As a pair of 16-year-old rookies, Rourke Chartier and Riley Stadel weren’t exactly sure how they’d fit in with the Kelowna Rockets.
As it turns out, the Rockets’ coaching staff has relied on both newcomers to play significant roles for the Western Hockey League club for much of the 2012-13 campaign.
Chartier, the teams’ first choice in the 2011 bantam draft, has played in all situations for Kelowna while compiling 12 goals and 29 points in 55 games.
Stadel, a third round pick in 2011, has two goals, 11 points and a +11 rating in 46 games, and has earned more and more playing time as the season has progressed.
In Chartier’s case, head coach Ryan Huska has seen few players with a more acute understanding of the game than the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Saskatoon native.
“What we found out about Rourke pretty early on is that he’s a very intelligent player,” said Huska. “We’ve been able to use him in different situations and it didn’t take him long to gain our confidence and trust. In key situations, he shows really strong hockey sense.”
Chartier, who didn’t play in any games as a 15-year-old with Kelowna, is more than happy with the way his initial WHL season has unfolded.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, I just thought I’d come in, try and prove myself and get into the lineup as often as possible,” said Chartier. “It’s been a good year, we usually roll four lines, so that’s good for me. I have no complaints with the ice time I’ve been getting. The team is doing great, too, so that’s a nice bonus.”
As for Stadel, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Surrey product came to camp battling for time with eight other blue liners. But between injuries and the move of Myles Bell to forward, Stadel eventually jumped up to the No. 6 spot.
Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert said Stadel had taken advantage of the opportunity.
“Riley is the type of guy who just loves the game and he works hard at it every day,” said Lambert. “He wasn’t playing all the time early on, but whenever he was called upon he was ready to go. When we lost Mitch (Wheaton) he was forced to play even more minutes, he’s responded very well and he’s been doing a great job for us lately.”
As is the case for most young players, making the jump from midget to major junior has been a formidable challenge for Stadel. The speed of the game and size and strength of the players have both been considerable adjustments.
Thanks to his more experienced Rockets teammates, Stadel said the transition has gone as well as he could have expected.
“It’s been great how the older guys have been bringing us younger guys along,” said Stadel, who turned 17 in January. “They’ve made us feel comfortable from the start and that takes a lot of the pressure off and lets you play your game. Because of that, I feel like I’ve done OK. It’s such a great group, a lot like family.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets will close out the WHL regular season this weekend with three games. Kelowna will host Prince George Thursday, travel to Vancouver Friday, then host the Giants Saturday at Prospera Place…The Rockets (49-16-3-1) are two wins shy of the franchise record for victories in a season (51) set by the 2002-03 club.