By Jesse Watts

The Kelowna Rockets are putting the final touches on a successful 2010-11 WHL regular season, and already know they’ll wrap up the regular-season schedule as B.C. Division champs for the first time since the 2003-04 campaign.

A big reason for the Rockets’ strong season has been the depth provided by their younger players, particularly rookie forward Zach Franko, who has topped the 20-goal mark in his first go-around in the WHL.

The Rockets selected the talented Winnipeg, MB, product in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft. After a 2009-10 season spent playing in the MJHL with the Winnipeg South Blues where he averaged better than a point per game, Franko turned down an NCAA offer and made the jump to the WHL with the Rockets as a 17-year-old.

Boasting excellent hockey sense, vision and a highly accurate shot, Franko has made the transition to the WHL look seamless. The 5’11”, 175-lb left wing really hit his stride and raised the eyebrows of NHL scouts in January when he piled up nine goals and 18 points over 13 games.

Eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Franko may have been a relative unknown early in the season. Yet, with his continued growth and his contributions to the Rockets’ success this season, Franko certainly is on the NHL draft radar now.


On his first season in the WHL…
“It’s gone pretty well, so far. Our team is doing really well this season, and I’ve had some personal success and been able to get some points. The biggest thing is that I’ve been able to help our team win games. Obviously, it’s different (playing in the WHL) from the MJHL. The speed and size of the players is a big thing. The hockey smarts of players here is the biggest difference. You have to be really aware of what’s happening, and you know that you have to play smart and make good decisions, because mistakes will cost you.”

On the Rockets’ strengths this season…
“Our offensive skill has been good this season. We have guys who can scored goals and make plays on this team. We are a hard-working team, and that’s what helps us generate offense. Coach (Ryan) Huska is very big on working hard and competing, and preached that hard work will take you a long way. If you don’t have the effort, then you will hear about it. Obviously, our goaltending has been outstanding this season, too.”

On looking up to his older teammates…
“Obviously, our captain, Tyson Barrie, is the real deal. He’s a very good player who can do so many things and is so instrumental to our success…the Rockets are very fortunate to have a player and a leader like him. Just watching him play, how he carries himself and how hard he works has helped me a lot.
Another guy who has helped me a lot is Brett Bulmer. He’s a Minnesota Wild draft pick, he’s a very good player, and we hang out a lot. He’s been really helpful to me in giving me pointers and tips and helping me adjust. When we have been able to play together, we have some chemistry out there.”

On life in Kelowna, and rabid Rockets fans…
“It’s a lot different. Right now, it’s raining here. You don’t see rain in the middle of March in Manitoba…we’d be in snowsuits at this time of year. The support for the team in this city is pretty unreal. People really care about the team, and get behind us at our games. When you walk around town, people come up to you and say hello, and they talk to you about the team. I’d say the fans in Kelowna are right there with the best in the League.”

On the NHL draft…
“Id’ be lying if I said it wasn’t in my mind. But, it’s something you really have to put on the back burner during the season, and just focus on playing your game. My coaches and my parents always tell me to just go out there and play how you know you can play. Don’t try and get away from what you do best and what helps your team. If you be yourself, and play the game the way you know how to play, then the success will come down the road.”