Merkley returning to form for Kelowna Rockets

Coming off serious knee surgery last season, the Rockets' centre is getting back to his old self

Kelowna Rockets forward Nick Merkley has scored three goals in his last three WHL games.

It was a long road back for Nick Merkley.

Now, with the monotony and uncertainty of rehab behind him, and a dozen Western Hockey League games under his belt, the Kelowna Rockets’ centre is back to doing what he does best.

After a slow start to the 2016-17 WHL campaign, the Arizona Coyotes’ prospect is returning to form, scoring his first three goals of the season in the Rockets’ last three games.

It’s welcome news for the team and for Merkley, whose 2015-16 season ended abruptly last Feb. 5 when he suffered a serious injury to his right knee against the Spokane Chiefs.

With a torn ACL, seven months of intensive rehab followed for Merkley, including a summer’s worth in Calgary, then with the Coyotes’ medical staff in Phoenix leading up to the season.

Rockets’ assistant coach Kris Mallette said Merkley’s successful return from a severe injury is a testament to his character.

“Nick’s work ethic is never a question, it’s contagious,” Mallette said of Merkley, a first-round draft pick of the Coyotes in 2015.

“Nick really stuck to his (rehab) regimen and now he’s back and starting to play with more confidence.”

“That’s a big reason he was drafted, because he works as hard as he does,” added Mallette. “This year we’re leaning on him a little more, and he was a little snake bitten for a few games.

“But good on him for sticking with it and it’s nice to see him finally get rewarded.”

Rediscovering his timing and his confidence have been a work in progress for the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Merkley.

He took another step forward in both departments in Wednesday night’s 5-1 home-ice loss to Kamloops, notching his team’s only goal and generating a handful of quality scoring chances.

“With my injury it’s taken some time to settle back in and get used to the pace again, and that’s starting to happen now,” said Merkley, who has eight points in 12 games this season.

“I’ve settled in with my linemates, (Calvin Thurkauf) is playing great, he’s creating a lot of opportunities for us. And I’m just getting to the net.”

While the injury hasn’t affected Merkley’s work ethic or made him any less tenacious, Mallette said the Rockets’ centre is getting a little more selective when it comes to putting his body at risk.

“If you’ve watched Nick the last few years, he’s pretty reckless,” Mallette said. “He gets in on the forecheck, runs into people, he’s like a small Tasmanian devil. He’s a little smarter about those decisions now, that may come partly from Arizona.

“He doesn’t have to run around as much, he’s got to use his strength and his smarts more efficiently and I think you see him doing that.”

Rocket Shots

The Rockets (9-8-0) will be in Langley tonight for their first meeting of the season with the Vancouver Giants…Kelowna will host the Medicine Hat Tigers Saturday at Prospera Place. Face-off is 7:05 p.m. The Tigers (11-4-1-0), who lead the Central Division, defeated the B.C. Division-leading Prince George Cougars 6-4 on Wednesday.

 

Just Posted

Kelowna West byelection called for Feb. 14

Four candidate race to replace departed former B.C. premier Christy Clark

Dine Around Thompson Okanagan kicks off

Fifty restaurants in the region will participate in this year’s event

Kelowna developer releases video fly-through for project

Kelowna’s Mission Group releases video prior to community open house and public hearing

Consulate for American services coming to Kelowna

A Vancouver travelling pop-up consulate will be in Kelowna Jan. 18

Documentary series features local wineries and restaurants

Quest Out West Wild Food launches Jan. 18

Kelowna doctor featured in film

On a Scale of 1 to 10 will be released next fall on DVD

Star gazing: The wonders of Saturn

Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the NRC’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Penticton

Bank of Canada hikes interest rate to 1.25%, cites strong economic data

The rate increase is expected to prompt Canada’s large banks to raise their prime lending rates

The Movie Guy: Tonya Harding movie gaining steam

Kelowna movie columnist Rick Davis takes a look at new movies coming out this week

Letter: Another development requesting height variance

Kelowna letter-writer says an upcoming development public hearing should be well-attended

Police suffer fractured leg, sprained fingers after violent Vancouver confrontation

A Penticton man faces assault charges following the incident

Trump aces mental aptitude test designed by Canadian immigrant

“This is a good example, I think, that will be helpful to change views about immigration. And maybe for Mr. Trump himself to consider immigrants as contributors to advancing science, advancing our societies.”

Rival Koreas agree to form first unified Olympic team

The rival Koreas took major steps toward reducing their bitter animosity

Canada, U.S. lead call for sanctions against North Korea

Foreign ministers from 20 countries are meeting in Vancouver to discuss security and stability on the Korean Peninsula

Most Read