Rabbit and Blades ready for playoffs

By Janine Pilkington

The Saskatoon Blades finished off their 2005-06 season at the No. 2 spot in the East Division, fourth in the Eastern Conference of the WHL. It’s a strong finish within a fiercely competitive league, but Blades’ captain Wacey Rabbit talked about the importance of bringing his team into a prime position for a solid postseason run.

“We’ve been pushing to get home ice advantage,” he said in a recent interview. “We knew we were in the playoffs, but we really wanted home ice.”

The Blades would go on to claim home ice with a 4-1 win over the Prince Albert Raiders on St Patrick’s Day. Rabbit contributed the game-winning goal, along with some stellar work in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill, and skated away as third star of the game.

The 19-year-old product of Calgary, AB had some ups and downs this season, including a January slump and a concussion that took him out of the lineup for a handful of games in late January and early February, but Rabbit still managed to have one of his strongest seasons in the WHL. The speedster has posted 56 points (28 goals, 28 assists) in 64 games, with a +12 rating and 45 penalty minutes. Rabbit is particularly dangerous on special teams, with 11 of his goals coming on the power play, and eight shorthanded, which leads the league. He also posted six game-winning goals and had 19 games with two or more points, playing on a line lately with Zdenek Bahensky (NYR) and Chad Klassen.

“I think, being a four-year, you want to step up your play, you want to be a leader on the ice. I think going into the season, especially being drafted, I knew I needed to step up, and I wanted to show Boston that I could be a leader.”

Rabbit has played all of his four seasons in the WHL with the Blades. He was appointed captain in September, but he’s quick to point out that it’s a shared responsibility with the team’s alternate captains Joe Barnes (CAR), Devin Setoguchi (SJ) and Justin McCrae. As he speaks, in fact, that team-first attitude is clearly evident, and it’s not difficult to understand why he was chosen captain in the first place.

The 2005 draftee, who attended the Bruins’ training camp last fall, is one of many Boston prospects in the running for a contract next season. Rabbit is motivated to play professionally, and though he says he wouldn’t be upset about coming back to Saskatoon for another season, he believes he is up for the challenge of the pro game.

“Absolutely, anytime there’s a chance to take it to the next level, you always want to step up your game. I think I’m ready, and hopefully Boston will feel that way too.”

Taken in the fifth round, Rabbit was listed at 5’9 169 lbs at the time he was drafted. Since then, he has grown to 5’10 180 lbs and continues to work on his strength. It is entirely possible that he’s the type of player who would benefit from the NHL’s rule changes. Look no further than New Jersey Devil 5’7 175 lb right wing Brian Gionta as an example of a player who has blossomed since the new rules went into effect. Rabbit may have a way to go before he becomes a top point-getter in the NHL, but he’s got the speed, stamina and drive to compete successfully at any level.

“For my strengths, I think using my speed to my advantage, and I’m a two-way player,” Rabbit said, then admitted that his size has caused some to question how far he can go. “I really don’t think that will make a difference. I don’t get knocked off the puck easily, and I’m 5’10 now, so I don’t think it will make as much of a difference anymore.”

It may be too early to tell whether Wacey Rabbit will be skating as a pro next season, but he’s got the attitude and drive to help him get there. For now, he will try to guide his team to postseason success as Saskatoon begins their playoff run at home against the Regina Pats on Friday, Mar. 24.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.