Like the rest of his Kelowna Rockets teammates, Colton Sissons felt he was a little slow coming out of the gate last season.
Now, armed with some confidence and a full year of Western Hockey League experience, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward is ready to hit the ice at full throttle in 2011-12.
“I was pretty anxious the first part of last season, but after Christmas things started to come together for me,” said Sissons, who turns 18 on Nov. 5. “I think I should be able to pick up where I left off last season, and I want to get my offense started from the get-go. I’m still going to focus on work ethic and my defensive play, but I want to help out more with scoring goals and helping the team win more games. I feel ready to do that.”
Sissons finished the 2010-11 season with 17 goals and 41 points in 63 games. Thirty of those points—11 goals, 19 assists—came after the Christmas break.
And just as the numbers would suggest, the North Vancouver native simply got better and better as his rookie season progressed—and not just in the offensive zone.
“The biggest thing is, he’s the complete package, he understands the game defensively very well, and offensively he can play multiple positions,” said Rockets assistant coach Ryan Cuthbert. “His strength is that he can do eveything well and a lot of guys at this level don’t have that.
“Hockey sense is huge for him. He studies the game, too, ask questions and is always looking at ways to get better.”
It’s Sissons’ wide range of abilities that has many pro teams interested in advance of next summer’s NHL entry draft. Many junior hockey observers have the crafty forward projected as a potential second-round pick in 2012.
And if Sissons has a particularly good sophomore campaign, an invite to the CHL Top Prospects Game and the Canadian junior team’s evaluation camp could also be in the cards. But it’s first things first according to Sissons who is doing his best not to look too far ahead.
“I definitely recognize all the opportuninites that might arise this year, but I just want to start the year off on the right foot, work hard and be a leader for this team,” said Sissons. “If I play well the recognition will come and there are many possibilities out there. But right now it’ll be most beneficial for me to try and keep that stuff in the back of my mind and just go about my business.”
And you’ll get no argument from Ryan Cuthbert who believes both the Rockets and Sissons have a lot more to gain by following the game-at-a-time philosophy.
“We want him to foucs on the way he’s playing, and how he’s playing for himelf and his teammates,” Cuthbert said. “You see a lot of guys who get stuck and caught in the mindset that one game is going to change where they’re drafted and everything that comes with it.
“It’s not about that, it’s about him getting better every day and our focus. Our focus is always about our team, the individuals within our team and how we can get better every day.”
Still, as much as hockey is a team game Cuthbert freely admits Sissons will play a key role in whatever success the Rockets attain in 2011-12.
At the same time, the coaching staff is taking moderate approach on the level of expectations they’ll place on Sissons.
“Our expecations of him are to be a lot of the same, to be a leader, he naturally does that with the way he plays,” Cuthbert added.
“We don’t have expectations too high, we want his to play his game…not to put any pressure on himself whether it’s the draft or anything else. Just go out there and play his game naturally and be happy with it.”
Still a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday, Sissons is a relatively young leader on what will be a very Kelowna young team—with as many as four 16-year-olds—during the 2011-12 WHL season.
Even with all their youth, Sissons expects the Rockets to hold their own in the always-competitive B.C. Division.
“The exhibition season has been pretty good and if our younger guys can figure out what the league is all about, the work ethic you have to bring every night, the sooner they figure it out the better. We’re pretty lucky, the younger guys we have are pretty mature. We’ve got tons of skill and if we work really hard, I don’t see why we can’t be one of the top teams all year.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets will be in Victoria Friday night to take on the Royals in WHL pre-season action, then will conclude their exhibition schedule Saturday night in Ladner against the Vancouver Giants…Kelowna is 4-0 in the pre-season…The Rockets launch the 2011-12 regular season Saturday, Sept. 24 in Everett against the Silvertips…Kelowna’s first home action is Saturday, Oct. 1 vs. Vancouver.