The 17-year-old from Bonners Ferry, Idaho has responded to the challenge with a run of netminding befitting a seasoned veteran.
“I never thought it was going to happen this soon, but things change in hockey and you have to be ready it,” said Porter, who has started Kelowna’s last five games. “You’ve just gotta go with it. I feel good, I’m learning everyday and gaining confidence.”
Over his last five starts—the last of which were Rockets victories—the rookie stopper has compiled an eye-popping .934 save percentage, along with a solid 2.20 goals against average.
Rockets assistant GM and player personnel director Lorne Frey said Porter has turned out to be everything the club hoped for—and more—since selecting him in the seventh round of the 2015 WHL bantam draft.
“We’re excited to see what he’s been able to do, he’s come in and played great for us,” Frey said of Porter’s play. “He’s probably won three or four games for us almost on his own, and has given us a chance to win others.
“He makes the tough saves look easy and just keeps getting better and better.”
Porter has put up solid numbers wherever he’s played, including the Edge Prep School in Calgary last season where he posted a 1.79 goals against average with a .925 save efficiency. He was even better in the 2017 playoffs (1.00, .966) in leading the Edge to the Canadian Sport School Hockey League midget title.
Despite his somewhat smaller stature for a goalie—5-foot-11, 160 pounds—Frey said Porter more than compensates with his athleticism and competitive nature.
“He’s a very good athlete and he’s in great shape,” said Frey. “He always competes and not too much seems to rattle him. He just goes right back and battles.”
Frey also credits Rockets’ goaltending coach Adam Brown for helping make Porter’s transition to the WHL a competent one.
“Adam has spent a lot of time working with him, there’s no question he’s done a good job and has really helped James,” he said.
As for the pressure—real or perceived—of taking on a crucial role for the Rockets in his rookie season, Porter said he’s doing his best to take it in strides.
“I don’t really think much about it,” Porter said. “I just have to keep doing the same things, playing a simple game and just try to improve everyday.
“The coaches and the older guys here have helped me a lot,” he added. “I’m still young, I’m rookie and have lots to learn. So far it’s been really good.”
The Rockets (7-5-1-1) open a three-game road trip Wednesday night in Kennewick, Wash., against the Tri-City Americans. Kelowna defeated the Americans 4-3 in overtime last Friday night at Prospera Place…The Rockets will be in Victoria for a weekend doubleheader against the Royals, Friday and Saturday nights.
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