This piece originally appeared in Volume 6 of InFlight Magazine, which ran from mid-March to the end of the season.Nelson Nogier
is used to shutting down the top lines of other Western Hockey League teams. It’s something he does night in and night out for the Red Deer Rebels.
But on May 19, 2016, that assignment will get a lot more difficult.
That’s when the 19-year-old Nogier and his Rebels teammates will be the host team at the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup, where Nogier will face some of the top lines from across the country.
“The importance of the Memorial Cup is obviously huge, but an even bigger thing we have to stress is to make sure we go far in the playoffs,” said Nogier. “You want to be continually playing. You don’t want to have to be set back by not making it through a round or whatever kind of adversity you may face.
“It’s always in the back of your mind. You know you have that opportunity to play in that, but at the same time you want to go in through the front door.”
The first step toward that was reached in late February, when the Rebels clinched a playoff spot with more than 10 games remaining in the regular season.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. The month of February saw a stretch of five wins in six games, as well as a five-game losing streak.
“We’ve had our ups and downs as a team. We’ve faced a little bit of adversity here in the last couple of months. I think we’ve handled it well as a team and we’re fighting through that as a group,” said Nogier. “We’re going to try and continue to carry some success into the playoffs and hopefully push for a long run.”
The Rebels made the WHL postseason last year, but fell in five games to the Medicine Hat Tigers. Eight skaters and one goaltender returned from that squad to help Red Deer reach another level this season. One of the additions is, like Nogier, a Winnipeg Jets prospect: Michael Spacek.
“He’s been awesome. He’s come a long way since he first got here at the start of the year, that’s for sure. He’s a huge asset to our team,” Nogier said of Spacek’s 45 points in his first WHL season. “He’s got the skills with the puck and the offensive ability to score goals. We rely on him on a night-to-night basis. He’s a great guy to have around the room and he’s a lot of fun.”
Nogier says as the season gets into the later stages, he’s noticed the crowd sizes increase. But as the crowds get bigger, the details Nogier is focusing on in his game get smaller. It’s all in an effort to bring a Memorial Cup championship back to Red Deer for the first time since 2001.
“With the coaching staff we have here, Jeff Truitt and Brent Sutter, they’ve helped my game come a long ways,” said Nogier. “Just from maturing as a player from a skating standpoint, [my] confidence with the puck; I think I've come a long way."
“I just try and take every day to try and slowly brush up on those things to try and make myself a better player.”
The Winnipeg Jets scouting staff, as well as General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff liked Nogier as a player when the club selected the defenceman 101st overall at the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia.
At that time, Nogier was a member of the Saskatoon Blades. It was the team he suited up for since 2011, and as a hometown boy, cheered for even longer.
Now, standing 6’3” and 209 pounds, the blue liner hopes to channel everything he’s learned in his over 200 WHL games on one of the biggest stages he’s ever played on.
“Even though (the Memorial Cup) is three months away we’re going to try and focus on the small steps. For myself it’s just going to be a matter of playing consistent on the back end and shutting other team’s lines down,” he said. “I’m relied on as a defensive defenceman, and I’m going to continue to do that, and try to help our team win games that we need to be winning here in the future.
“The Memorial Cup is in the back of our minds, but we have to try and make sure we finish these last games strong.”