Cracking the WHL has been a dream come true for Fernie product Jake MacLachlan.
The 16-year-old was in the lineup with the Red Deer Rebels to take on the Kootenay Ice an hour away from his hometown in Cranbrook on Friday evening.
The young defenceman didn’t get a lot of ice time, but that will come.
“It felt great,” said MacLachlan. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, so it’s finally happened for me and I’ve been working toward it for quite awhile so it’s amazing.”
MacLachlan previously played U18 hockey with Pursuit of Excellence out of Kelowna and stepped up int Jr. B last season with the Fernie Ghostriders.
In 37 games, MacLachlan tallied three goals and 13 assists.
“Last year, it was a big step, going from playing Midget players my age to being 16 and playing against guys that are 20 years old, so it was a big change,” MacLachlan said. “I got to play against older guys who are a lot stronger and a lot quicker, so that definitely helped a lot.”
However, after getting picked in the ninth round of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, MacLachlan set his sights higher this year, sticking with the Rebels through training camp and the exhibition season.
“Training camp went well, I started off a little slower than I initially wanted to, but then I really picked it up going into exhibition season and had a really good five games that I played in exhibition,” MacLachlan said.
Rebels owner/GM/coach Brent Sutter said MacLachlan—as a defenceman—is going to have a tough time in his first year in the WHL, but adds that it’s all about improvement from here on in.
“I think it certainly helped him playing Jr. B last year, playing against older players,” Sutter said. “It probably put him ahead of some other young defencemen inside our organization.
“Also, he’s going to be the type of player—he’s got to be a shut down player. He’s got to be a good positional player. He’s not an overly big guy, but his positional play has to be very sound and he just has to continue to get better.
“I think he’s learned a lot here just with the pace and the way the game is played at this level, it’s so much like, as far as structuring, the way the pro level plays, so he’s getting better each and every day.”
For his part, MacLachlan is excited to be learning under one of the most respected names in the hockey world.
“You have Brent Sutter as your coach and really, the sky’s the limit,” MacLachlan said. “All you have to do is work hard for him and hopefully you go far.”