No one saw it coming. Not Riley Stadel, not his teammates, not even assistant coach Dan Lambert.
Through the first 18 games of his second WHL season, the 17-year-old blue liner has been one of the Kelowna Rockets’ most productive offensive weapons.
The 5-foot-10, 162-pound Surrey native shares the team lead in goals with nine, including a club-high eight on the power play.
While Stadel has always played with an offensive bent to his game, the numbers he’s compiling early in 2013-14 are well beyond expectations—particularly after scoring just twice in 49 games last season.
Lambert said the young rearguard’s work ethic and passion for the game are paying off.
“I don’t think anyone expected this out of Riley,” said Lambert. “But at the same time, the way he works at his game, his compete level, his passion for game…those are things that make him successful. He works so hard and things are going his way right now. It’s good to see him being rewarded.”
As a 15-year-old with Okanagan Hockey Academy, Stadel’s offensive abilities were evident as he tallied 17 goals and 48 points in 55 games during the 2011-12 season.
Still, major junior hockey is a whole new level of play where Stadel has been a quick study and is making the most of his chances.
“When I’ve been getting my opportunities, I guess I’ve been taking advantage of them,” said Stadel, who has nine goals and 15 points this season. “Being out there on the power play sure does help too, the coaches are showing confidence in me.
“When I’m out there 5-on-5, I’m trying to use my ice well and I’m making plays,” he added, “so that’s really been helpful in bringing out my success so far.”
Ironically, Lambert points to Stadel’s improved play in his own zone as a key ingredient to his offensive success.
“He’s always been an offensive guy, he handles the puck well and his passes are on the tape,” said Lambert. “But I think the reason he’s having success is that his defensive game is getting better. You tend to get out of your end a little better, and you start to make things happen at the other end of the ice. We’re seeing that with Riley.”
Heading into the season, the expectation was that the bulk of the offence from the Rockets’ back end would be provided by the likes of Madison Bowey and Damon Severson. Stadel is flattered to be included in the same conversation.
“Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve looked up to Sever and Bows and being in that category is really special,” Stadel added. “I love to help out my team in that way, scoring goals. I think the defense (as a whole) is doing a good job of that, and it’s one of the reasons we’re winning games.”
Stadel also credits Dan Lambert for much his success, an offensively-gifted defenceman in his own right during his junior and pro careers.
“He was one of the big reasons I came to Kelowna, for the way people said he teaches kids,” said Stadel, a third-round draft pick of the Rockets in 2011. “I feel we kind of play a bit the same way, with that offensive side. He works with me a lot in the room, with video on the off days, and those things really help me with my on-ice play.”
Stadel and the Rockets (14-2-0-2), who have won seven straight games, will host the Medicine Hat Tigers Saturday night.