Rabbit tears

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

It's been a bittersweet week full of tears and cheers for Wacey Rabbit.

Dealing with the loss of his grandmother, the Saskatoon Blades forward managed to suit up for road games in Brandon and Regina.

And while his heart was with his grandma, who lived on the Blood Reserve near Lethbridge, his mind was certainly on the game.

Rabbit picked up WHL player of the week honours after recording three goals and eight points as the Blades won three of four.

"It means a lot right now," Rabbit said of the award. "I was really close to her."

The 17-year-old Calgarian spent the week flying back and forth between Lethbridge and wherever the Blades were playing.

He said he welcomed the opportunity to get back on the ice and focus on something other than the pain of losing a loved one.

"It's like therapy," he said. "I heard about it on Wednesday so I flew back and spent the day with my grandpa.

"I flew back Thursday night for the game in Brandon and played there and in Regina. It was a way to get all the sweat and the tears out. Going back and playing hockey is like a treatment, I guess."

Rabbit had three assists against the Wheat Kings and scored a powerplay goal against the Pats, adding to his inflated season totals. He had nine goals and 17 points in 60 games last season.

With seven goals and 16 points in nine games this campaign, Rabbit sits tied atop the league scoring charts with linemate Ryan Keller and fellow Calgarian Ryan Stone (Brandon).

Blades head coach Lorne Molleken originally had Rabbit pencilled in on left wing on the third line.

"But with Paul Brown being signed by Nashville, we moved Wacey to centre on the No. 1 line," Molleken said. "That's a natural position for him. He's intelligent and uses his linemates very well.

"He had such a down year last season, he's come in very determined. As a result, he's been off to a great start."

Given a shot to play with Keller and Czech import Zdenek Bahensky, Rabbit was determined not to let the opportunity to slip through his fingers.

"It was just something (the coaches) thought they'd try out for awhile and it's worked out so far," Rabbit said. "Anytime you can play with Keller and a skilled Euro who went in the third round (to the Rangers), it's not a bad idea."

It's not the first time the Rabbit has teamed up with Keller.

"I played with Keller a bit in my rookie year and we gelled a bit. Last year, it just went downhill," he said.

"This year, we focused on not having another season like last year, so we worked hard in training camp."

It's been said that before a team learns how to win, it must learn how to lose.

If that's true, the 2003-04 Blades earned a doctorate at the school of futility.

The Blades won just seven games (7-52-11-2) and Rabbit and Co. were bent on not suffering through a similarly dismal campaign.

"Words can't really describe it," he said of last season. "You'd try so hard and things just wouldn't go your way. It was indescribable. Frustration."

The turnaround started before the Blades hit the ice.

"We got in a few days earlier than we were supposed to be there. The vets had a meeting and once training camp started, we were off to the races. The younger guys are more mature and realize what it takes to be successful in this league. The older guys like Keller and (Calgarian Mike) Green taught us that.

"It's been a stepping stone and we're still making that journey up."

Rabbit, whose Blades top the East Division at 6-3, hopes his offensive numbers go a long way towards improving his status at next summer's NHL Entry Draft -- if there is one.

"This is what you've been working for your whole life," he said of the current labour dispute. "Hopefully, something is going to give."


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