Some time in the next several weeks, Cole Linaker will play his last game in a Kelowna Rockets’ uniform.
Not surprisingly, the 20-year-old graduating forward would like to extend that moment into late May in Red Deer at the 2016 Memorial Cup.
Still, wherever and whenever the Edmonton native’s WHL career officially ends, Linaker said there was no better place to have spent the four most formative years of his life.
“My time with the Rockets, it’s been incredible,” said Linaker, who is joined by Tyson Baillie and Jackson Whistle as the team’s overage grads. “Personally, I’ve grown a lot as a person, and it’s true what they say, you come here as a boy and leave as a man.
“I was never on winning teams growing up, then I came here. As part of the Rockets, winning is a tradition and it’s excepted, and you learn quickly not to enjoy losing,” he added. “Just to be part of this organization for four years has been amazing.”
A sixth-round draft pick of the Rockets in 2010, Linaker lost most of his last bantam season due to a knee injury.
But the 6-foot-2, 185-pound forward persevered and would eventually develop into one of the Rockets’ most reliable two-way players.
As a testament to his play, Linaker has been named the WHL club’s top defensive forward in each of the last two seasons.
And according to assistant GM Lorne Frey, Linaker brings much more to the Rockets than just being responsible in his own zone.
“He’s turned out to be quite an asset for us,” Frey said of Linaker, who had 50 points during the 2015-16 regular season. “He’s tremendous in the dressing room, he has the respect of the other players, and he’s turned into one of our better defensive forwards.
“He’s intelligent, he takes pride in working hard and just plays a solid 200-foot game.”
For his part, Linaker will always value his time in a Rockets uniform but isn’t prepared to close the book on his career just yet.
“I’ve reflected quite a bit, especially in the last few weeks, how great it’s been,” he said. “Then again, you try not to look back too much, we’re going keep pushing forward and try take a run at this again.
“I believe in our group and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Linaker and the Rockets are in Kamloops tonight to take on the Blazers in Game 4 of the WHL first-round playoff series.