Many summer vacations spent in the Okanagan with his family, Tyson Baillie already had a pretty good idea of what the city of Kelowna had to offer.
But unlike past years, when he would return home to Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., the young centre is a good bet to remain here as a member of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
“I’m excited to play here, I love the city,” said Baillie, who turns 16 in November. “I want to battle hard and do everything I can to stay here. This is a great organization and it’s where I want to be this year. I’ll do whatever the coaches ask of me.”
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Baillie was the Rockets third-round pick in the 2010 WHL bantam draft.
In 33 games last season with Fort Saskatchewan’s midget AAA team, Baillie had 33 points and 66 penalty minutes.
Rockets player personnel director Lorne Frey said while Baillie isn’t overly flashy at first glance, he offers a skill set that any junior team would be happy to employ.
“We know he’s got a lot of good assets, good pucks skills, great vision and he’s very smart,” said Frey. “The puck seems to follow him around at times. His only weakness is likely his skating, but he’s getting better at that and improving. He’s still a very young player, but the more you watch him the more you like him. He grows on you.
“He’s also been a captain at every level, so he’s a leader, too.”
Baillie didn’t waste time growing on the Rockets coaching staff or their fans as he scored a goal in each of the team’s first two pre-season games—one in last Friday’s 4-3 win over Vancouver, and another Saturday in a 7-2 Kelowna win over Victoria.
“It was pretty nice to get those early,” said Baillie. “Getting some confidence is important. At the same time, nothing is guaranteed, so I have to keep it going.”
On the 2011-12 edition of the Rockets, Baillie is a key part of what has become somewhat of a youth movement for the WHL team.
Along with defenceman Madison Bowey and Jesse Lees, and forward Austin Ferguson, the Rockets could have as many as four 16-year-olds on the roster this season.
“We’ve learned over the years that to have success you have to develop you own players,” said Frey. “You’re going to have bumps along the way, but most teams I think are realizing that bringing your own players through the system is the best way. It just so happens we have four 16-year-olds this year, we think can be a big part of this team for the future.”
Baillie is well aware of the Rockets past record of success as a team, and of many of the individual players who have gone on to prosperous NHL careers. He counts Dallas Stars’ forward Jamie Benn as his favourite ex-Rocket.
“I like the way he plays,” Baillie said of Benn, “he’s fun to watch.”
Baillie and the Rockets will meet the Kamloops Blazers for a pair of exhibition games this weekend, Friday in Kamloops and Saturday at Prospera Place.
The Rockets open the 2011-12 regular season Sept. 24 in Everett.
Kelowna Rockets rookie Tyson Baillie was in on all three Rockets goals as Kelowna edged Kamloops 3-2 in Western Hockey League pre-season action in Kamloops Friday night.
Baillie had a goal and two assists as Kelowna took a 3-0 lead then held on for a 3-2 decision with the Blazers scoring two goals in the final five minutes. Goalie Jordon Cooke earned the win in net with a 43 save performance.
The Rockets opened the scoring with the only goal of the first period as three prospects combined to give Kelowna a 1-0 lead. Austin Ferguson of Abbotsford tallied his first goal of the pre-season with the assists going to Baillie and Tanner Moar.
Baillie, a 5-foot-10 centre from Fort Saskatchewan, AB, then scored his third goal of the pre-season on a second period power play with the assists going to Jesse Lees and Damon Severson.
Cody Chikie added the Rockets third goal of the night from Baillie and Ferguson as Kelowna built a 3-0 lead before the Blazer mounted a comeback that fell short.
Cole Ully and Ryan Hanes scored for Kamloops.
The Rockets entered the weekend minus seven regulars as the annual exodus to NHL training camps is underway. Mitchell Callahan and Zach Franko (Detroit), Shane McColgan (NY Rangers), Brett Bulmer and Colton Jobke (Minnesota), Adam Brown (Edmonton) and Jessey Astles (Pittsburgh) are all unavailbale.
The two teams will go at it again Saturday night in Kelowna in the back half of the home and home. Game time is 7:05 p.m. from Prospera Place.