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October 30, 2010

by Kyle Kujawa -

Every team has them. They block shots, kill penalties, and skate at full acceleration for the length of their shifts, exhausting themselves for 40 seconds or so before returning to the bench, having energized the rest of their team. Role players, as they’re known, are integral parts of any winning hockey team.

On the Griffins, at least, “role players” such as Brent Raedeke are counted on to do much more.

“We expect a lot out of our fourth line,” said Griffins’ head coach Curt Fraser. “They’re not just three role players. They’re going to get a chance to play in all different situations. They’ll be looked upon a lot of nights to give us a chance to win.”

Raedeke has started the season on the fourth line, but he’s appeared in all eight games the team has played this season. It’s a rare feat for many rookies, but the Regina, Saskatchewan, native knows what he needs to do every night.

“I think just playing solid at both ends of the ice is something I really pride myself in,” said Raedeke. “Being relied upon at both ends, working hard, and killing penalties. I feel like I have to continue doing those things to stay in the lineup.”

Fraser says it’s no accident that Raedeke has appeared in every game so far.

“When he has joined us in the past (while in juniors), late in the season, he has been a real smart player,” said Fraser. “For him having played in every game, that is expected of him.”

Raedeke made his mark in Grand Rapids’ 6-3 win at Toronto on Oct. 24, recording two goals that marked the first points of his professional career. He first tipped a Derek Meech shot past Marlies’ goaltender Jussi Rynnas, before he stripped a defender of the puck and raced in alone on a shorthanded breakaway just minutes later.

“It definitely gives you a nice boost of confidence,” Raedeke explained. “It was nice to get that first one and get the monkey off my back.”

“The last game, he scored that shorthanded goal, which shows what kind of skill the kid has,” said Fraser.

Raedeke got his first taste of professional hockey in the 2008-09 season when the Griffins signed him to an amateur tryout following his second Western Hockey League campaign. After earning 55 points (19-36—55) in 70 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings, he logged his first two AHL games and registered three shots. It was an experience he thinks has helped him transition this season.

“Getting those couple games in a few years ago gives you a taste of what pro hockey’s all about,” said Raedeke.

Raedeke didn’t receive a tryout last season, as he was enjoying a long playoff run with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. In May, Brandon hosted the 2010 Memorial Cup, which pits the best teams in the Canadian Hockey League against each other. Raedeke helped Brandon reach the final game, netting 12 points (5-7—12) through 15 games along the way, but his Wheat Kings were defeated by the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.

Raedeke earned 25 points (7-18—25) in 33 contests with Brandon last season following a trade from the Edmonton Oil Kings, with whom he accumulated 31 points (16-15—31) in 39 games.

Now a full-time professional, Raedeke has been impressed by the pro grind during his first month of action.

“This year, getting thrown into it, playing in all of the games, being on the bus, and flying around, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s something that I always wanted to do and what I’ve dreamed about. It’s been great so far.”

He hasn’t found the adjustment to AHL hockey that difficult, but he has noticed a change in his lifestyle.

“The only real difference is that you’re living on your own -- paying bills, going grocery shopping, car payments,” said the 20-year-old. “You’re growing up pretty fast.”

Fraser doesn’t think Raedeke has had trouble adjusting to the speed of the AHL game.

“He’s very good on draws, and he’s an excellent penalty killer because he’s very smart,” Fraser said. “He’s good away from the puck on the ice, and he’s good defensively.”

While many teams only count on their fourth liners for energy and limited offense, both Raedeke and Fraser know that the Griffins’ fourth line can be counted on for much more than that.

“The goalies in the AHL are really good; that’s something that is a big adjustment going from junior to pro,” said Raedeke. “You have to shoot the puck hard and go to the net hard if you want to score.”

“That’s what is going to happen to us,” said Fraser. “The high-end teams in the American League -- they’ve got two or three really good lines. Not many teams have a good fourth line, where we do.”

Fraser sees Raedeke as an important part of that line. He expects that Raedeke will be able to maintain a high level of play all season long.

“We expect him to not only play a role on our team, but to contribute every night to the success of our team,” said Fraser. “That’s how much we think of the kid, and that is what he is more than capable of doing.”

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