By his own admission, Jackson Whistle wasn’t at his best during last year’s Young Stars tourney in Penticton.
A year older, wiser and more experienced, the 20-year-old Kelowna Rockets’ netminder made amends at the 2015 edition of Vancouver Canucks rookie camp with a pair of steady performances.
Whistle went the distance on Sunday at the South Okanagan Events Centre, stopping 17 shots in a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets prospects. He then cleaned up in relief on Monday afternoon, as the young Canucks slipped past the Calgary Flames 3-2 in overtime.
“I went in there this time kind of knowing what to expect and I felt like I left a pretty good impression,” Whistle said. “This year, I had to get in there and show them what I could do, rather than being nervous and afraid to make a mistake. It felt a lot better for me this time.”
In addition to playing for a pro contract, Whistle plans to use what he learned at Canucks’ camp to be a leader for the Rockets, while also fine tuning his own game in his final season of major junior hockey.
“You want to take it away as a learning experience, you know what to expect for next time you get up there, you see the difference, how hard those guys work, how much bigger and faster they are, and what you have to do coming back down to junior,” said Whistle. “You want to be a leader on this team here, too, lead the (Rockets) and get back to where you were last year.”
Whistle proved his worth to Kelowna in 2014-15, playing in 50 regular season games, backstopping the Rockets to the WHL title, then coming within one save of a Memorial Cup championship.
Rockets’ assistant coach Travis Crickard has watched Whistle’s growth over the last 12 months and has seen the 6-foot-1 stopper take significant steps in all aspects of his game.
“Leaving the Young Stars camp last year, it was almost like he had something to prove, that he could be a starter here in the WHL,” said Crickard. “Coming back this year, he’s now trying to prove that he deserves an NHL contract. Maybe now he can build some more confidence, and some of that will rub off on our other guys and other goalies.”
Whistle rejoined the Rockets this week and the team’s two other netminders, Michael Herringer and Jake Morrissey.
Because of his experience and the youth of the Rockets’ defence, GM Bruce Hamilton said Whistle will be depended on—at least early in the season—to be a calming influence in the team’s net.
“He played great at (Young Stars) and I don’t think he got enough respect for his play last year,” Hamilton said of Whistle. “We have a young defence, so he’s going to see some action early.”
And while the club finished last season with all three goaltenders on the roster, Hamilton said that won’t be the case in 2015-16.
“I think all three guys have shown they can play, so it should be an interesting battle,” Hamilton said. “We won’t be keeping all of them like last year.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets will close out their WL preseason schedule this weekend with two games against the Vancouver Giants. The teams will play Friday in Vancouver, then again Saturday at Prospera Place. Face off is 7:05 p.m.…Kelowna opens the regular season Friday, Sept. 25 at home to the Kamloops Blazers.