Rhett Gardner Back In Familiar Territory

From The Moose Jaw Times Herald

c/o Katie Brickman – Blogger

Rhett Gardner, a former captain for the Generals and current Okotoks Oilers forward was in town to help out during a couple scrimmage games over the weekend.

“It is different. It has been a while, but it is nice to be back on the ice,” said Gardner.

The forward with the Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League had a successful first season, picking up the top plus/minus award as well as top rookie at the Oilers award night.

“It (season) went real well. Ended a little shorter than we liked, but overall, I was happy with my game and I am excited to get back there next year,” said Gardner. “Fortunately, I had a really healthy year and I had no injuries.”

Gardner played on defence during the scrimmage game on Sunday. His year in Okotoks was a bit of learning curve, but it also helped push him into a two-way player on the ice.

“The players are a lot bigger and faster at the start, but once I got the first few games under my belt, I really settled in and felt fine by the end of the year,” said Gardner. “The attention to detail amplifies going up, so I definitely focused on my defensive style a bit more. I think I really moulded myself as a two-way player at the end of the season.”

The Generals are improvising after losing out in four games to the Regina Pat Canadians in the first round of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League playoffs. As hosts of the 2014 Telus Cup, the Generals had goals of playing playoff hockey for a long time, not playing in scrimmage games.

However, they are making best of their situation and asked alumni like Gardner to come back and provide some intensity and leadership.

His advice: “Just don’t lose focus. They have a pretty special opportunity ahead of them and they just have to keep their heads on straight in the weeks ahead of them. They have to work hard in practice because that is the only preparation they have.”

Another former player that was in town to help the Generals was defenceman Sean Whelan. He graduated from the system in 2012 after three years with the program. He went on to play a handful of games with the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League before going to the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

“It was good, but it ended early. I quit hockey in December, but it was awesome when I was up there. A great place to play … (I) no regrets there,” stated Whelan. “I am working right now and seeing how that goes for now, but maybe go to school eventually.”

Whelan was happy to be back on the ice and see the coaching staff once again. He wanted to give the players a challenge on the ice, but he feels the team is doing well, given the circumstances.

“They are young, so playing against some older guys helps them learn and progress in their game. Just have to battle with them and keep them going,” said Whelan. “They are doing well out here as they are, so they have a lot of intensity themselves. Telus Cup is a big thing for them. It is a huge drive for those players.”