Many questions surrounded the Kelowna Rockets heading into this season. Could they be better on home ice? Could Jordon Cooke fill the huge shoes left by Adam Brown? Was Zach Franko trade bait after a dismal 18 year-old season? Did the young defense have any confidence after taking their fair share of licks last season? Who would the teams 20 year-old's be, and would they be an upgrade from last season?
Lets answer question #1. Could the team improve its home record?
Last season was a struggle with just 18 home ice wins in 36 attempts. When you are playing just over .500 hockey at Prospera Place, few teams entered Kelowna last season with fear in their belly anticipating a rough night. That has taken a 180 degree turn with 20 wins in 22 home games which is the best home record in the WHL. They are again a dominating force at home.
Question #2. Could Jordon Cooke become a legitimate number one goaltender in the WHL after two seasons backing up Adam Brown?
The answer would be yes. Cooke has set a franchise record with 18 consecutive wins and is tied for the league lead in wins (25). The workload has increased significantly from a season ago, but the save percentage and goals against numbers are as strong as ever. The pressure will be on Cooke to perform in the playoffs, but he's been feeling the heat this season as the #1 goaltender and has answered the bell.
Last season was dismal to say the least for the then 18 year-old. The
Winnipeg resident had lost his confidence and shied away from puck battles and struggled finding the back of the net. Franko has found his
game this season though. Now second in team scoring, Franko will always be a
better passer than a shooter, but remains an impact player in his 19
year-old season. He is a gifted player and is showing it this season.
Question #4. Could the defensive core take a big jump forward or was their confidence shattered after playing in crucial situations last season?
This group is better after having their feet put to the fire last season. Sixteen year-old's Madison Bowey and Jesse Lees were a part of a d-core that was the youngest in the WHL in 2011-2012. Bowey and Lees were a surprising +6 combined while 17 year-old Damon Severson was a +5. Rookie Cole Martin took his lumps and was a -9. This season, those four players are a combined +110. Throw in MacKenzie Johnston, Riley Stadel and Mitch Wheaton and the d-core is combined +164.
Question #5 Who would the Rockets three overage players be and would they be an upgrade from Adam Brown, Cody Chikie and Brett Lyon?
Older players win you hockey games and the Rockets were essentially picking up the scraps from other teams who had a glut of 20 year-old players. The biggest move involved a draft pick for Dylen McKinlay who was acquired from the Kootenay Ice. It was well documented that McKinlay was a good player a few seasons ago with the Chlliwack Bruins but I'm not sure even the organization knew that 'Kins' would produce offensively like he has this season. McKinlay is not without his flaws, all 20 year-old's in this league usually have a few warts, but he plays at a high rate of speed and creates some good scoring chances for his line mates. He is also a threat to score shorthanded.
J.T Barnett and Cody Fowlie were acquired off waivers, again essentially picking up players that the Everett Silvertips nor any other team wanted. Fowlie has been a great teammate and has taken a nice leadeship role while Barnett, who was injured on opening night and returned prior to Christmas, has scored some timely goals and adds even more depth to an already deep team.
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