Drew Doughty. Aaron Ekblad.
Two NHL defencemen that Castlegar Rebels rookie blueliner Liam Wallace is inspired to model his game after.
“I love to watch him. He’s a great defenceman with strong body positioning,” says Wallace of Doughty, who plays for the L.A. Kings. “Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers) is a great one to watch.”
The Red Deer native is striving to become a two-way defenceman. He has made the jump to the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with the Rebels after a three-goal, 17-point campaign in 30 games in his final midget season with the Red Deer Elks U18 AA program. Wallace, 6-1, 165 pounds, learned a lot in his final midget season.
“It taught me that hard work is always going to outwork skill,” says the 18-year-old. “It really showed my last year of midget that I had a great group of guys who helped push me to the next level and bring out the best player that I can be.”
The Rebels, specifically head scout Stewart Duffin, identified Wallace as a high calibre talent for their program. They watched him and built a relationship over the last two seasons.
“One of the biggest things that really made a difference for us during the recruiting process was his maturity,” says Rebels head coach-GM Carter Duffin. “He was very personable, asked well thought out questions and was open to us challenging him as he continued to develop in his final season of U18.”
The rookie hit the scoresheet in his second KIJHL game against the Grand Forks Border Bruins. Wallace says the three games he has played are his best in hockey.
“I had a blast every shift. It was also a great introduction to the league,” says Wallace. “Just to see what the jump and the next step in hockey is really all about.”
Duffin says Wallace’s transition has been very smooth and impressive to see.
“He has an extremely high compete level, this pushes him daily in practices, but also in games, as he was used against other teams veteran/top players,” says Duffin. “He was very consistent in his play, and continued to be open to identifying opportunities for improvement following each game.”
Wallace is still working on adjusting to junior hockey, but is gaining confidence and is excited to get back playing.
From the first day at camp, Duffin has seen Wallace’s practice habits stand out – he finishes every drill, focuses on key details, and for the coaching staff, those are the types of players that are going to soak up every bit of information.
“Through the game-pause, Liam is taking advantage of our skills/tactical practices to continue to improve and grow his game, as he continues to focus on advancing in the future,” says Duffin.
The delayed start in mid November was viewed as a positive to Wallace as it helped him become closer to his Rebels teammates, as well as experience what life is like away from home. Wallace brings a positive, hard working attitude and wants to be trusted on defence. His goal is to keep playing a clean, quick, puck-moving style.
While league play has been delayed into early February due the COVID-19 pandemic by the Provincial Health Office, Wallace leans on his teammates to keep working hard in practice. He looks forward to when they can play again. His love of the game motivates him to work each day, plus he is grateful that he can still practice.
“I have buddies back home that don’t,” he says. “I’m pretty pumped that I still get to be on the ice everyday.”
That last part is a factor in why Wallace decided to start his junior career in the KIJHL. He received a lot of feedback from coaches that playing in the KIJHL would help him advance to a higher level.
“A lot of them always talked about how it was great to develop my skill to come play out here,” adds Wallace, who has friends playing in the league. “That really influenced me to come out here.”