“For us, what’s going to be huge in this first series is discipline, staying out of the box,” said Mayo. “We’re going to come out with lots of physicality, but I don’t think we’re going to be looking at getting scrappy after the whistle . . . just keep it between the whistles.”

Notable: The third and fourth games of the series will go Monday and next Wednesday in Calgary. Games five to seven, if necessary, are slated for April 7 in Red Deer, April 9 in Calgary and April 11 at the Centrium . . . Mayo’s 12 power play goals this season ties him with Dion Phaneuf (2004-05) and Darren Van Impe (1992-93) for third most by a Rebels defenceman in a season. Doug Lynch owns the team record with 16 PPG in 2001-02. Mayo’s 18 goals overall is the most by a Rebels blue liner since Colton Bobyk scored 20 in 2015-16. Mayo also tied for third in the WHL this season with two overtime goals, including one versus Calgary on November 27. . . Rookie forward Carson Birnie is the Central Division Scholastic Player of the year and a nominee for the league award — the Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Memorial Trophy to be announced May 8. Birnie, 18, registered an overall average of 92 per cent in his core subjects, including a 95-per-cent grade in Chemistry 30, a 95-per-cent average in English Language Arts 30, and a 90-per-cent grade in Math Foundations 30 . . . The Rebels will pick 18th in this year’s WHL Prospects Draft slated for May 11. The Prince Albert Raiders own the first two selections in the draft . . . The day before, the Rebels will pick 18th and 40th in the two-round US Priority Draft.


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