From both the personal and team perspectives, Brandon McMillan’s career with the Kelowna Rockets didn’t exactly begin with a bang.
The speedy grad of the B.C. Major Midget League’s Vancouver Rangers managed a paltry two goals in 55 games in his rookie season, while the Rockets tanked in the Western Hockey League’s B.C. division with just 22 wins.
Four seasons later, McMillan is happy to report that life is good in the land of Ogopogo.
“I remember that first year was tough and pretty frustrating,” said McMillan, whose family moved with him to Kelowna from Tsawwassen during his rookie season in the WHL.
“But I think everybody knew that wouldn’t last, and it’s been a pretty good ride here ever since. We were a lot better the next year, we went to the Memorial Cup a year after that, and now we’re back in the race again. I can say it’s really been a great four years here for me.”
Because the Rockets are in the thick of a playoff battle, McMillan hasn’t allowed himself much time to reflect on his major junior career which, in all likelihood, will end within the next several weeks.
Barring any unforeseen twists, the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks are expected to promote the 5-foot-11, 190 pound forward to the pro ranks next season. If he doesn’t make the jump straight to the big club, McMillan will most likely suit up for the Ducks’ new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
The Ducks liked both his speed and work ethic when they drafted McMillan in the third round—85th overall—in the 2008 entry draft.
As a bonus, the NHL club saw McMillan excel as a forward with Team Canada at the 2010 world junior championship, then watched him display his versatility by playing defense for the Rockets during last spring’s WHL championship run.
Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska said McMillan has evolved into one of the organization’s most reliable players.
“The one thing about having a tough first year as a team is that Brandon and our young players, the 16 and 17-year-olds, had the chance to play a lot, so he’s really benefitted from that over the course of four years,” said Huska. “He’s become a very good two-way player and was very important in our run to the Memorial Cup last year. He works very hard off the ice and has made himself an even more explosive skater because of the work he puts in. (In the playoffs) this year he’s been doing everything we’ve asked of him.”
Through 11 post-season games, McMillan had two goals and nine assists and, playing on a line with Geordie Wudrick and Lucas Bloodoff, played a vital role in Kelowna’s first-round upset of the Everett Silvertips.
Because Kelowna lost so much veteran talent from last year’s club—10 players, including Jamie Benn, Tyler Myers and Colin Long—few gave the Rockets much of a chance of contending this season.
But based on what the Rockets have shown thus far in the playoffs, McMillan said there’s every reason to believe the club can have another prosperous run though April and, just maybe, beyond.
“Before the playoffs, I think a lot of people had written us off,” said McMillan, who had 25 goals and 42 assists during the regular season. “We showed a lot of resilience against Everett and that we can play with anybody. I think everybody here is committed to working together and that’s why we’re having success. If we play with way we can, then I think we’re in for a long run. If it is my last year, it would be a nice way to end with another trip to the Cup.”
Rocket Shots…Game 4 of the WHL Western Conference semifinal series between the Rockets and Tri-City will go Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Prospera Place…Game 5 is set for Friday, April 9 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash.