Rockets tough guy shows versatility

Rockets veteran Mitchell Callahan (right) squares off with Vancouver's Wes Vanieuwenhuizen Wednesday night at Prospera Place.

Rockets veteran Mitchell Callahan (right) squares off with Vancouver's Wes Vanieuwenhuizen Wednesday night at Prospera Place.

After going nine games without a fight, Mitchell Callahan had an itchy trigger finger.

The feisty Kelowna Rockets veteran gave it a good scratch Wednesday night at Prospera Place when he dropped the gloves not once but twice, with Vancouver’s Wes Vannieuwenhuizen.

While Callahan has proven he can do much more on the ice than simply toss haymakers, he knows fighting is still a vital part of his game.

“I’m known as a scrappy player and it’s helpful to the team if I can still play that role,” said Callahan. “I just wanted to show I was still willing, it was good to do it on home ice, and I think the team got a little boost from it. I hadn’t been in a fight since rookie camp in Detroit, so I think I needed to get it going.”

Still, don’t expect Callahan to necessarily engage in quite as many fisticuffs as he did his first two seasons in the WHL—23 fights in 2008-09 and 19 last season.

The 19-year-old winger has become more valuable to his club on the ice than he is in the penalty box. Through 10 regular season contests, the Whittier, Calif., native had three goals and five assists and a +1 rating.

More importantly, he’s displayed a level of grit and work ethic that few other Rockets have been able to match this season.

Rockets assistant coach Ryan Cuthbert said as Callahan’s overall game continues to improve, he can be more selective when it comes to dropping the mitts—all without sacrificing his role as an agitator.

“When he broke in he had 20-some fights and provided us with a lot of energy…now he’s evolved into the type of player who can do a lot of things, so he has to pick his spots,” said Cuthbert. “If it’s going to happen, it needs to be on his terms and for the right reasons.

“He’s turned into a real important player for us,” Cuthert added. “Whether it’s a hit, a fight, or a big goal, he can do it all.”

The NHL’s Detroit Red Wings clearly liked what they saw in Callahan when they chose the 5-foot-11 182-pound winger in the sixth round of the 2009 entry draft.

Like the Rockets, Callahan said the Wings want their California-born prospect to work hard on developing his overall skill set while continuing to play with a rough and ready edge.

“The Wings (director of player development) Jiri Fischer told me he wants me to be more of an agitator this year, not really fight as much, but he said the fights are going to come down the road at the pro level,” said Callahan. “This year he kind of wants me working on my game a bit, but at the same time he said if it happens, it happens. They just don’t want me going out of my way to find it.”

Rocket Shots…Rockets D Tyson Barrie has been named to Team WHL’s roster for the Subway Super Series against Russia. Barrie will play in the Nov. 18 game in Prince George. Kelowna’s Ryan Huska will coach Team WHL…The Rockets will host the Brandon Wheat Kings Tuesday.

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