October 12th, 2013 - Kelowna, BC
Rich Abney - kelownarockets.com
When Madison Bowey and Damon Severson each scored Friday night against the Seattle Thunderbirds, it was the 10th and 11th goals by defensemen this year for the Kelowna Rockets. Through just eight games, the Rockets blueliners lead the Western Hockey League in offensive contributions.
The trio of Bowey(4), Severson(3), and Riley Stadel(4), have been responsible for all eleven of the rearguard goals, with all four of Stadel's coming on the man advantage. His four powerplay markers actually put him second in the entire WHL, regardless of position. Stadel scored just twice last season in 49 games, so he has already doubled his output from a year ago, in a fraction of the games.
There has been 100 goals scored by defensemen in the WHL this season, for an average of 4.5 per the 22 teams in the league. This Wednesday's opponent, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, have managed just two goals from the back end thus far. The fact that Jesse Lees, who scored 12 goals from the point last year, is yet to score is all the more encouraging for the Rockets when considering the chances of continuing this trend. Defensive stalwart Mitchell Wheaton is also expected to return from injury soon, which could free up the likes of Bowey and Severson for more offensive creativity.
Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert knows the defense of his team will be counted on to contribute, but also credits the forwards for helping create those scoring chances.
"It's great to see the defense contribute offensively. Part of that is when we shoot from the point, our forwards have done a good job creating a screen to make life harder on opposing goaltenders."
The Rockets have long been known for their defensive core, producing a number of tremendous NHLers. The defensive corps of the 2003 WHL Championship winning team is often regarded as the golden standard, and rightfully so. That blueline had Duncan Keith, Josh Gorges, Shea Weber, Brett Palin, Mike Card, and Tomas Slovak, who scored 18 times that season. They totalled 53 goals, the highest total output of any defense in Rockets history. This year's group is on pace for 99.
The defense of this edition of the Rockets will be leaned on heavily throughout the season to not only contribute offensively, but also take care of the defensive zone in front of goaltenders Jordan Cooke and Jackson Whistle. Through 8 games, the Rockets have allowed 26 goals; good for fourth in the WHL Western Conference. Solid numbers, but likely something the coaching staff will look to improve upon, and will receive help when Wheaton returns to the lineup.
While Tyson Barrie's single-season record of 19 goals is safe for now, expect the Rockets to continue to give certain members of the defense the green light to join the rush. As long as the defensive zone is being taken care of, the Rockets have a blueline that can create problems for many teams in the WHL.