By Ryan McCracken on May 31, 2018.
Mark Rassell’s backup plan is officially set in stone.
While the former Medicine Hat Tigers captain still has his eyes on a professional contract for the upcoming season, he signed a letter of intent to play with the University of New Brunswick’s Varsity Reds as a fallback.
“Now that the backup plan is signed, sealed and delivered I’m fully focused on becoming a pro hockey player. I’m treating this summer like the summer I need to develop my game into a pro’s game. I want to get bigger, stronger and faster and hopefully earn that contract either in development camp in June or July or in training camp in September,” said Rassell. “If I get a deal I’ll obviously take it and run with it, but if not I’ll go back to school and finish classes.”
While the 21-year-old Calgary product racked up an impressive number of accolades during his four-year career with the Tigers — including 200 consecutive games played and 50 goals this season to earn the team’s MVP award alongside teammate David Quenneville — the one thing that eluded him was a championship. With that in mind, Rassell says he opted to take his game to a new part of the country with a team he feels gives him the best shot at raising a trophy.
“The culture of winning they have out there, they’ve won six of the last 11 national championships in men’s hockey. That’s something I’ve never been able to do, win a championship. I figured if I’m going to go to school and I’m in a place where I can choose whatever school I want to go to, then I wanted to go to the one I considered the best,” said Rassell. “It’s way out In Fredericton and I’m really excited to experience a new part of Canada. So to do that and be able to win, I think it’s the best of both worlds.”
While Rassell says he doesn’t know of too many fellow Western Hockey League alumni that are playing U Sports hockey on the East Coast, he’ll be joined by former Kamloops Blazers blueliner Joe Gatenby at UNB and says they’re hoping to draw more Dub talent in that direction.
“We’re hoping to get a big stream of Western players,” said Rassell. “It’ll be a good experience not really knowing who I’m playing against, or who I’m playing with for that matter. That’s just exciting for me and that’s kind of why I chose to go all the way out there.”
Rassell will be using his WHL scholarship to pursue a business degree at UNB — a program he says many of his new teammates are also taking.
“Apparently 60 or 70 per cent of the hockey players on the team are in that program. It’s a pretty good program for their school,” said Rassell. “It’ll just be nice jumping back into school, and having the older guys who have been through it before that can help me out if I’m struggling academically. But I’m not too worried about the school aspect of it, I’ve always been a good student and now I’m more mature so I believe I’ll be able to handle jumping back into college.”
Rassell will report to UNB in early August, where he plans to serve as an instructor for a few minor hockey camps before joining up with an NHL squad for training camp. Rassell spent last September as a free agent with the Calgary Flames before being returned to the Tigers to start the WHL season and says he hopes to find a spot for development camp in June in the coming weeks.
“My agent and I will sit down and talk and figure out which camp will give me the best look for a pro offer,” said Rassell, adding for now his plans are to hit the gym. “I’m going to try to put on a little weight, get stronger and get better.”