For the Kelowna Rockets there are two rather unsung heroes that quietly keep the ship sailing for the players.
Assistant coaches Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard are each at the end of their third regular season as assistants with the Western Hockey League team.
The tandem has been coaching with the Rockets since the start of the 2014-2015 season. They won the WHL championship that year and fell one goal short of a Memorial Cup.
Friday night’s battle with the Everett Silvertips will mark the pair’s 215th game as coaches of the Rockets. They passed the 200-game mark with a 5-0 win over the Giants on Feb. 11 in Vancouver.
Rockets goaltender Brodan Salmond, in his second season with the club, who collected a shutout in that win against Vancouver, spoke about the importance of the two assistant coaches.
“They’re fun guys to be around. They can keep it light in the room, but also they’re serious at the same time,” Salmond explained. “They don’t get all the credit they deserve. They’re hard working guys with all the preparation they do for power play video, penalty kill video, all that stuff, they’re pretty smart hockey wise and so far they’ve done a great job.
“They’ve got a great relationship with the players, you can joke around and poke fun with them a bit so they’re great to have around.”
The players aren’t the only ones who appreciate the help. Head coach Jason Smith said Mallette and Crickard have made his first season coaching in the WHL much easier.
“For me, in my first year coaching in the Western League, having two young, knowledgeable guys that know the league and the league’s players has been very important,” said Smith. “They have insight into the way certain teams will play and what certain players do for certain teams. The time they put in and the effort they put in breaking down the games gives us intel and preparation for what we can expect from teams has been very good.
“They put in a lot of time and they work hard and they have very good relationships with the players which is really good.”
For Crickard, Friday night marks his 282nd game as a coach in Major Junior hockey. He spent the season prior to joining the Rockets as an Assistant Coach of the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL. He was rewarded for his time and effort by being named to the coaching staff of this year’s CIBC Canada Russia Series WHL team.
Mallette’s playing and coaching career has come full circle with the Rockets. The Kelowna product played parts of three seasons with the WHL club, from 1996 to 1999.