Like most hockey players with a competitive streak, Tyson Baillie wasn’t content with being a healthy scratch.
After having his name deleted from the starting lineup four times earlier this season, the Kelowna Rockets’ forward decided it was time to make some changes.
“No one likes sitting out,” said Baillie, 17, in his second season with the Rockets. “It’s painful to watch when the team is doing well, and you can’t be part of it.
“It drives you to be better and I knew I had to work a lot harder, do extra things at practise, and do a better job of taking care of myself. It’s a lot nicer playing than sitting.”
Since last being scratched on Nov. 24, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. native has been one of the Rockets’ most productive forwards.
Prior to Wednesday night’s game in Lethbridge, Baillie had four goals and six assists in his last seven games, including back-to-back two-goal efforts against Prince George and the Kootenay Ice.
With fewer injuries and considerably more depth on the Rockets’ roster this season, keeping a spot in the starting lineup isn’t a given like it often was a year ago.
Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska said it didn’t take long for Baillie to get the message.
“One thing about Tyson is that he loves to play the game, so that was a tough stretch for him to go through earlier this season,” said Huska. “He had to face up to that and find a way to get back in the lineup. He’s learned how to work harder, he’s moving his feet now, and he’s becoming a better two-way player. His shifts are shorter and he’s understanding better what it takes be more consistent. He’s been playing very well for us.”
As a 16-year-old WHL rookie last season Baillie scored 10 goals in 68 games. He’s already scored 10 times this season and has 19 points in just 27 games.
Like many of his teammates, Baillie is not only feeling better about his own game these days, but also the success the Rockets are enjoying as a team.
“It’s very positive, everyone gets along well, and we’re playing the game at a very high tempo,” said Baillie. “No one wants to sit, so the competition for ice time is good.
It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning, too.”
The Rockets’ Central Division road trip and pre-Christmas schedule wraps up with three games this weekend. Kelowna is in Medicine Hat on Friday, Red Deer on Saturday and Calgary on Sunday.
The Rockets next home action is Thursday, Dec. 27 against the Kamloops Blazers.