BRYAN WILSON – 01.30.2024
It was a dream come true.
Mark Rassel admits he didn’t sleep for days after joining the Wranglers on Jan. 4, and ever since, he’s been living out his childhood dream of playing pro hockey in his hometown.
Born and raised in Calgary, the 26-year-old was elated when he received the call from the Wranglers offering him a professional tryout (PTO) opportunity.
Rassell registered 35 points (22g,13a) in 31 games with the Idaho Steelheads (ECHL) this season, which garnered the well-deserved attention from the Wranglers.
“I would say I was confident,” Rassell explained, when asked about his mindset when first joining the team. “I was playing well in the ECHL this year, so I figured an opportunity might be coming, but when the call does come you still don’t really expect it.
“It’s such a long season, it’s such a grind, so I would be watching the transactions, trying to see where I might fit and looking for teams that needed bodies. To be honest, I didn’t expect that Calgary would come calling, but when they did, I didn’t sleep for three days.”
His first game with the Wranglers came on Jan. 5 against the Henderson Silver Knights, where he played in front of his family and friends for the first time (as a member of the home team) on Scotiabank Saddledome ice.
If that wasn’t ‘storybook’ enough, Rassell scored his first AHL goal in that game.
“It was definitely cool doing it for the home team,” he said. “Having the fans cheering when I scored, that was incredible, and having my friends and family in town, and doing it as a hometown guy was absolutely surreal.
“Growing up in Calgary, we all dreamt of playing for the Flames and playing in the Saddledome and now to be wearing the same colours, it’s just so exciting and I’m so grateful. On these PTO deals, you never know whether you’ll be here for a day or a month, so I’m just trying to come to the rink and enjoy every single day.”
Rassell scored again two games later and has three (2g,1a) in eight games, while he continues to acclimatize himself to the heightened level of play in the AHL.
“The pace is definitely quicker, and time and space are less,” he explained. “One thing in this league is you’re so close to the NHL that everyone is trying to do everything right, all the time.
“It’s about finishing checks and playing hard each shift, and that’s one of the big differences here … no shifts off.”
“Once you’re on the ice and you have the confidence that you can play at this level, it’s just hockey.
“To get given the opportunity that I’ve had, playing on the second line, it’s incredible.
“To have Trent Cull and the coaching staff have that trust in me right away is an honour … now I just need to take that opportunity and run with it.”