As much as Zach Franko is looking forward to a respite from the rigors of the hockey season, the Winnipeg product wasn’t entirely happy to be parting ways with his Kelowna Rockets’ teammates for Christmas.
After all, it’s not easy leaving behind one of the hottest teams in the Western Hockey League—even if it is only for eight days.
“You know, it was actually pretty tough to say goodbye to the guys, we spend so much time together and we’re such a tight group,” said Franko. “We’ve been having fun and we’re playing some good hockey.
“It’ll be really nice to have a break here and get our minds off hockey,” added Franko, “but it’ll also be good to get back together after Christmas and try pick up where we left off.”
Heading into the Xmas break, the Rockets had won 16 of 20 games, including four of the last five on a gruelling six-day tour of the Central Division.
Franko’s resurgence as an offensive force and emergence as a better leader this season is just one of many reasons the Rockets are suddenly pushing the Kamloops Blazers for the B.C. Division lead.
After a solid rookie season when he netted 53 points, his production fell off dramatically in 2011-12 (39 points) as both Franko and the Rockets struggled with consistency.
But thanks a more committed off-season of training, added experience and a renewed attitude, Franko has raised his game to a new level.
“Basically for me it was all about working hard,” said Franko who has 12 goals and 36 points in 33 games this season. “Last season, things didn’t go too well but I decided to put it all behind me and move on. I put my mind to being better prepared coming into the season, getting myself where I wanted to be, and helping this team be successful.”
According to head coach Ryan Huska, adjustments to both his mental and physical approach to the game are paying huge dividends for Franko and the Rockets.
“Over the course of summer he came in quite bit better shape,” said Huska. “He’s bigger and stronger, he’s more comfortable on the ice, he’s controlling the play and handling the puck well. He’s not a big guy, but he’s very hard to knock off the puck.
“(Zack) is really enjoying himself around the rink, too,” said Huska. “He’s matured physically and psychologically and his confidence level continues to grow.”
As for this year’s edition of the Rockets, Franko insists he has never played with a more unified group of players. And while Kelowna may not lead the league in individual talent and skill, Franko said the Rockets are at or near the top in both depth and commitment to the team concept.
“I’ve never been on a team as deep as this, we have four lines that all contribute, we don’t really have a No. 1 line because it’s someone different stepping every night,” he said. “With team success comes personal success and the guys are all buying into that. We’re playing for each other and that’s huge. We feel like we have what it takes to win a championship.”
Franko and the Rockets’ (23-10-1-1) return to action Dec. 27 when they host the Kamloops Blazers.