Tyson Baillie is living proof that youth and experience can indeed come in the same package.
Ten weeks shy of his 18th birthday, the 5-foot-10 centre is still relatively young by Western Hockey League standards. But with two full seasons of major junior savvy already under his belt, Baillie has evolved into a reliable commodity for the Kelowna Rockets.
After connecting for 26 goals and 56 points during a solid 2012-13 regular season, Baillie lifted his game another notch during last spring’s post-season.
Without injured captain Colton Sissons in the lineup, he stepped to the fore for the Rockets with a team-leading eight goals and 14 points in nine games.
Baillie plans to pick up where he left off last season.
“I want to be a go-to guy for our team this year,” said Baillie. “When Siss went down for the playoffs, I had to step up my game and I thought I showed I could do that. I want to be a leader, too…I’ve been here two years now, so I feel like I’m part of the leadership core of our team.”
While Baillie’s skill and hockey smarts have been vital to his success, head coach Ryan Huska says the young centre’s biggest asset my be his pure passion for the game.
After sitting out several games last season as a healthy scratch, it became clear Baillie was willing to do whatever it took to get back on the ice.
“He loves the game, he’s always working hard, and his passion and enthusiasm rubs off on the other guys,” said Huska. “So last year, when he was a healthy scratch it was really tough on him. He changed his style, became a far better two-way player and turned into a guy we could trust and rely on. The adversity was the best thing that happened to him and he’s been in the lineup ever since.”
While the Rockets will need offensive production from Baillie this season, Huska said the club won’t be putting undue pressure on him or any one player because, like last year, the club’s success will hinge on more of a scoring-by-committee approach.
And that’s just fine with Baillie who believes—based on the club’s depth, experience and last spring’s playoff disappointment—the Rockets have the necessary tools to take a run at a championship next spring.
“I think we can win it all this year,” Baillie said. “We have a lot of returning guys and guys that want to improve and do better than last year. A lot of guys are disappointed about the playoffs last year and I think we have a really good team here that can go all the way.”
Rocket Shots…Nine Rockets are headed for NHL training camps this week, including captain Colton Sissons (Nashville), Damon Severson (New Jersey), Tyrell Goulbourne (Philadelphia), Madison Bowey (Washington) and Myles Bell (New Jersey)…The Rockets close out their WHL pre-season this weekend with two games—Friday in Vancouver against the Giants, then Saturday at home to the Kamloops Blazers.