Forward Leif Mattson has seven points in eight games this season for the Kelowna Rockets. -Image: Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze

Mattson makes mark with WHL’s Rockets

Manitoba-born forward finds a Western Hockey League home in Kelowna

When the opportunity to trade for Leif Mattson surfaced last year, the Kelowna Rockets didn’t hesitate.

Giving up a eighth-round bantam draft pick in 2017 turned out to be a small price to pay for the skilled forward from Stonewall, MB.

“We knew he was a good player, he was a very good bantam and a guy who could score,” Rockets’ player personnel director Lorne Frey said of Mattson. “When the (Brandon) Wheat Kings gave us a call about him, there was no hesitation, no reason not to take a chance, and it’s worked out very well.”

Like most young players growing up in Manitoba, Mattson’s earliest hockey aspiration was to play close to home for the Brandon Wheat Kings.

And after being chosen in the eighth round of the 2014 draft by the Wheat Kings, that dream looked to be on track.

But after stops in Alberta with St. Albert midget AAA Raiders and junior A’s Drumheller Dragons, Mattson’s career changed directions last October when he was dealt to the Rockets.

“I was really excited when I was picked by Brandon, it was the closest team to where I grew up and was really nice for me and my family when it happened,” said Mattson. “But things change in hockey and when the Rockets traded for me, I was super excited, too. I saw it as a new opportunity and Kelowna is a pretty sweet spot to be, because of the organization and the city.”

In acquiring Mattson, the Rockets helped alleviate a depth shortage in their group of 1999-born forwards.

After joining Kelowna last season, the 6-foot, 200-pound forward put up nine goals and 14 points in 45 games. This season, with an increased role and more ice time—and despite missing nine games with injury—Mattson, 18, has five goals and two assists in eight games.

Frey said Mattson, as hoped, has shown steady improvement in all facets of his game.

“He came on at the end of last year and I think at the time it was a question of getting his conditioning where it needed to be,” Frey said. “He worked extremely hard at (conditioning) in the summer and worked with (skating coach) Evan Marble to really improve his skating.

“We knew he would score, but he’s put time and effort into his game and it’s showing,” Frey added. “He’s gaining confidence and feeling better about himself, so he’s just going to get better.”

From Mattson’s perspective, his move to Kelowna a year ago has unfolded pretty much according to plan.

“I knew my role was going to expand greatly this year and I wanted to be prepared for that,” Mattson said. “I wanted to improve and have a bigger impact and I feel like I’m working towards that.

“We have some good talent on this team,” he added, “the atmosphere in the dressing room and the coaches are positive, it’s just a good situation for me to be in. I’m super grateful to be a Kelowna Rocket.”

Rocket Shots

Kelowna forward Erik Gardiner remains sidelined for an indefinite period after suffering a head injury Oct. 27 against the Tri-City Americans. Gardiner, 18, was struck on the helmet while attempting to block a shot in the third period of the 4-3 overtime victory…The Rockets open a four-game homestand Friday night against the Vancouver Giants. Face off at Prospera Place is 7:05 p.m.

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