Kim Dillabaugh calls it a “good problem” any coaching staff would be happy to have.
Finding enough crease time to keep both Kelowna Rockets goaltenders content during the course of the 2011-12 campaign should prove to be a challenge.
Veteran No. 1 man Adam Brown, and 18-year-old Jordon Cooke give the Rockets what many believe is the best 1-2 combo of stoppers in the Western Hockey League.
“You look at Adam Brown he was our MVP, he had a great year last year, so how often do you want your MVP sitting on the bench ?” said Dillabaugh, the Rockets goaltending coach. “We look for Adam to improve on what he did and have another great season.
“As for Jordon, he has progressed well,” added Dillabaugh, “he’s pushing for more playing time and can take a step forward this year. We feel very comfortable with both guys of regardless of who’s in there. Having two good goaltenders who both want to play, it’s a good problem. We’ll see how the season plays out and how both guys respond to the opportunities they get.”
Brown has been the Rockets workhorse the last two seasons, playing in 59 and 60 games, respectively. His numbers were among the league’s best in 2010-11 with 36 wins, a 2.59 goals against average, and a .916 save percentage.
As the incumbent starter, the reins will again be handed to the 20-year-old from Yorba Linda, Calif., for his fourth and final season of major junior hockey.
Still, Brown is taking nothing for granted and knows the Rockets have a capable backup who is ready step in at a moment’s notice.
“Obviously the decision of who plays is not up to us,” said Brown. “When we both get in there, we want to play our best. We both want to be playing, so it’s a bit of a healthy competition that we have, and whatever happens, happens. Jordon and I are going to be supportive of the other guy and, as much as you want to be the guy, the team comes first. I think it’ll push both of us to be better.”
With three seasons of major junior under his belt—and pro camps with the L.A. Kings and Edmonton Oilers—the Rockets expect to see Brown’s experience manifest itself in more ways than just stopping pucks.
As one of three over-agers, Brown will also be called on for leadership.
“I’m looking forward to taking on more of a leadership role,” said Brown. “I think it starts off the ice with my work ethic and preparation for games, and hopefully that rubs off on the younger guys. I also need to make sure everybody knows what to expect coming into the season here, the pace really picks up from pre-season.
“I know this is my last year and I want to make the most of it, both with my play and as a leader.”
In Cooke’s case, the Leduc, Alta., native appeared in 19 games in his rookie campaign, posting a 3.03 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.
As Brown’s backup, Cooke realizes he’ll have to scratch and claw for more playing time, but believes it will simply make him a better goaltender in the long-run.
“Being behind one of the best goalies in the league, it’s going to very hard for me to get as many starts as I’d like, but that’s why I have to be ready when I do get the opportunity,” Cooke said. “I need to play my game, work hard, and just go from there. No goalie wants to sit and watch, so anytime I get that chance I’ll need to play well.”
What Cooke and Brown both agree on is the potential they see in the 2011-12 version of the Rockets.
Despite having one of the league’s youngest teams, Brown believes the Rockets will more than hold their own in the B.C. Division.
“We have a lot of young guys, but I think we all have a lot of confidence in them, and there’s a lot of skill there, and they’re pretty mature for their age,” Brown said. “Obviously, there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve but I expect everybody on the team to perform well, and once we come together, I think we’ll have a really solid team. I’m excited to see what we can do.”
The Rockets open the 2011-12 regular season this Saturday night in Everett against the Silvertips.
Kelowna’s first home action is Saturday, Oct. 1 against the Vancouver Giants.