Rebels may have to contend without top scorer Willie Coetzee

Willie Coetzee
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No fewer than seven Western Hockey League senior citizens will check into the Red Deer Rebels training camp Saturday evening.

That’s the number of overage players the Rebels will have on their camp roster, with team captain and defenceman Colin Archer, perhaps the lone lock for one of the club’s three 20-year-old spots.

Top scorer Willie Coetzee would also be guaranteed of an overage berth, but with a pro contract — courtesy of the Detroit Red Wings — in his back pocket the fleet-footed forward will likely be moving on.

“Willie is a signed player and that certainly works against us,” Rebels head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin said Tuesday.

“Detroit will certainly give him every opportunity to play in their organization. I think he’s basically got a (pro) spot to lose, so to speak.”

The other 20s slated to attend camp are defencemen Nick Bell and Brad Haber, forward Brett Ferguson and netminders Darcy Kuemper and Kraymer Barnstable.

In the probable event that Coetzee isn’t back with the Rebels, Ferguson’s chances of sticking around will improve, leaving Bell and Haber and one of Kuemper and Barnstable on the outside.

Training camp performances and early-season injuries will play a role in the final decisions, including between the pipes where Kuemper struggled late in the 2009-10 season but will be favoured to retain his starting job if he doesn’t sign with the Minnesota Wild and begin the season at the pro level.

Joining Kuemper and Barnstable in the Rebels camp — starting Sunday at 8 a.m. with a rookie session — will be Zach Rakochy and Cam Gorchynski, both 17, and 19-year-old Kirby Halcrow.

“Either Kuemper or Barnstable will be with the team, and after that it’s certainly going to be a battle to see who’s going to be the other guy,” said Wallin.

The six-foot-two, 218-pound Halcrow, who appeared in 41 games with Quesnel of the BCHL last winter and has also played with the AJHL Fort McMurray Oil Barons, might have the inside spot on the second job.

“We’ve heard good reports on him. He had a very good season last year and we’re excited to see what he can do at camp at this level,” said Wallin.

“His opportunity will depend on how these younger guys play. We’d love to have a younger goaltender step up and show that he’s capable of being the guy down the road.”

Alex Petrovic, Justin Weller and rookie Matt Dumba are shoo-ins on the blueline, with the other prime candidates being returnees Aaron Borejko, Haber and Bell, and newcomer Matt Pufahl.

Brad Deagle, an 18-year-old with two years of AJHL experience with the Brooks Bandits, and 16-year-olds Channing Bresciani and Danys Chartrand are also in the mix.

Simon Witt, the 17-year-old defenceman who progressed nicely after being acquired from the Vancouver Giants last September, is still recovering from major hip surgery.

“He’s coming along very slowly and won’t be here at the start of the season, for sure,” said Wallin. “Right now we’re just hoping he’ll get back to the point where he can function normally and walk properly. He’s out of the picture for the time being. If he can be back on skates at some point during the season . . . . that would probably be the best-case scenario.”

Soon-to-be sophomore sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Slovak winger Andrej Kudrna will be front-line scorers, as will Byron Froese, recently acquired from Everett in a trade for Landon Ferraro.

From there, Ferguson will be an offensive contributor if he sticks as a 20-year-old, and the likes of returnees Josh Cowen, 19, 18-year-olds Turner Elson, Adam Kambeitz, Lane Scheidl and John Persson, and 17-year-olds Colten Mayor and Daulton Siwak will be expected to step up.

Mason Burr, 16, and Chad Robinson, 17, each played a few games with the Rebels last season and therefore will be at the top of the rookie forwards chart. Others expected to compete for jobs up front are 17-year-olds Tyson Ness and Locke Muller, with Chase McMurphy, Brooks Maxwell, Joel Hamilton and Mark McCoy, all 16, perhaps a year away.

“We have a number of players returning and we have plenty of experience now. I feel we made big progress last season and now we want to continue moving forward,” said Wallin.

“There’s a strong possibility that we’ll lose a guy like Willie Coetzee, but at the same time if you look at Willie where he was at 17 and if you would have told me then that he’d be leaving to play pro hockey at 20 . . . that certainly didn’t look like it was on the horizon at that point.

“We need some of our younger guys to take those kind of steps and I think they are capable of that. We need these guys to take bigger roles. That whole ‘92 group, they’re all experienced guys now, and Siwak and Mayor should be able to give us more. Josh Cowen, as well, can produce more than he has if he stays healthy. He’s a guy who’s going to get an opportunity to play with some good players.”

• The main camp players will be on the ice from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Sunday. A goalie session will follow from 1-2:30 p.m., the rookies will hit the ice from 2:45 to 4:15 p.m. and a main camp scrimmage from 4:45-6:15 p.m. will wrap up the first day’s action.

Monday’s schedule is identical, and on Tuesday the rookies will skate from 8:30 to 10 a.m., main camp will follow with 45-minute sessions starting at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., and a preview of the next day’s Black and White game will commence at 5 p.m.

The McDonald’s Black and White intrasquad game will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday.


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