Following a successful run of three consecutive appearances in the Memorial Cup, including a national title in 2004, the Kelowna Rockets failed to qualify for the WHL post-season last year. The sting of junior hockey’s cyclical nature will resonate until the next playoff run begins.
For Tyler Myers, a key member of the club’s current blueline corps, that much anticipated post-season run simply cannot materialize quickly enough.
"It’s very important for all of us to get back into a playoff spot," Myers said after a brisk practice at Prospera Place in Kelowna. "It was tough last year, ending the season that early. We’re not expecting to do that this year."
Myers was ranked 29th among 2008 draft-eligible skaters by the International Scouting Service in September. Among WHL defensemen, he was ranked third behind teammate Luke Schenn and Colten Teubert of the Regina Pats. Myers arrived in Kelowna late in the 2005-06 season and played in nine regular-season games. During the post-season, he played in eight of the Rockets playoff games before the team bowed out in the second round.
"I missed one game during the season in Notre Dame (Wilcox, Saskatchewan) and when we finished there, Kelowna called me up and I finished the year with them," Myers recalled. "I think that might have been the best thing that could have happened for me going into my 16-year-old year.
"I wasn’t expecting to be playing hockey at that time of year, so when I got called up I was very excited. And getting a taste of playoff hockey in the WHL was a really good learning experience for me."
It has proven to be a pivotal time in Myers career, jumping from the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League to the WHL. At the same juncture, it was pivotal time for the Rockets as many of the veteran contributors through those championship seasons graduated from the WHL that spring. A host of new young recruits were left to toil in Kelowna and uphold the winning tradition.
Current Rockets head coach Ryan Huska, who was an assistant coach with the club during the high times, speaks highly of Myers and his development in Kelowna.
"He came in and surprised us when he came up for the end of the year back then," Huska explained. "And then last year as a 16-year-old we relied on him almost unfairly. We put him in situations that maybe a young guy shouldn’t have to be in.
"But he’s a big part of our plans now and it’ll become an even bigger role in the future."
At 6’7 and 202 pounds, his size is an attribute opponents and scouts take immediately note of. Myers, who will celebrate his 18th birthday on Feb. 1, has battled growth spurts in recent years. He’s comfortable acknowledging it as a necessary evil and takes the challenges in stride.
"I definitely notice that when I’ve gone through growth spurts, I tended to feel a bit more tired during the day," he said. "I’ll notice my coordination will be a bit off. It doesn’t take too long to get used to it. It’s hard not to notice.
"I don’t think it really affects my balance, but what I also try to do is bend my knees more than bending my back. It’s hard for how tall I am, so I have to keep my knees bent to and stay low to keep my balance and that’s how I try to cope with it."
So far this season, Huska admits he’s getting used to answering questions about his draft eligible players. Myers name pops up frequently.
"They are around a lot this year," Huska confirmed when asked about scouts attending Rockets’ games. "We seem to have a lot of guys following us and they always ask about guys and to see what type of kids they are.
"Tyler’s name is one that is brought up quite a bit, I think because of who he is and what he did for us during his 16-year-old year and also because of his size and how well he skates. It all seems to have generated interest in him."
For a player his size, Myers is a fluid skater whose stride appears almost effortless. He is able to cover plenty of ice in a hurry and hopes to use his skills to become an offensive contributor in Kelowna.
"I do focus on the defensive end first as a defenseman but I do feel I have something to offer offensively," Myers said. "I haven’t really been producing yet this year, but I know I have something to offer and I plan to improve my offensive skills."
From behind the bench, Huska agrees the offensive upside is obvious.
"He skates very well and creates a lot of opportunities with his speed and his reach with his stick," Huska explained. "He’s surprising when he gets himself moving, he moves very well. In time I think he’s going to put up a fair amount of offense for us but right now he’s just working to find his game and to feel comfortable with where he’s at now. The more he gets to play, the better this kid going to be.
"He’s a guy we use on the power play and killing penalties. Sometimes when you see a 17-year-old logging those kinds of minutes, you understand that mistakes are going to be made because he sometimes gets fatigued. I think it says a lot about the kid that we feel highly enough about him to play him in those key situations. He has terrific composure for a young guy."
Armed with the knowledge that he’d be seeing significant ice time, Myers spent much of the past off-season improving his core strength and cardiovascular capacity. In addition to the off-ice regimen, he is striving to become more focused on his mental preparation. While his physical skills are evident, Myers understands some of the things he has to do to better.
"I feel I’m a good skater and I play well when I use my skating to my advantage," he said. "I can see the play well when I’m skating up ice, but I have to work on just making the simple plays. Sometimes I try and do too much or try to make an extra move when it’s not necessary. I’m learning that making the simple play is often the best thing to do."
Myers also confirms the coaching staff has communicated their expectations.
"They expect me to play a bigger role as a second-year guy," he said. "I agree with all their expectations and I plan to fulfill them. Specifically, they want be to become more solid defensively and play more physical.
"I have to be a reliable guy they can play in key situations."
The Quotable Tyler Myers
On the move from Calgary to Notre Dame College for midget hockey…
"I played up until second year of bantam in Calgary and moved to Notre Dame for my grade 10 year. That was my first year of midget hockey. We just figured it was a good decision for me to get a taste of life away from home. That’s the way it is here in Kelowna and I wanted to get used to it. That’s a great midget league over there in Saskatchewan and we thought it would be a good experience."
On players he sees in the WHL from his days in minor hockey…
"There’s quite a few guys from Calgary and Notre Dame across the WHL. Kevin King from Calgary is in Cranbrook with the Kootenay Ice and Matt Strong is playing defense with the Everett Silvertips. There’s a couple guys from Notre Dame, Geordie Wudrick in Swift Current (Broncos) and Mike Reddington’s playing in Spokane (Chiefs). I know a lot of guys playing in the WHL now and it’s sure fun playing against them."
On his sore shoulder…
"I just took a hit against the glass and hurt it a bit. It was the first shift in the game here against Moose Jaw (Oct. 27). It’s feeling better every day and I expect to be back in the lineup soon."
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