Cole Linaker had a hunch his first Western Hockey League goal would be cause for celebration. But when the Kelowna Rockets forward’s wrist shot found the back of the net against Everett early in the third period Sunday night at Prospera Place, the sense of relief and satisfaction the 17-year-old Edmonton native felt was well beyond what he imagined.
“It actually felt a hundred times better than I thought it would. The guys were all so happy for me, and when we celebrated I think I just about blacked out,” Linaker said with a laugh.
“I had actually been gripping the stick a little tight,” he added, “so it was great to finally get it off my chest and get that goal. It’s one of the better feelings I’ve had in hockey.”
It took Linaker 22 career games—including 18 this season—to register his first WHL goal. As a former WHL player himself Rockets head coach Ryan Huska can fully identify with Linaker and every other young player who finds the net for the first time.
Huska’s first marker came back in 1991 when his Kamloops Blazers were in Lethbridge to play the Hurricanes.
“It went off my skate,” Huska said, laughing, “so Cole’s goal was a lot nicer than mine.
“Like every player in their first year, you want to get that goal as soon as you can. Cole did a nice job on the cycle, came off the wall and out a nice shot over the goalie’s glove. Our group was very happy and excited for him to get the first one.”
Because of the depth at forward on this year’s edition of the Rockets, ice time has, at times, has been hard to come by for Linaker and some of the club’s other young players.
Huska said Linaker has remained persistent and is making the best of his opportunities.
“That’s the challenging part for younger players, getting playing time, especially with the depth we have,” Huska said. “When they’re in and out of the lineup, it’s tough on them and I think Cole’s confidence took a bit of a hit early on. But Cole has hung in there, he’s played well when he’s had the chance and he’s making progress.”
Facing up to challenges is nothing new to Linaker who suffered a major knee injury at the
Alberta Cup in the spring of 2010.
After missing the entire 2010-11 campaign, the 6-foot-1, 165-pound returned last season to play with the St. Alberta Steel of the AJHL, while also appearing in four games with the Rockets.
A season away from the game was a setback, but not enough to derail Linaker’s desire to play at the major junior level.
“It was a big development year for me and to miss that was tough, but I didn’t want to give up,” said Linaker, the Rockets sixth-round pick in the 2010 bantam draft. “The jump (to major junior) has been a big one, it’s been an adjustment but I feel like I’m learning and doing OK. I love being here in Kelowna and I’d rather be on a good team and fighting for ice time, than playing lots with a struggling team. It’s feel like it’s a good situation for me.”
Linaker and the Rockets host Victoria Wednesday, then travel to Prince George this weekend for games on Friday and Saturday against the Cougars.