Based on the first couple of months of the 2017-18 campaign, the Kelowna Rockets’ goaltending future looks to be in capable hands.
In early October, Porter, 17, stepped into the Western Hockey League club’s No. 1 role and hasn’t looked back since.
The Bonners Ferry, Idaho native boasts a 10-4-0 record and has been arguably his team’s best player in a handful of games already this season.
“We’ve been thrilled with James Porter, he’s taken the ball and really run with it,” Rockets’ president and GM Bruce Hamilton said of Kelowna’s seventh-round pick in the 2015 bantam draft.
“Our concern is we don’t want to wear him down, there’s not a lot to him (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) right now, so we have to take care of him and get him some games off when he needs them.”
Basran, 16, a third-round bantam pick last year, made his Rockets’ debut Saturday, Nov. 18 in Vancouver, stopping 16 of 18 shots in relief of Porter.
Just a week later, Basran made an unforgettable first WHL start, stopping 38 shots for the shutout in a 4-0 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Contrary to how most people might expect a 16-year-old rookie to react in his first start in front of more than 5,200 fans, Basran said he felt calm and ready for the task at hand.
“I wasn’t that nervous because I’d been thinking of that day and preparing for it basically every day for the last two years,” said Basran, who was called up from the BCMML’s Okanagan Rockets after an injury to Brodan Salmond. “I just come to the rink with a positive attitude, try and treat every game the same and keep it simple.
“It’s an honour and great experience to be here,” he added, “I just want to make the most if it.”
— Kelowna Rockets (@Kelowna_Rockets) November 26, 2017
Hamilton said Basran has all the tools to develop into a solid WHL netminder.
“He’s a prototypical newer goalie, a big guy and very athletic,” Hamilton said of Basran, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Richmond product. “He’s a confident young guy with a bit of swagger, so we’re looking forward to see him develop further.”
However long Basran stays with the WHL club this season, Hamilton said the Rockets will be mindful not to heap too much responsibility on his shoulders this early in his career.
At the start of the 2001-02 campaign, the Kelowna GM said the Rockets exercised poor judgment with their No. 1 draft pick, goalie Josh Lepp—playing him too much, too soon—and are determined not to make the same mistake with Basran.
“We have to be careful, he’s only 16 and we’re not going to heap too much on him and put him a position to fail,” said Hamilton. “Unfortunately with Josh (Lepp), he was 16, we didn’t do a very good job with him. We learned an important lesson from that.”
With the injured Salmond not due to return until after Christmas, Hamilton said Basran will quite likely stay with the club until then.
Just how his time is divided between the WHL and the major midget level over the next several months remains to be seen.
“It could be that we shuttle him back and forth between our team and the midgets, we have to make sure he’s still playing lots,” Hamilton said.
“There’s no doubt that our (goaltending) future is these two guys, Porter and Basran, and we have to make sure we manage them the right way,” he added.
Meanwhile, Salmond, 19, has been rehabbing from a knee injury and hasn’t seen action since Nov. 4.
On Friday, the Rockets (14-8-2-1) will head to Spokane to take on Dan Lambert’s Chiefs for the second time this season.
Kelowna is back home Saturday for its lone meeting of the season with the Kootenay Ice. Face off at Prospera Place is 7:05 p.m.
The Rockets begin their traditional pre-Christmas tour of the Prairies on Friday, Dec. 8 in Regina.
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