Rassell’s return has been sweet for Canmore.
Summer commitment paying off for AJHL veteran as Eagles soaring into contention.
By Jefferson Hagen, Calgary Herald
The secret to a dominating season at any level of hockey is hardly a secret.It could easily be a catchy proverb: He who trains all summer reigns all winter.
Obviously talent has a lot to do with it, but the recurring theme continues to be about putting time in at the gym and seeing it pay off with increased scoring totals, more powerful skating strides and dominant, warrior-like stamina that leaves opponents in the dust.
Canmore Eagles star Zack Rassell is a living testament to this.
“I didn’t really have a social life at all,” the 20-year-old Calgarian reported of a summer which included two-hour workouts at 7 a.m. each day while his peers were sleeping in.
And while his friends were at the beach, he was busy playing in the Alberta Summer Hockey League (racking up 46 points in 22 games) and threw in a roller-hockey league for good measure — just to work on his hands and vision.
“I feel like my game’s gotten better,” said Rassell, who is a product of the Crowfoot Minor Hockey Association and Calgary Flames AAA clubs. “I feel faster and it’s also just experience.”
And everyone’s noticing. NCAA scouts are coming around — it seems just a matter of time before he lands an offer — and the league just bestowed upon him its player of the week award on Monday after a five-point weekend brought his season totals to 10 goals and 21 points in 15 games. That had him a seven-way tie for the league scoring lead before Tuesday’s action.
“It was kind of unexpected,” Rassell said of the award. “Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve always wanted to get that.
“It was even better we got all three wins on the weekend,” he added of a road trip that saw the Eagles beat Bonnyville 5-2, Lloydminster 3-1 and Drumheller 5-2 on successive days.
It has the Eagles as a major player in the South Division (sitting second with an 8-4-3 record), which is a welcome change for a franchise that has finished below .500 for the last seven seasons, including suffering through an 18-42 campaign last year.
“When they buy into the way we want them to play, our team can be pretty darn good,” said head coach/GM Andrew Milne, who noted solidifying his goaltending position has been key.
That happened when he acquired veteran Ty Swabb (who is sporting a 2.32 GAA and .926 save percentage) at the trade deadline last year from Prince George. The player going the other way?
None other than Rassell.
Milne then quickly came to the realization he needed to get his star centre back for this year.
“I had a feeling Zack would be in a position to have a good year,” he said, acting on his gut and opening up trade discussions with the Spruce Kings.
Turns out Rassell was also longing for a return. And he took a trip to Canmore for the Canada Day Parade to hang out with old teammates.
“They were just talking, bugging the coach (saying) ‘You should trade back for Razz!’ ” he said, unaware that trade talks had already been initiated.
“I feel fortunate that it happened.
“I was so happy to come back to Canmore. That’s my junior A home. It’s where my heart is. I know all the systems, all the structure. It’s just second nature.”
And it’s paying off for the Eagles, who are proving they can dance with anyone, especially after beating arguably the best team in the North Division, Bonnyville, last Friday.
“Beating Bonnyville was just huge for us,” said Rassell. “When we got that win it skyrocketed the confidence.”
The Eagles will play Sherwood Park on Saturday (7 p.m., Canmore Rec Centre) before hosting the rematch with Bonnyville on Sunday (2 p.m.). Calgary fans can see them in action when they visit the Mustangs next Tuesday (7:30 p.m., Father David Bauer Arena).
Ice chips . . .The 14-0-0 Brooks Bandits continue to be the class of the AJHL and are still ranked No. 1 in the country . . . A total of 19 players from the AJHL were named to the Canada West selection camp roster for the World Junior A Challenge, but due to technical difficulties at Hockey Canada, the list won’t be made public until today.