Sometimes the most difficult situations can be the best learning experiences.
After all, how else does one come to know the best ways to overcome adversity without experiencing it first-hand?
This is the kind of valuable life lesson that 18-year-old draft-eligible defenseman Dawson Barteaux and his Red Deer Rebels team are currently in the process of learning.
Just a few short months ago it seemed like the Rebels’ season was on the brink of no return. The club went on a slump the likes of which is the stuff of nightmares, mustering only two wins between Oct 29-Jan 20, a staggering span of 32 games.
Their official record during that time period: 2-19-8-3.
Unsurprisingly, the slump put the Rebels in the basement of the WHL standings, seemingly out of reach of the league’s playoffs despite having months of hockey still left to play.
Then, all of a sudden, things started to click.
“We played that one game against Medicine Hat, and we won it, and I think that’s when all the boys kind of looked around and were like, ‘yeah, we want to keep doing this,’ and that’s when something started clicking,” Barteaux said.
That one game against Medicine Hat, a 4-1 victory on January 23, indeed turned out to be a pivotal one: Red Deer’s record since then is an impressive 15-5-2.
Even more importantly, that recent surge was, amazingly, enough to get the Rebels into a playoff spot.
And right there, caught up in the thick of all of this, has been Barteaux.
Barteaux is a big part of a young Rebels blue line, despite being in just his second year in the Western Hockey League. A 6-foot-1, two-way defender, he plays plenty of minutes in all situations for head coach Brent Sutter’s club, including on special teams, and has picked up 30 points in 61 games for his efforts.
In addition, 11 of those points have come in his 15 games, helping to illustrate how much of a factor Barteaux has been in his team’s recent success.
A player who is calm, cool and collected on the ice, the native of Foxwarren, MB had a similarly stoic perspective off of it when describing how he and his teammates pulled their season out of a dramatic tailspin.
“I think we started getting to what the coaches told us, buying into what they told us,” Barteaux said. “Once we started doing that we started to win. We started to get on a hot streak and we’ve just been rolling since then.”
What did the coaches tell them?
“Keep it simple, make the right plays. Get pucks up quick, don’t bring them back, just keep it simple and things will work out.”
Pretty important advice for a possession-driving player such as Barteaux, who is heavily entrusted to carry and distribute the puck for his team and has to regularly rely on composure and instinct.
Rebels associate coach Jeff Truit has been one of the people preaching this gospel this season, and he’s found a good listener in Barteaux.
“He’s a mobile defenseman with good puck skills,” Truit said. “He’s a guy that can control the game. He’s good with the puck, we don’t have turnovers, he can make plays. He’s good on the power play that way.
“Just like anybody, if you’re going to be a puck control type of defenseman you better be able to make good plays, because if you don’t you’re turning pucks over and getting away from your game.”
That’s not an expectation that all players that age can shoulder, but Truit likes how well Barteaux is handling it, especially considering how much adversity Red Deer has gone through this season.
“He’s grown with everything this year,” Truit said. “He’s really improved. His puck confidence has been really good, he’s been good with generating points, good on the power play. His improvement has been great.”
Barteaux knows that he still has work to do on his game before he’s ready for the next levels of hockey (he pointed to his strength and physicality as areas to focus on improving).
But when it comes to keeping a clear mind and overcoming adversity he is already proving himself to be quite capable, thanks in large part to some timeless advice that he was given growing up.
“You have to think back on the positive things you do,” he said.
“Even if you get down on yourself, just keep thinking of all those positive things, and if you keep doing that then it won’t get to you and you’ll get back to the way you’re supposed to be playing.”