Is it Friday yet?
Red Deer Rebels forward Rhyse Dieno wasn’t necessarily crooning Gord Bamford’s popular country song this week, but he meant as much.
“Friday,” Dieno simply tweeted Monday in anticipation of the Rebels’ season-opening game against the Kootenay Ice this Friday night at Cranbrook, B.C.
“I can’t wait,” said Dieno, the Rebels’ story of the year last season.
The Rebels and Ice face each other again Saturday night at the Centrium in Red Deer.
Dieno scored a hat trick last Saturday night at the Stettler Recreation Centre as the Rebels defeated his former team, the Medicine Hat Tigers, 8-5 in their final Western Hockey League pre-season game.
“The puck seemed to be finding my stick there,” said the 20-yearold winger. “It was a good line, with (Brooks) Maxwell and (rookie Grayson) Pawlenchuk, who’s a really good player.
“It was just good that with a young guy on our line like that, we were clicking. Guys were making some good plays, and we had some secondary scoring, which is great. (Conner) Bleackley is playing really good right now.
“Definitely, to get a win against any of your old teams is nice.”
Dieno also picked an assist in Red Deer’s 7-5 comeback win over the Edmonton Oil Kings last Friday at Lacombe.
A few days earlier, Dieno returned from his first NHL rookie camp stint with the Minnesota Wild. He played in two NHL rookie tournament games at Traverse City, Mich.
Dieno earned that amateur tryout after making strides at Minnesota’s development camp in July.
“I went down to Traverse City and had a good experience (in the NHL rookie tourney),” he said.
“I can’t complain. I had a lot of fun down there. I know what it takes to get there now. It was definitely an eye-opener, and now I’m ready for this season.”
“I expected to play a few games (with the Wild rookies), and that’s what they gave me. And with the opportunity they gave me, I thought I played pretty good. I’ll have a good year this season and see what happens.”
The pro camp was icing on the cake for Dieno, who last season went from playing junior A in his native Saskatchewan to a leading role with the major junior Rebels. He finished the 2012-13 season as Red Deer’s top scorer, despite not joining the WHL team until mid-November. He had 27 goals and 59 points in 48 games.
Almost forgotten is that, just a year ago, Medicine Hat cut Dieno, who had played with the Tigers the previous season.
“A year ago, around this time, actually,” he recalled this week.
“When you get an opportunity like I did to come to Red Deer and you prove yourself and you play your old team a year later, it shows how much can change in a year. It’s a pretty good eye-opener for people.”
Dieno, a crafty player from Davidson, Sask., played much bigger than his five-foot-10, 183-pound stature might suggest. He thrived in clutch situations as part of the Rebels’ top line with Maxwell and now-departed captain Turner Elson.
Rebels newcomer Lukas Sutter, nephew of coach and general manager Brent Sutter, is poised to fill the open slot on the No. 1 unit. The former Saskatoon Blade was scheduled to return Tuesday from the Winnipeg Jets’ training camp.
The Rebels are waiting for word on the status of 19-year-old defenceman Mathew Dumba, a first-round NHL draft pick who might stick with Minnesota this season.
“I’m sure if he plays the way he knows he can play, he has a real good chance of making that team this year,” Dieno said of Dumba.
“(If he returns), it would be really good for the Rebels. You hope for him to make it (with the Wild) for himself, but as a team, you want those guys to be back. Having him come back would definitely add that offensive game. And he’s not afraid to fight. He’s just an all-around package kind of player. It would be great to have him back, but I hope he stays (in the NHL).”
Either way, it’s still shaping up to be a bountiful season in Red Deer, where the Rebels return most of their lineup from last season. That includes 20-year-old goaltender Patrik Bartosak, a Los Angeles Kings’ prospect and the CHL goalie of the year last season.
“I think we’re a top contending team,” Dieno said. “I think anything less than first in our conference would be a pretty big disappointment, with the team we have this year. Bartosak is in net. We’re really deep this year in lines, so it’s good.”
Dieno spent the off-season working out in Saskatoon with the likes of current Medicine Hat forward Boston Leier and former Tigers sniper Linden Vey, a top scorer in the AHL.
“I pretty much worked on my legs most of the summer, my agility, focused a lot on conditioning and a lot of lower-body workouts,” said Dieno, who joined the Rebels last season on the same day that team owner Brent Sutter replaced Jesse Wallin as coach.
“I got onto Minnesota’s (training) program and it definitely helped me get a lot stronger. I feel a lot stronger with the puck in the corners and stuff, and guys aren’t battling the puck off me as much as they used to. Just all-around, I feel a lot better this year.
“I feel a lot more confident and poised with the puck. It just seems when you’re younger, you don’t feel you have much time with the puck. Now that I’m older, I see that you do have a lot more time and you can make plays. Yeah, it just comes with age and confidence. I feel really good right now.”
Dieno is part of a strong contingent of Saskatchewan players with the Rebels.
His close friends from the hockey world include Medicine Hat forwards Miles Koules, who joined Dieno at the Wild rookie camp, and Hunter Shinkaruk, a first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks.
Dieno’s brief pro audition has whet his appetite for more of the same after his junior career ends this season.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said of wearing Wild colours. “It’s still all pretty crazy to me. Now that I’ve been there, I know what I want. I want more. I want to be there.”