The lure of a championship isn’t the only motivation for players on the Kelowna Rockets to extend the Western Hockey League team’s season well into the month of May.
For graduating veterans like Geordie Wudrick, Evan Bloodoff and Zak Stebner—among several other Rockets—the playoffs also serve as an audition for the next phase of their hockey careers.
The 2011 post season represents one last chance for Wudrick who was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2008, but was unable to earn a contract with the NHL team.
Wudrick hopes a productive series against the Portland Winterhawks and, ideally beyond that, will put him back on the map as a legitimate pro prospect.
“My goal has always been to play in the NHL and I’m not giving up on that dream,” said Wudrick, who earned an invite to Phoenix Coyotes’ rookie camp last fall. “If I play my hardest and help the team win, then that will help me at the same time. I’d like to secure a one-year AHL deal…if that doesn’t work out, then playing pro in Europe is definitely an option. The playoffs are an opportunity to show your skills and a lot of people are watching.”
The brain trust of the Rockets has long preached that the further the team goes in the playoffs, the better the opportunities become for individual players, whether it’s earning invites to pro camps, signing pro contracts, or boosting a player’s draft stock.
“It’s very well known that if a team has playoff success, then individual success will follow…doors can be opened,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “Veteran players and draftable players can all benefit from a long playoff run. It’s why it’s the best time of year, it tends to separate players and determines whether teams will take certain players or pass them by.”
In Evan Bloodoff’s case, the 20-year-old forward is trying to secure a deal with the Phoenix Coyotes, the NHL club that selected him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft.
If he doesn’t sign by June 1, then Bloodoff would become a free agent.
“I think what Evan has done since Christmas on is really the way he has to play for the rest of the playoffs,” said Huska. “He’s brought energy, and he’s been our hardest working guy a lot of nights. If Evan can give Phoenix a good sampling of that against Portland, then he can help his chances quite a bit, I think.”
Goaltender Adam Brown has been drawing plenty of attention with his play between the pipes this season.
Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton said a strong playoff could help fortify the 19-year-old California native as a potential pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft. Failing that, Brown will be looking for an invite to a pro camp this summer.
Rockets who also stand to benefit from a prolonged playoff run are the club’s draft-eligible 18-year-old players, including Shane McColgan, Zach Franko and Jessey Astles.
The speedy McColgan—ranked 102nd by Central Scouting—has undoubtedly already boosted his stock after tallying 10 points in Kelowna’s first round sweep of Prince George.
As for Geordie Wudrick, the 6-foot-3 sniper from Abbotsford is trying to follow up his 43-goal campaign with a memorable playoff—both for his team’s sake and his own future.
“The main thing is to show you can perform in the playoffs, where the checking is tighter and the games are a lot more intense,” said Wudrick, who scored twice in four games against Prince George. “I was able to do that last year and hopefully I can do it again.
“But my main focus right now has to be winning a Memorial Cup and sharing it with the guys here. Then the rest will take care of itself.”
As of Thursday, there were about 1,800 tickets still remaining for each of Games 3 and 4 of the Rockets-Winterhawks series next Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Prospera Place.
The surplus is due to many season-ticket holders not renewing their seats for the playoffs.
“I think a lot of people assume because it’s playoffs, there aren’t many tickets left,” said Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton. “There are a lot of good seats left along the sides of the arena.”
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