Rookie D-man a fit for Rockets

Rookie defenceman Antoine Corbin's role with the Kelowna Rockets has grown as the season has progressed.

Sitting in the stands at La Colisee in Quebec City in 2003, Antoine Corbin had his first exposure to the Kelowna Rockets.

Little did the aspiring young defenceman know at the time, he’d one day be patrolling the blue line for the Western Hockey League club.

“I remember watching a game at the Memorial Cup with my parents and uncle and Kelowna was playing,” said Corbin, 17, who grew up south of Montreal in Granby, Que. “There were players like Kiel McLeod and Tyler Mosienko…I remember that. And their jerseys were amazing. Years later when they drafted me, I thought, ‘Hey I know these guys’. It was a funny coincidence, a good one.”

Now, nearly seven years after seeing the Rockets for the first time, Corbin is making an impact as a rookie with the defending WHL champs.

After starting the 2009-10 campaign as the club’s seventh defenceman—sixth at best—the 6-foot-3, 200 pound Corbin has worked his way up the depth chart with hard work, patience, and a booming shot from the point.

“When the season started, we weren’t sure how he was going to fit in, but then (Aaron) Borejko was traded, Kyle Verdino got hurt, and it kind of opened the door for him,” said Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert. “That bought him some time and some opportunities and, after a few games, we saw he could play. It hasn’t come easy for him, he was a healthy scratch a few times, so he’s had to work at it and bring up his intensity. But he’s proved himself in practices and games and solidified his place in the top four or five.”

And while many of Corbin’s skills still need plenty of honing and refining, Lambert said the young rearguard possesses the tools that could help him one day develop into a top-line WHL blue liner.

“Parts of his game are hard to find in other players, he shoots the puck probably better than most guys, his slap shot from the point is always an asset,” Lambert said. “He’s a big, strong guy and when he plays physical he’s very valuable. Don’t forget, he’s only 17 and there are a lot of things he needs to get better at. But I’d say since the season started, he’s one of our most improved players.”

A fifth-round bantam pick of the Rockets in 2007, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Corbin moved to Saskatchewan from Quebec as a peewee and played 2 1/2 years at Caronport, a small-community christian school. He then played the 2007-08 season with the midget AAA Saskatoon Blazers, before moving to Kelowna where he suited up last year at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy.

When it comes to pursuing his dream of one day playing pro hockey, no move has been too burdensome for the Corbin family. His mom and dad, Serge and Ann, want their only son to have every opportunity to thrive in the sport he loves.

“My parents have always been so supportive and have moved with me all across the country,” said Corbin, who is fully fluent in French and English. “They told me that if I realize later on that hockey’s not for me, then that’s fine. But it’s hard to do it the other way around, so I might as well put everything into it now and see if I have what it takes. My parents have said to just be patient and work hard and things will work out.”

And that patience has clearly paid off—from seeing barely five minutes of ice at the beginning of the season, to playing anywhere from 13 to 20 minutes per night, including some quality time on the power play.

To say Corbin is beginning to enjoy his rookie season in major junior hockey playing for one of the game’s most sucessful franchises of the past decade would be an understatement.

“It’s exciting to play here, the fans are amazing and what else can you say about playing for a team that’s been to four Memorial Cups in seven years,” said Corbin who has four goals and 12 points in 48 games. “We might not be up there in the standings this season, but we can skate, score and play physical, so I think we will be a hard team to play against in the playoffs. This will be a good team in the years to come, too, and it will be great to be part of it.”

Rocket Shots…The Rockets (29-26-2-3) will host the Calgary Hitmen (41-17-1-1) Friday at 7 p.m. at Prospera Place…Kelowna opens a five-game road trip Saturday in Portland against the Winterhawks…Rockets D Dallas Jackson (leg) could return from injury this weekend after missing the last five games.

whenderson@kelownacapnews.com