Chase Coward took full advantage of the opportunity when he was finally able to get in between the pipes for the Red Deer Rebels this season.
Coward was a spectator for the first 18 games of the season before playing in four of the final five games to wrap up the 2020-21 season. He made his first start of the season on April 19 against the host Medicine Hat Tigers in a 3-2 loss.
“I was super excited when I finally got told that I was going to get a start. I just wanted to go out there and prove to myself and to everyone else that I belonged in the league. I did that and then the starts kept coming in and the confidence just kept going up.”
Coward earned his first WHL win on May 1 when he made 24 saves as the last-place Rebels shocked the league leading Edmonton Oil Kings.
“If we would have won and I didn’t play it would have still been an unreal experience. The joy and happiness to beat Edmonton and snap a 13-game losing streak was great around the room, we needed it. For the first win it made it even more special for me and the team.”
Coward made another two starts and finished the season with a 2-1 record, a 3.02 goals against average, and a .914 save percentage.
“I think it just went so well just because of those two months leading up to the game, just all the practice and work I put in and all the habits I created that just allowed me to go out there and trust my instincts and be relaxed and not overthink every shot.”
His final start was also memorable as he made 42 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Hitmen when he had to miss the end of regulation after suffering a scary injury.
“I think it was 6:00 or 6:15 left. Just a scramble in front of the net and my glove came off and Riley Stotts’ skate cut my thumb/wrist a bit and it was pretty deep. He [the ref] called it a goal, so the first instinct was to turn around and show him I was bleeding because then they probably wouldn’t call it a goal. The ref started yelling at me to get to the bench. I went to the bench, got stitched, and I went back in for OT,” Coward explained.
“It’s a little sore. I think I should be okay. It wasn’t deep enough to cut my tendon, which is good because I would have needed surgery. It’s still sore and I think it’s another week until I get the stitches out,” said Coward a few days later.
Coward spent the previous season with the Moose Jaw AAA U18 Warriors and made a couple appearances for the Rebels. He will look to play an increased role with the Rebels next season with Ethan Anders graduating and Byron Fancy eligible to return as an overage goaltender.
“It was just kind of a gradual confidence booster all the way through. Then this past week, playing three games out of the four, was just a huge confidence boost. I’m just trying to take that to the summer and whenever camp is and bring that back and have a good start to next season.”
The Rebels had a unique living situation this season as the players lived at the Westerner Park Centrium.
“It was good. It was pretty much just like the bubble. You could hang out with teammates and all that stuff. It was good, the food was good. We had team builders outside. When it got nicer out we’d go play basketball or throw baseballs around.”
The team certainly had its struggles this season with a 4-15-4-0 record as Head Coach Brent Sutter stepped down after 14 games.
“Kind of when we were playing that Edmonton series and we weren’t doing too hot there was a lot of frustration going around the room. It was hard for a lot of the guys to keep going, but it felt like we came together more as a team and it helped being in the rink because guys were always there so we could go hang out and talk about what was going on. We just bonded more and started playing good and ended off strong.”
After sleeping 85 nights together at the rink, when the Rebels left it wasn’t long before the players were reunited.
“It wasn’t an organized meeting, but we all ended up seeing each other, or a lot of us seeing each other in the McDonald’s parking lot right after we got out,” he laughed.
“It felt a little weird getting out at first. Driving I was a little scared because I didn’t know if I was going to remember how to drive.”
Coward said he would take a couple a weeks off to rest and heal up. He planned to skate with a former coach in Moose Jaw and possibly the Prairie Hockey Academy as well. He also planned to train in Regina and in Alberta in July to prepare for next season.