In his early days of junior hockey, Mitchell Chapman didn’t necessarily consider himself potential leadership material.
But now, in his third Western Hockey League season, it’s a role the 6-foot-3, 225-pound defenceman is thoroughly embracing with the Kelowna Rockets.
Assistant coach Dan Lambert has seen Chapman come a long way in the leadership department since those tentative first days with the Rockets back in the fall of 2009.
“There’s no doubt it took Mitchell some time to adjust to the league, but what I see this year in him as a 19-year-old is how mature he’s become,” said Lambert. “He’s stepped right into a leadership role and he’s done a phenomenal job. When he was injured we definitely missed him on the ice, but more important is the way we missed him in the dressing room. He’s set a real good example for our younger guys with how hard he works.”
Being regarded as a leader while wearing the capital A (assistant captain) on his jersey is a role and responsibility Chapman takes to heart.
“Until this year I’ve always kind of felt like the young guy wherever I’ve been, so this is new and exciting for me, and it’s been unbelievable,” said Chapman, a Summerland product who played the 2008-09 season with the BCHL’s Salmon Arm SilverBacks before joining Kelowna. “It’s a great feeling and a challenge at the same time, you have a lot of young guys who look up to you. I try and help with them with their game if I can, and even day-to-day life. I’m glad I have the A and I take it very seriously.”
In addition to evolving into a leader, Lambert said Chapman has also made considerable strides in refining his game over the past couple of seasons. A big, stay-at-home defenceman who can intimidate his opponents with physical play, the key to Chapman’s progress has been his deep desire to improve on a daily basis.
“There was a time when Mitchell was one of the first guys off the ice but now as a 19-year-old he’s always working on his game, constantly asking us questions on how he can get better,” Lambert said. “He asks intelligent questions and he’s willing to put in the time it requires. He understands passing a lot better, how important that first pass is for a D-man, and using his stick in a defensive way. He’s gotten so much better at those kinds of things. He’s also a scary guy to play against when he’s physical.”
From Chapman’s perspective, advances in his game are the result of hard work and, more importantly, quality coaching.
“When I came here, I was a bit of a loose cannon, I really didn’t really know my position very well or much about defense,” said Chapman, who has five goals, six assists and 119 penalty minutes in 57 games this season. “Now my defensive play is something I take a lot of pride in. I can’t say enough about the coaches Ryan Huska, Ryan Cuthbert, and especially Dan Lambert, how hard they’ve worked with me and how much I’ve learned. They’re the reason I’ve been able to improve my D-zone play.”
And with the playoffs just around the corner, Lambert said a solid defensive game from Chapman will be vital if the Rockets have designs on advancing beyond the opening round.
“He’s a guy that’s going to have to play some key minutes for us, most likely he’s going to be asked to check the better players from the opposition,” Lambert said. “He’s one of those guys who’s happy defending an he knows his role. No doubt, if we want to have success, Mitchell will have to bring his A game.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets (29-29-3-6) will play their next three games at home, beginning Friday against the Victoria Royals. The Prince George Cougars will visit Kelowna on Saturday, with the Everett Silvertips stopping at Prospera next Wednesday, March 14…D Myles Bell scored the winner in a shootout Wednesday as the Rockets beat Spokane 3-2 for their third win in a row.