As noted in DUBNetwork’s interview with former Blazers captain Collin Shirley, Hockey Canada’s World Junior Prospects are set to play the U SPORTS Men’s Hockey All-Stars Dec. 9-12 in Oakville, Ontario.
Joining Shirley is a fourth-year student and former Kamloops Blazers defenceman Ryan Rehill. While Shirley gets a second crack at victory over the World Junior hopefuls, this will be Rehill’s first experience at the annual event.
Blazers fans likely won’t have a difficult time recalling the 6-foot-3 defenceman, whose 508 penalty minutes in 249 regular-season games are the most of any Blazer since 2008.
While the sixth-round draft pick in 2010 was best known for his toughness, the rearguard continued to round out his game while logging big minutes in key situations under the watch of Don Hay. Rehill’s dependability was also a large reason he wore an “A” for his final three years in Kamloops.
Fast-forward a few years and Rehill is looking forward to reuniting with another member of his alma mater, even if it’s just for a few days.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of each other because of the rivalry in the West between Alberta and Saskatchewan, so it’ll be pretty nice playing with him rather than against him.”
Shirley won’t be the only familiar face in Oakville; Rehill is one of six Golden Bears playing for the U SPORTS All-Stars — a byproduct of the perennial powerhouse that is the University of Alberta.
Rehill’s Golden Bears have set the bar at Canada’s collegiate level, having won the David Johnston University Cup a record 16 times since their inception in 1908, including last year’s victory in Lethbridge, which Rehill was a part of.
“It was amazing, definitely the biggest accomplishment of my hockey career, being able to be a part of a championship-winning team on the national stage. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
The well-documented success of the Bears’ hockey program certainly played a factor in Rehill’s decision-making, but it wasn’t the only component.
“Obviously having the chance to play for a great hockey program is a huge draw, but also having the opportunity to get a degree from a great university like the U of A is another big factor.”
The Edmonton native is currently in his fourth year of the Education program at U of A, and while a degree is just around the corner, nothing is in concrete yet, even a potential return to B.C.’s interior.
“Yeah, I haven’t quite gotten there yet. I really enjoyed my time in Kamloops when I was there, so I’ve seen it as a potential spot down the road, but we’ll see.”
For the moment, returning to Edmonton to attend university and be closer to family and friends is an opportunity that Rehill is grateful for.
“Being able to play in the WHL for four or five years, it’s such a privilege, and the scholarship program is a great opportunity for those that want to go that route. The nice thing about the program is that you get to experience a little bit of both.”
Like Shirley, the 24-year old defenceman believes that university isn’t necessarily a retirement home for competitive players to wind down their careers.
“There used to be this stigma attached to CIS where people thought that you were kinda over the hill, but if you look at Luke Philp who signed a contract with the Calgary Flames — he’s a perfect example of how you can succeed at this level and still carry on to the professional leagues.”
The two former Blazers have an opportunity to prove that there’s plenty of gas left in the tank when they take on Connor Zary and the rest of Hockey Canada’s most promising U19 players in Oakville.