You know you’re doing something right when the coach drops your name — or names — in conversation.
It’s what head coach Adam Foote did Saturday after his Kelowna Rockets defeated the Spokane Chiefs 4-3 in overtime.
When asked about first impressions from the first game, Foote started talking about the result before veering toward linemates Alex Swetlikoff, Mark Liwiski and Michael Farren.
“We asked Swetlikoff (and his line) to play a defensive role,” Foote said. “Louie will do anything for you, but then to see Farren buy in, I think they might have created the most five-on-five playing against the other team’s top line and not giving them a lot. That’s just from playing smart over top of the puck. I think they enjoyed their role.”
They did. They started the game against Spokane’s high-flying trio of Eli Zummack (from Kelowna), Jake McGrew and Adam Beckman.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, note that Beckman had two assists, McGrew scored once and had an assist, and Zummack won 16 of 27 faceoffs on Saturday.
OK, so you’re probably thinking, “Great story, guys. Where are you going with this?”
Let’s find out together.
Swetlikoff’s line was even in the plus-minus department, meaning they didn’t allow an even-strength goal. McGrew’s goal came against Kyle Topping and Co.
It’s also worth noting Spokane’s big three combined for 184 points last season. They looked dangerous against the Rockets on Saturday, to be sure, but were kept under wraps.
“I like that role,” said Swetlikoff, a 6-foot-4 centre. “You get a lot of ice time, and I take pride in competing against the other team’s top line.”
To call it the Rockets’ energy line — or checking line — isn’t accurate, however. Foote said he needs them to score.
The potential is there. Farren scored eight goals and 22 assists his rookie season with the Saskatoon Blades. He followed that up with 11 goals and 11 helpers his sophomore campaign before asking for a trade from Saskatoon last fall.
The Blades sent him to Kelowna for a draft pick after eight games. He was mostly quiet the rest of the season (seven points in 50 games quiet), which might make you think he’d be unsure about this new direction.
“I enjoy it,” the 19-year-old right-winger said after practice on Wednesday. “I was really happy with the situations I’ve been put in lately. I think I’ve been put in situations where I can find success. I’m just going to run with it.”
Swetlikoff is right there with him, but cautioned there is much work ahead of them. They need to clean up their defensive zone play, making sure their back checking is airtight.
If they do that, and the goals come, the Rockets will have a potent combination on their hands.
Liwiski is the disruptor, Farren wants to score, and Swetlikoff is the defensive-minded set-up man.
“We kind of feed off each other,” said Swetlikoff, a Kelowna native. “I think I can distribute the puck well to them, and when they have the opportunity, they can put it in the back of the net.
“We didn’t do that (Saturday), but we had some good chances and looks, and I thought our line, the first game, jelled really well together. We’re excited moving forward here.”
They’ll get their next test this weekend. The Rockets are in Kamloops on Friday, host Everett on Saturday, and play a Sunday matinee in Vancouver.
AFTERBURNERS — Kamloops has pushed the panic button. The Blazers, a team with three former 20-goal scorers, acquired Ryan Hughes from the Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday for Jerzy Orchard and two draft picks. Hughes scored 30 goals last season, split between the Portland Winterhawks and Blades. He’s in his final year of junior hockey, and was one of four 20-year-old players on Saskatoon’s roster, one more than is allowed. Kamloops is 0-3. … The Ottawa 67s are No. 1 in the Canadian Hockey League’s first top-10 of the season. The Blades (3), Edmonton Oil Kings (4) and Vancouver Giants (6) are the WHL reps. Portland received an honourable mention. … Everett’s Bryce Kindopp (3 goals, 3 assists) was WHL player of the week. The Silvertips split their first two games. Vancouver D Seth Bafaro (2g, 3a) and Seattle G Roddy Ross (50 saves) joined Kindopp on the CHL team of the week.