With a season of major junior coaching experience now under his belt, Jason Smith is better equipped for his second tour of duty with the Kelowna Rockets.
Familiar with both the league and his returning players, the 43-year-old former NHL captain and his staff are ready to hit the ground running in the 2017-18 campaign.
“I think having that whole experience of last year, from training camp, going through the exhibition season, getting to know the players, that was all new to me,” said Smith, whose club posted a 45-22-5-0 record last season, before losing to Seattle in the Western Conference final. “Now, I have a relationship that’s developed with most of the guys on the team, I know what to expect and the players know what to expect from the coaches.
“As a staff we’ll look to make some adjustments in our style of play,” he added. “I think we had beliefs in a lot of what we did last year, it’s just a matter of tweaking things and, as a group, making sure we’re always communicating.”
Smith will be supported again this season by assistants Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard, each in their fourth seasons, and Adam Brown, who is entering his second season as the video/goaltending coach.
Smith expects the 2017-18 edition Rockets to “be a team that’s plays fast” and will rely on “compete and work ethic” to get results.
The second-year head coach is excited about the stable of talent the staff has to work with, including the back end which may be one of the league’s deepest and most skilled defensive corps.
“It’s exciting,” Smith said of the team’s defense. “When you have a group that can defend and also moves the puck well, that’s important. The way the game has evolved you want active D-men and hopefully that will help us put a lot of pressure on other teams.”
For the first time since Ryan Huska’s final season at the helm in 2013-14, a Rockets head coach will be entering his second season with the club.
Kelowna GM Bruce Hamilton expects Smith and his staff will take a significant step forward this season.
“I think he’s going to be a lot more settled, knowing what he’s working with and his style that fits with the players he has,” said Hamilton. “One thing we need to fix is our discipline, we were the most penalized team in the league last year and I know our coaches are working on that.
“Jason has a year under his belt, it’s not an easy transition coming from pro to junior,” Hamilton added. “He’s matured, he has a year of experience and our three assistants have all been through this with him.”
Smith and the Rockets open the WHL regular season Friday at home to the Kamloops Blazers. Face off at Prospera Place is 7:05 p.m.