Tyson Barrie and Mitchell Callahan each began their major junior hockey careers with vastly different expectations.
Barrie was a skilled and talented first-round bantam draft and was being touted as a cornerstone of the Kelowna Rockets defensive corps for years to come.
Callahan was largely an unknown commodity, a California-born walk-on at training camp in 2008, and a feisty, raw forward who had never played above the midget AA level.
But as 20-year-old players, the two have a lot more in common as both get set to embark on their pro careers and, in turn, put closure to their major junior days.
For the first time since 2006, Barrie won’t be making Rockets training camp a part of his pre-season routine. The Victoria native is already in Denver where he’s making preparations in his attempt to break the lineup of the NHL’s Avalanche.
“I was thinking the other day that this is the first time in five years I won’t be going to Kelowna to start camp and it feels pretty strange,” said Barrie, the Rockets captain last season and WHL’s defenceman of the year in 2009-10. “I had so many great times there and a lot of good memories. It’ll be sad to leave (Kelowna) behind but at the same time I’m excited to get my pro career started. It’s great the Avalanche are bringing me down early to get prepared.”
Barrie’s ultimate goal is to make the NHL’s team’s roster and spend the winter playing in Denver. The second option will be suiting up for the Avalanche’s American Hockey League affiliate in Cleveland, the Lake Erie Monsters.
And as much as he’d like to be in the big time now, Barrie understands the jump from major junior to the NHL doesn’t always happen overnight.
Shea Weber and Josh Gorges are both classic examples of former Rockets defenceman who have gone on to have fine NHL careers after stopovers in the minors.
“It’s going to be tough, just maybe there’ll be a spot there (Avalanche) for me, I’m going in to give it my best shot and everything I can to make it,” said Barrie, who had 272 points in 307 career WHL games, regular season and playoffs combined.
“I also know the transition doesn’t necessarily happen right away, a lot of great players have had to learn in the minors. If I’m not quite ready, then that’s OK I’m prepared to take the necessary steps to get there.”
Rockets head coach Ryan Huska has watched Barrie grow from his very first days in the WHL and is excited to watch the continued development of the skilled, young blue liner.
“He kind of grew up through our organization in a lot of different ways, we kind of used him in key roles even as a young 16-year-old,” said Huska. “I think he’s done a lot of great things for our organization in regards to bringing some of our younger defencemen along, helping them out over the last few years. Now we know for sure he’s moving on to bigger and better things with a pro career I think he’s going to have a very good career because he’s very talented young hockey player and one guy that really wants to win.”
Beginning Tuesday morning, Mitchell Callahan will spend a week at Rockets’ training before heading to Traverse City, Michigan Sept. 8 to join the rookie camp of the Detroit Red Wings.
While Callahan knows his chances of catching on with the Wings this season is likely next to non-existent, the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids is a more realistic destination for the 5-foot-11 winger.
And there is also a slight chance—perhaps 10 to 15 per cent according to Huska—that the Whittier, Calif. native would return to Kelowna as an overager.
However the 2011-12 season unfolds, Callahan remains surprised at how quickly and unexpectedly success has come his way, and will be content with wherever he lands.
“Everything has kind of been overwhelming, how quickly it’s happened for me and my family, so I’m not putting too much pressure on myself,” said Callahan, a hard-nosed forward who was drafted by Detroit in the sixth round of the 2009 entry draft.
“But it’s every kid’s dream to play pro. If I end in the A (AHL) then, I’m going to be really excited about that.
“If I don’t come back to Kelowna, then I’m going to miss it. It’s the Rockets who gave me a chance and helped me get where I am today.”
If Callahan doesn’t return, his final numbers in Rockets colours will read: 128 points and 440 penalty minutes in 204 games.
But according to Huska, it was much more than numbers that Callahan brought to the organization.
“He’s been a great poster boy for us just in regards to a player just coming in as a walk-on,” said Huska. “He was a guy nobody knew when he first came, he played so hard and got everybody’s attention in that first training camp.
“He’s turned out to be a guy over the last three years here that I think has turned into a fan favourite. He’s pretty high on our list for our coaches because he works and competes every time he’s on the ice. He’s definitely going to be one of the guys we’re going to miss if he does end up playing in Detroit’s system.”
Rocket Shots…Rockets’ main training camp begins today at Prospera Place with more than 40 players on the roster…Ten players were carried over from rookie camp, including No. 1 bantam pick in 2011, Rourke Chartier…The players will be split into three teams and will have four on-ice sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and three on Thursday…The Rockets’ first pre-season game will be played this Friday, Sept. 2 at Prospera Place against the Vancouver Giants.