Last September, at 16, Liam Kindree somewhat reluctantly returned to the Vancouver Northwest Giants for one more season of midget hockey.
In hindsight, it was the best plan of action for both the skilled, young forward and the Kelowna Rockets.
Kindree thrived in his final season in the B.C. Major Midget League, as the 5-foot-10, 175-pound North Vancouver native finished atop with league’s scoring race with 28 goals and 67 points in 40 games. He was also named the BCMML’s top forward.
Armed with an extra supply of confidence and an added year of maturity, Kindree is back with the Rockets and ready to launch his rookie season in the Western Hockey League.
“It’s obviously tough, you don’t ever not want to make a team, but there’s a reason they sent me back,” said Kindree, a fourth-round pick of the Rockets in the 2015 bantam draft. “It was motivation for me and a real confidence booster to do what I did last year.
“I feel a huge difference this time at camp, I’m playing with confidence, I want the puck more…I’m just really excited to be here.”
Just as the Rockets did with a 16-year-old Kole Lind three years ago, Kelowna returned Kindree to midget hockey for an extra year of seasoning.
Rockets assistant coach Kris Mallette said the benefits of the move have been evident in Kindree’s play so far in training camp.
“When we sent him back as a 16-year-old, our staff challenged him to be the best player there,” Mallette said of Kindree, who played in seven regular season games and one in the playoffs with the Rockets last season. “With the kind of year he had, he obviously took that to heart.
“He came back in much better shape, he really took last season and the summer seriously, and he really wants to be here and contribute. He’s worked hard and he’s looked really good at camp so far.”
As is most often the case for young players breaking into the lineup, ice time will likely be at a premium for Kindree and opportunities will have to be earned as the season progresses.
Mallette said Kindree is in the same boat as a handful of young Rockets forwards who will be expected to learn the ropes—on and off the ice—while also exercising both patience and persistence.
“Our expectation is for him to come in and get his feet wet, learn and continually improve his game,” Mallette said. “There’s a learning curve involved and it’s about paying your dues. Our youngest guys are going to play limited roles compared to where they came from and you hope they adapt, both on and off the ice.
“(Liam) has good vision, a good hockey IQ and a real good skill set,” he added. “From what we’ve seen, he’s ready to take that step. He’s come back stronger and will be more prominent.”
For Kindree’s part, he said he’ll make the best of whatever ice time comes his way and is open to filling whatever roles the coaches ask of him.
Above all, Kindree is simply excited to be getting his major junior career off the ground.
“We’re going to be expecting not to play a lot, but I’m definitely going to use the confidence I have and try and see if I can move my way up the roster,” he said. “Most importantly, I’m happy to be here and playing hockey in Kelowna.
“It’s a beautiful city and being able to call this home for the next eight months, it’s going to be really special.”
Kindree and his Rockets teammates will open the WHL preseason schedule Saturday night at Prospera Place against the Victoria Royals. Face off is 7 p.m.