Regina Pats rookie forward Rylee Zimmer of Russell screens Brandon Wheat Kings goaltender Jordan Papirny in a WHL game at Westman Place earlier this season. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
Rylee Zimmer has certainly learned patience this season with the Regin Pats, but the rookie from Russell said he’s also gained much more than that.
Zimmer, who turned 17 this month, has spent the season largely as an understudy to the veterans who led the Pats to the regular-season title in the Western Hockey League’s East Division. In 44 games of limited ice time, Zimmer didn’t produce a point during the regular season, and he’s been a scratch for Regina’s first-round playoff games against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
"This is more of a learning experience here for me," Zimmer said this week. "I’m still a young guy. I’ve got to have patience this year and get my time in."
Chosen by the Pats in the fifth round of the 2012 WHL bantam draft, Zimmer played minor hockey in Russell — where his teammates included Brandon Wheat Kings forward Jayce Hawryluk of Roblin — before crossing the Saskatchewan border to play a season of Midget AAA hockey with the Notre Dame Argos in Wilcox under the guidance of Melita native Del Pedrick. After producing 12 goals and 19 points in 32 games in his lone season with the Argos, Zimmer cracked the Pats’ roster as a 16-year-old in the fall and found the WHL to be a whole new world that he needed to adjust to.
"All these guys are so much bigger, stronger and faster than the guys I was playing against last year, so I’m just trying to keep pace with them in practice," said the lanky 6-foot-1, 160-pound natural centre, who has bounced between all three forward positions this season. "Practising with all these guys just gets me that much stronger, makes me think the game faster and make quicker decisions. That’s kind of what I’ve been mainly focusing on this year."
With the exception of the Pats’ problems in the playoffs so far against Brandon, Zimmer said he’s enjoyed playing in Regina, calling the team one of the closest he’s ever played on. He’s also found it quite an experience to be back in Westman, with players he once hoped would be his teammates now forming the opposition.
"As a kid it was such a cool thing to be at Westman Place and watching the Wheat Kings … always thinking I was going to be on that team," he said. "When I would hear ‘O Canada’ in the regular season when I played there it was kind of weird, being on the bench and just thinking back on when I used to watch the games and I would be in the crowd, watching guys like (Keith) Aulie and (Mark) Stone and (Brayden) Schenn and all those kinds of guys. Even (current Brandon captain Ryan) Pulock, when he was young, I used to watch him a lot."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 29, 2014