Trio of 20s key to Rockets success
Not bad for a trio of cast-offs.
In their last seasons of major junior hockey, 20-year-old forwards Dylen McKinlay, JT Barnett and Cody Fowlie are all making the most of their opportunities with the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.
"They've all been great," Rockets assistant GM Lorne Frey said of the team's over-age threesome. "They've worked hard, they've gotten along great with their teammates…it's really unbelievable how well it's worked out with all three.
"They've been huge to our success, they've added stability and experience and they've brought depth to our team," Frey added. "They were hungry and wanted to prove something. They've done that."
Caught in the over-age numbers game in Kootenay, the Rockets acquired McKinley prior to the regular season for a fifth-round bantam draft pick. The 5-foot-11 forward from Langley has responded with 21 goals and 59 points in 63 games and leads the Rockets with a +48 rating.
Barnett, who had been cut loose by the Everett Silvertips, signed as a free agent with the Rockets the same day as McKinlay. Since recovering from an early knee injury, Barnett, a Scottsdale, Arizona native, has registered 13 goals and 26 points in 40 games.
A few weeks later, when the Silvertips released Fowlie, the Rockets were quick to grab the Airdrie, Alta., native off the waiver wire. Fowlie has since piled up 17 goals and 36 points in 50 games.
Initially, it didn't look as though there would be room for all three over-agers on the Rockets roster, but when fellow 20-year-old Mitchell Chapman was forced to call it quits due to injury, McKinlay, Barnett and Fowlie were all here to stay.
Thanks in large part to the team's surprising success on the ice, McKinlay couldn't have asked for a much better scenario for his last WHL season.
"I kind of knew I'd be moving (from Kootenay) and this is the place I wanted to come," said McKinlay, who has played in 311 career WHL games. "It's been refreshing for me and a really enjoyable year. I'm close friends with JT and Cody and it's good to see them having success, too. It was a second chance for all of us, and we're all doing well. Obvioulsy, it's great to see the team having success, too."
For Fowlie's part, the 6-foot, 200-pound forward has never enjoyed the game more or been part of a more unified or committed group of players.
"Everyone here wants to win and they want to be part of something special," said Fowlie. "We just want to keep the culture here, and three of us just try and reinforce that. We try to go out and work hard every day, show the younger guys what it takes to be successful. I know we all really appreciate being here."
Barnett considers himself "blessed" to have landed in Kelowna and, like his best pals McKinlay and Fowlie, has no intention of wasting the opportunity.
"All three of us didn't want to come in and just play out our 20-year-old year, we wanted to make it mean something," Barnett said. "We all want to continue with our careers after this, so when we come to the rink we don't come here to mess around, we come to work.
All three of us want to win and have fun, too, so that's what we try to do. It's been a great team to be around."
On and off the ice, Rockets head coach Ryan Huska said the veteran trio has been vital to the team's prosperity.
"They all bring something a little differently individually, and they are three guys who have helped us in all aspects—power play, penalty killing and five-on-five," Huska said. "But I think more than anything, they are three great, young men. That's been huge for us to have our three 20-year-olds be such a positive example and influence."
Rocket Shots…The Rockets (44-15-3-1) play host to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Thursday night. The Lethbridge Hurricanes will visit Prospera Place on Saturday. Face off both nights is 7:05 p.m…Kelowna will visit the Kamloops Blazers on Sunday.