There was a time when Zach Franco’s hockey career appeared to be headed down the U.S. college road.
But the more he got to know about the Kelowna Rockets, the more the major junior hockey route made sense to the speedy forward from Winnipeg.
“In the end, it was an easy choice,” said Franco, 17. “Me, my parents and my advisor sat down this summer and decided there was no better option for me than Kelowna. As an organization, the Rockets are second to none, they develop big-league players as well as anyone, and that was a huge influence for me. I love the city, too, so it doesn’t get any better than this for a young player.”
Franco was the Rockets second pick, 32nd overall in the 2008 Western Hockey League bantam draft.
And while the WHL was always a realistic and viable option, Franco and his family were at least as equally intrigued by the prospects of pursuing a hockey scholarship south of the border.
Last October, Franco committed to Bemidji State University for the 2011-12 season.
He was then drafted by the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids where he would have played this season before moving on to BSU.
But after suiting up for a few practices with the Cedar Rapids club earlier this summer, it wasn’t long before Franco had made up his mind once and for all that Kelowna was the place.
“You look at the size, the speed and just the hockey sense that’s here in the WHL and it’s very high,” said Franco, who had 54 points in 51 games with the Manitoba Junior League’s Winnipeg South Blues last season. “I went down there with an open mind, the Americans can skate and all that, but when you come to the WHL you learn to play the game the right way. I know this is a place that can help me out with my weaknesses.”
According to Rockets director of player personnel Lorne Frey, such weaknesses in Franco’s game are few and far between. And at 5-foot-10 1/2 and 165 pounds, Franco may not be big, but what he lacks in size Frey assures he more than makes up for in pure ability.
“He’s obviously highly skilled, he’s very fast, and he plays a very exciting and dynamic style,” said Frey. “People are going to see a player with great speed who also competes. The only drawback right now is his size, but we think he’ll still grow some and get physically stronger.”
As for his take on his rookie season in the WHL, Franco expects his eyes to be opened wide by the vast array skill and talent.
“I look forward to seeing guys, playing with and against guys that I know are going to play in the NHL someday,” said Franco. “I can compare myself against them, see what I need to improve on and try to get better. (Rockets forward) Shane McColgan is one of those guys I’m going to watch, a guy who’s going to go high next year, and hopefully get better by playing on his team. I’ve always been told there’s somebody better out there. It’s my goal to work hard, try to be the best I can be and, ultimately help the Kelowna Rockets.”
Franco said although he will no longer be eligible to play U.S. college hockey—NCAA rules prohibit players with WHL game experience from playing at American schools—it doesn’t mean he’s sacrificing any part of his future, including an education. All WHL teams cover one year of tuition and books towards a post secondary education for every season the player serves in the league.
“It was a big decision, but the Rockets have a great track record and, if things don’t work out for me, I know I can get an education and play in the CIS. It’s nice to know that option is there.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets, who played the Vancouver Giants this weekend in a home-and-away set, will meet the Kamloops Blazers for two pre-season games next weekend—Friday, Sept. 9, in Kamloops, and then Saturday,7 p.m., at Prospera Place.