For 95% of CHL teams, a season like the Kelowna Rockets had this year would be an incredible feat.
The Rockets earned 95 points in the regular season, good for second in the BC Division.
They followed that up with two playoff series wins before being bounced in the Western Conference Finals by the Seattle Thunderbirds.
A great season, but short of the team’s ultimate goal because the Rockets aren’t like 95% of CHL teams.
“The expectations with the organization each and every year are always set high from management down,” said Rockets’ assistant coach, Kris Mallette. “We've had a lot of success and there’s never really a rebuild for us.”
Mallette and fellow Rockets assistant coach, Travis Crickard, just received contract extensions to stay with the team for two more years.
For Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton, locking the pair up was an easy choice.
"With Jason (Smith) being signed for two more seasons I wanted to get these two signed as soon as I could as well," Bruce said. "These two have definitely earned it and we look forward to the next couple of seasons with these guys behind the bench."
The extensions seem like no brainers, but at the midway mark of the season there may have been some doubt in their minds.
The Rockets only won 10 of 21 games to start off the year and fans were starting to wonder if this would be a rare down year for the team.
“We really struggled at the start, however, we were able to work our way out of that and build into the team that we became,” Crickard told KelownaNow. “I thought our team did a great job down the stretch and into the playoffs.”
Unfortunately for Crickard, Mallette and the rest of the team, the great play down the stretch ended at the hand of the Thunderbirds for the second straight year.
That hasn’t shaken either coaches' confidence for the 2017-2018 season though, as both coaches say they’re really excited for what the roster might shape into by September.
“We’ve got a lot of guys returning, expectations will be high,” Mallette said. “But like I said it's a process and we just want to be peaking again at the right time.”
There will be a returning core, featuring players like Cal and Nolan Foote, Kole Lind and Tomas Soustal, with the potential of guys like Dillon Dube, Lucas Johansen, Calvin Thurkauf and Nick Merkley coming back as well.
At the same time though, a number of familiar faces will be moving on and the coaching staff will welcome a group of younger players into the mix.
High turnover is nothing new for a junior team, as the average junior career only lasts three or four years, but to both coaches that’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
“They come in as guys who are extremely baby faced and they leave with the ability to grow somewhat of a beard and their voices get deeper,” said Crickard. “It's just incredible to see how they grow as a player, how much better they get over the course of a couple of years and more importantly how they grow as a person.”
It’s not just during their junior careers, though, as the coaches get to watch these players jump to the next level as well.
A perfect example of that is the Edmonton Oilers' recent playoff hero, Leon Draisaitl.
Draisaitl was a Rocket during Crickard and Mallette’s first season with the team, leading Kelowna to a Memorial Cup
“It’s great and I still keep in contact with him,” said Mallette. “The time he spent with us was phenomenal, but it’s even better to see him acknowledged and having such success in the NHL right now.”
Crickard echoed Mallette’s statements on Draisaitl, saying that he hopes the team and coaching staff played a small role in the player that he’s become.
There’s an extra bonus for Crickard as well when it comes to seeing a guy like Draisaitl tearing up the professional leagues.
“It makes me feel really good because when I’m watching the Oilers play with my friends I can say, ‘hey, I coached that guy!’”
It’s much like how Kelowna residents are excited to say, “hey, we got to watch that guy!”
A talent like Draisaitl playing for the Rockets may be rare, but no matter who’s wearing a Rockets jersey come September, it’s safe to say the expectations will be high and they probably won’t disappoint.