With the West Kelowna Warriors entering the B.C. Hockey League weekend with several key players out of the lineup, there is one player who will be there, providing scoring, leadership and anything else the team needs to snap out of a mini, two-game losing skid.
Now in his third full season with the Warriors, 20-year-old veteran Brett McKinnon has developed into a top, two-way forward in the BCHL and a player counted on in all situations for the Warriors, who sit at 8-5-0-5 and in third place in the BCHL Interior.
“Brett is a 200-foot player,” said Warriors’ coach Rylan Ferster. “He plays hard in both ends of the rink. He plays the game the right way. He’s one of the best skaters in the league and he’s a very important player for us.”
A Kelowna native, McKinnon moved to town when he was 10-years-old and played the majority of his minor hockey in Kelowna, including winning a provincial championship in bantam. After a year in junior B, McKinnon joined the Warriors full time in 2010-11, posting 23 points in his rookie season and 21 points last year.
But as a 20-year-old, he appears to have hit his stride, thanks to a solid work ethic and some nice hands.
“I definitely have a bigger role this year than I have had in the previous years,” he said. “You are more accountable for the way the team plays. It’s a lot more fun to be one of the guys counted on.”
McKinnon has put up a point per game so far this season, with six goals and nine assists in 15 games played. With captain Max French injured, McKinnon has also been wearing the C as the team’s interim captain and has been a key leader for the club this year.
The 5-foot-11 left winger points to former Warriors’ captain Alex Grieve as a player he learned a lot from when he was a rookie.
“In my first year I was just a young guy and Alex was an unreal captain,” said McKinnon. “Every day he showed up ready to go and set the standard for everyone. You want to show the younger guys what you have to do at this level to win. I think we have a great group of leaders on the team. There are a bunch of older guys on the squad and they all show up every game and every practice.”
This year McKinnon’s speed, skill and leadership helped earn him a scholarship to NCAA Div. I school Holy Cross, committing to the university early in the season and allowing him to focus on the rest of his final year of junior hockey eligibility.
“It was one of my personal goals at the start of this year to get a Div. I scholarship,” he said. “It’s nice that I will be able to continue my hockey career and get an education while I’m at it.”
The Warriors are in the midst of a six game home stand that started last weekend with a pair of losses and the team will be looking to get back on track this weekend as they will host Victoria tonight (Friday) and Salmon Arm on Saturday.
“It’s really a key weekend for us,” said McKinnon. “We’re missing a few guys and after last weekend guys aren’t happy. This week we’ve been working hard and we’re going to be excited to come out and get a couple wins.”