Sports

Rookie d-man showing promise with Rockets

Rookie defenseman Joe Gatenby has impressed the Kelowna Rockets with his compete level and composure with the puck.   - Marissa Baecker/Shootthebreeze
Rookie defenseman Joe Gatenby has impressed the Kelowna Rockets with his compete level and composure with the puck.
— image credit: Marissa Baecker/Shootthebreeze

When the 2013-14 season began, Joe Gatenby wasn't precisely sure what the Kelowna Rockets had in store for him.

Above the 16-year-old defenceman's stall in the Western Hockey League team's dressing room was a piece of tape with his name written in Sharpie—not necessarily a sign of permanence.

Not only that, but the Rockets were carrying nine blueliners, making a roster spot anything but a lock for the Calgary-born rearguard.

If he didn't make the grade, Gatenby would be returned to the B.C. Major Midget League's Okanagan Rockets.

So a few weeks later, when the tape was removed and his official name plate was installed by the Rockets, Gatenby could officially breathe a lot easier.

"I had an idea I was going to make the team, but you just don't know for sure," said Gatenby, who moved to Kelowna three years ago to play at POE. "The coaches didn't tell me too much, they didn't give me any indication I'd be staying around.

"I actually heard a little before (the name plate) went up that the Rockets had sent a letter to the midget team telling them they were going to keep me for the year," added Gatenby, "…so that was a relief, it was a step I really wanted to take."

Since choosing him in the second round of the 2012 WHL bantam draft, the Rockets have had high expectations for the 6-foot, 170-pound defenceman. And so far, Gatenby hasn't disappointed.

"When Joe came to camp this year, it was evident he had worked hard, he had gotten stronger and was ready to make the jump," said Rockets assistant Lambert. "His compete and his composure with the puck was where it needed to be and he's shown he play on a regular basis.

"He's been able to handle whatever minutes we've thrown at him," added Lambert, "and on some nights, he's been into our top four. He's come a long way since last year and is fitting in well."

Heading into this week's action, Gatenby had an assist and 10 penalty minutes in 27 games.

Because of the depth on what is regarded by many as the best defensive corps in the WHL, Gatenby doesn't get to play every night. Still, playing or not, Gatenby said he's in an ideal learning environment.

"No matter where you're playing on the depth chart, you just have to take every shift and contribute, and make the most of your chances," said Gatenby. "You've got guys in front of you that you can take things from and learn from, how they practise and just how they are around the rink…it's great a learning process for me."

And not surprisingly, there is no place Gatenby would rather be than with the Canadian Hockey League's No. 1 team.

"If you could pick any place in Canada, you couldn't have a better situation than this," he continued. "I just try to be grateful, appreciate it every day and hopefully not take any day for granted because it's a real privilege to be here, be a part of this team and learn from the coaches here."

The Rockets will play three games in three nights this weekend. Kelowna hosts Medicine Hat on Friday and Lethbridge Saturday at Prospera, then will travel to Seattle on Sunday to take on the Thunderbirds.

 

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