New coach likes ‘compete level’ at Rockets camp

Jason Smith gives positive early evaluation of the WHL club during main training camp

Rockets' new head coach Jason Smith watches a team scrimmage from the stands this week at Prospera Place.

Jason Smith has noticed some subtle differences between coaching in the pro ranks and mentoring players at the junior level.

Still, only days into his first training camp as head coach of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, Smith said in the end, hockey is hockey.

“I think when we sit around and talk about the details and what’s different between junior and pro players, there are some small things that come up,” said Smith. “But when you get down to the game plan, the basics of the game are still the same. It’s about getting your team to compete, play with structure and show accountability.

“At any level, you work on building that and that’s what we’ll try to do here.”

A 15-year NHL veteran who spent the last two seasons as an assistant with the Ottawa Senators, Smith has been getting better acclimated this week with the Rockets’ staff, working closely with assistants Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard.

As for the talent and competition level on the ice during training camp, the 42-year-old former NHL captain said there’s a lot to like about the roster he’s inherited.

“I think we’ve got a stable group of competitive guys,” Smith said of the 2016-17 Rockets. “Some of our veteran guys have really stepped up and are leading by example.

“We also have a real good group of young guys who are pushing hard and that’s a great cycle to see, where they’re not making it easy on the older guys. We’re seeing maximum effort from a lot of guys, and that makes for a great environment and compete level.”

Smith and the Rockets will open their WHL preseason schedule Saturday night at home to the Victoria Royals.

Face off at Prospera Place is 7 p.m