Elias Carmichael appeared from the Kelowna Rockets dressing room after practice Thursday looking a little harried.
He wasn’t expecting a reporter to call his name as a 16-year-old rookie defenceman. But that’s what happens when you score your first two WHL goals in quick succession.
Not only that, he scored and added an assist to help his team earn three of four points in two road games against the Victoria Royals 10 days ago.
To top it off, he scored one of the prettiest tic-tac-toe goals of the season last Friday against the Everett Silvertips. If Carmichael keeps this up, he’ll have plenty of ink written about him as his career progresses — and plenty of practice in front of a microphone.
When asked what led to his sudden offensive outburst over the past six games, he hesitated.
“I’m on fire,” he said. “I’m just playing a simple game.”
Now, it seemed he quickly realized that first part didn’t sound quite right. You could tell that given the chance he might not use that phrase again.
“This is hard,” he said, laughing at himself. “I’ve never done this before.”
True, it can be tough to talk about yourself without sounding like you’re “legendary” NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby after winning Talladega.
But Carmichael should enjoy this. The Langley native is up to two goals and eight assists this season and is a respectable minus-3 with just 16 penalty minutes.
Those are decent numbers considering all the injuries this season have accelerated the six-foot-two, 184-pound D-man’s development.
His head coach has taken note.
“He’s really seized the moment and he’s playing a simple, solid game,” Kris Mallette said. “He’s a really strong player. Like I said, he plays a simple game that is getting him more and more ice time.”
The Rockets boss has paired Carmichael alongside the offensive-minded Conner McDonald. McDonald can jump into the play and create chances with Carmichael there to back him up.
Maybe watching McDonald this season is what led to Carmichael’s goal at home.
Centre Kyle Topping drove the left wing Feb. 28 in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Silvertips.
Topping passed quickly across to Jake Poole in the slot. Poole as quickly one-timed a pass back to the left post and Carmichael tapped it past the goalie.
He admitted Thursday after practice he may have jumped the rush. Mallette was not concerned.
The coach even gave Carmichael credit for setting up the first pass by forcing a Silvertips’ forward to follow him.
Had Carmichael not done that, Topping may not have been able to make his pass.
“He did what he had to do,” the coach said. “I’m happy he stopped at the net, because had he just been a guy who flies by, that’s not a tap-in. … He did everything up until that point to score the goal, which was Hockey: 101.”
It’s also an example of the progression of these young Rockets, who are back at home tonight to face the Seattle Thunderbirds.
And it’s not just Carmichael and his three points in six games. Poole, Ethan Ernst and Trevor Wong all won roster spots to start the season. They didn’t figure to play much until the injury bug started ravaging the Rockets.
Now, they’re all playing critical minutes in all situations.
It’s what veterans like Dillon Hamaliuk have been preaching since Christmas. Hamaliuk said Poole and Ernst have impressed him whenever he’s skated alongside them.
“They both took that opportunity, and they just ran with it,” he said. “Poolie, I remember he came up and he was on (our top) line when we were in Prince George. We were doing very well. Even Ernie; Ernie played unreal against Prince George. Those are two guys I’d say really stepped up.”
They’ll get another chance when the Thunderbirds (23-30-4-3) arrive tonight. Seattle is seven points back of Kelowna (27-27-3-3) for seventh place in the Western Conference.
The Rockets said they respect Seattle for what they’re trying to do, but they don’t want to focus on what’s behind them.
“Our main goal is to catch Vancouver or Victoria right now. I think that’s all we’ll try to do,” Hamaliuk said. “We’ll keep it simple and do what we have to do to catch them.”
AFTERBURNERS — Hamaliuk has 6G and 6A in his last 10 games, but was forced out of last Friday’s game against Everett and missed their Saturday rematch. He’s a game-time decision tonight. Also on the injury report are F Nolan Foote (lower-body injury, week-to-week), F Liam Kindree (UBI, 6-7 weeks), F Michael Farren (UBI, week to week) and D Sean Comrie (UBI, 12 weeks). … Saturday, the Lethbridge Hurricanes arrive in Kelowna. The ’Canes (37-17-2-5) lost 2-0 to the Cougars in Prince George on Wednesday and visit Kamloops tonight. Lethbridge is No. 12 in the CHL. … Kelowna drafted Carmichael 40th overall in 2018 out of the Burnaby Winter Club. He skated alongside Wong and the Rockets’ Steel Quiring for B.C. at the 2019 Canada Winter Games.