The goaltender, almost without exception, is the most important player on a hockey team.
To that end, the Red Deer Rebels signed 16-year-old netminder Chase Coward to a standard WHL players agreement earlier this week.
Coward, listed by the Rebels out of the Prairie Hockey Academy a year ago, is enjoying a stellar season with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League.
The Swift Current native is now officially the Rebels No. 3 stopper and will be summoned to the team if an injury strikes either of the present goaltenders — Ethan Anders and Byron Fancy.
Coward possesses eye-opening stats with the 11-6-1-0 Warriors, with a 1.83 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
“We have a few goalies in our organization who are playing well, but he’s been playing real well,” Rebels assistant general manager Shaun Sutter said of Coward. “He’s the starter on his team, a real good team, and if you look at this stats he’s got real good numbers.
“We just wanted to get this done and move forward so we have one guy, a younger guy, kind of locked in.”
While Sutter hasn’t seen Coward play this season, Rebels director of scouting and player development Randy Peterson has watched him on several occasions.
“Technically he’s very good. He’s positionally sound and a real competitor,” said Sutter. “He’s a guy who is sort of a riser, someone that wants it bad.”
Coward attended the Rebels rookie camp in August and was promoted to main camp and played in the Black and White intrasquad game.
Cam Moon, the Rebels director of broadcasts and media, gave Coward a thumbs up after seeing him in August.
“Mooner really liked him and obviously he’s a former goalie (in the WHL, SJHL and at NAIT).
Coward is the No. 1 goalie in Moose Jaw, playing ahead of 15-year-old Dylan Ernst who was selected by the Kamloops Blazers in the second round of this year’s WHL bantam draft.
“His game is trending, he’s developing,” said Sutter. “We’ve had some success grabbing goalies out of Saskatchewan in the past (Rylan Toth, Anders) and he (Coward) looks like he’s going to be one of those guys.”
That being said, nothing will be guaranteed for Coward, who will face competition down the road from other Rebels netminding prospects, a current list that includes Zane Winter and Dylan Lacroix, who were drafted in 2018, and 2019 draft picks Justen Maric and Merik Erickson.
“With goalies it’s all about who plays the best, who stops the most pucks,” said Sutter. “In the past we’ve had a goalie plan going into camp and then always had someone come in who’s not in the conversation but outplays somebody and everything changes.
“Chase was good here (in training camp) and we have some other goalies, some younger, who are good too. We have good depth with our younger goalies. This (signing) was just a matter of a guy going out and proving it and us wanting to make a decision now and getting someone locked in.
“The other guys aren’t out of the equation. We just wanted to get one guy signed so that in the event that anything happens to either of our two goalies we can give (Coward) development minutes.”
Winter is also experiencing a successful season in the SMAAAHL with the first-place Saskatoon Blazers. The 16-year-old Carlyle, Sask., product owns a 1.56 GAA and sizzling .940 save percentage.
Lacroix, also 16, has numbers of 3.68 and .886 with the midget AAA Calgary Flames, while Maric and Erickson are also playing at the highest level of midget.
Maric is the lone 15-year-old netminder in the Alberta Midget League and possesses a 4.23 GAA and .893 save percentage with the Edmonton Canadian Club, while Erickson, also 15, has a 4.07 GAA with the BC Major Midget League’s Valley West Giants.
“Maric started for Team Alberta in the (recent) WHL Cup and is arguably the best goalie in the province in his age group,” said Sutter.
“It’s pretty hard for 15-year-old goalies to play major midget like Maric and Erickson. But they tried out and made their teams,” said Sutter. “Both are good prospects.”
Rebels vs. Lethbridge Hurricanes
Saturday, 7 p.m., Centrium
Lethbridge possessed a 15-6-0-3 record prior to Friday’s home date with Prince Albert and was tied with Edmonton for top spot in the Central Division and second place in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes were 6-2-0-2 in their previous 10 outings prior to Friday . . . C Dylan Cozens was fourth in league scoring prior to Friday with 32 points, including 16 goals, while import LW Oliver Okuliar was sixth with 31 points, including a league-leading 17 goals. D Alex Cotton was also among the top 20 WHL point producers with 25 (7g,18a) and D Calen Addison (4-17-21) and former Rebel and Lethbridge native C-RW D-Jay Jerome (10-10-20) had also reached the 20-point mark . . . Cozens is a top Buffalo Sabres prospect after being selected seventh overall in the 2019 NHL entry draft and Addison was picked by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round — 53rd overall — in 2018 . . . ‘Canes No. 1 G Carl Tetachuk was second in the WHL goals-against average category — prior to Friday — with a 1.94 mark. His save percentage was .930 and was accompanied by a 9-3-0 win-loss record.
Injuries: Lethbridge — LW Jacob Boucher (upper body, indefinite). Red Deer — D Kyle Masters (lower body, week-to-week).
Special teams: Lethbridge — Power play 22.7 per cent, sixth overall; Penalty kill 74.7 per cent, 20th. Red Deer — Power play 16.7 per cent, 17th overall; penalty kill 78.9 per cent, 15th.