It has been said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. If the axiom is entirely valid, it would be well worth it for Tyrell Goulbourne of the Kelowna Rockets to pay heed this season.
When the Philadelphia Flyers made Goulbourne their third round selection, 72nd overall, at the 2013 NHL Draft, there was eye-rolling in some quarters as a few pundits felt the native of Edmonton, AB likely would have been available to the Flyers in the later rounds. But Goulbourne, who is now 20, remains determined to carve out a professional career.
“My first year in the WHL, I didn’t expect (to be drafted) because I know I didn’t have a great year,” Goulbourne said in a chat with Hockey’s Future. “I knew I had to bring more to the table to get drafted.
“After not getting drafted I kinda got ticked off. I knew I could play with the guys that did get drafted. So I just worked as hard as I could and it really paid off. I didn’t think I would go so early, but Philly told me they picked me right where they wanted me.”
Goulbourne has been an entertaining presence in Kelowna throughout his junior career, although questions loom about his ability to deliver consistency. There have been flashes of offensive brilliance, a deft touch around the opposition’s goal, along with eye-catching bursts of speed that lift fans from their seats at Prospera Place. And then, there’s his willingness to engage opponents.
“I’ve always been an energy guy,” Goulbourne said. “Back in bantam and midget hockey, I would always lay on the body, but we couldn’t fight back then. Coming here and being able to drop the gloves, I do use it to my advantage.
“Growing up I wasn’t the fastest guy. I wasn’t slow, but I knew the way I played back then that I wasn’t too much of a skilled guy, so I had to use my speed because I might not beat a lot of guys one-on-one with just skill. I remember my 16- to 17-year-old summer, that’s when I really tried to improve my skating. Then between my 17- and 18-year-old season, I felt I really began to excel. That’s a big part of my game now and it helps me to play the way I play.”
It is fair to suggest that Goulbourne is rambunctious, a gritty forward that many WHL opponents dread. It stands to reason, as Goulbourne includes a unique aspect in his off-season training repertoire.
“Back home, I like to run track and I do a lot of MMA training,” Goulbourne said. “Not the fighting so much, but the training. I do a lot of the same kind of training as Ryan “The Real Deal” Ford. It sure helps keep me in shape for hockey.”
His playing style makes him susceptible to injury, yet he has managed to appear in more than 60 regular season games in each of the past three seasons for the Rockets. All told, he’s a wily veteran of more than 250 WHL games. Indeed, Goulbourne’s presence is very much appreciated by his teammates.
According to former Rocket’s head coach Ryan Huska, who is now the bench boss for the Adirondack Flames of the American Hockey League, Goulbourne is and was a work in progress.
“I think every player matures a little differently,” Huska said. “They all come in wanting to be offensive guys and I think until they really understand the style of play that allows them to have success, it’s a bit of a process. For Tyrell, it took him a little bit of time.
“He’s a good message for all players that even if you don’t get drafted one year, you can still get drafted later. He kind of found his role with our team in Kelowna and he became a real key player for us. He did enough for Philadelphia to where they would take him in the third round.”
In an interview at the end of last season with Randy Miller of NJ.com, Flyers’ Director of Scouting Chris Pryor explained what the organization sees in Goulbourne.
“If you talk to people in the West, they’ll tell you he plays a hard game,” Pryor said. “When he’s on the ice, there’s an element there that is hard to find. Everybody makes those comparisons to Zac Rinaldo. I don’t know if anybody can be like Zac, who brings an element on the ice and is an enthusiastic guy. There are some similarities with Tyrell on that side.
“When Tyrell plays that type of game, he’s an intimidating guy. When defensemen go back and get pucks, they know he’s out there and sometimes they tend to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Everybody’s got a role on a team, and as much as you need those high-end skill guys, you need guys that accept their role and play a different type of game. Tyrell’s willing to do that, and I don’t think people give him enough credit.”
While Goulbourne spoke with Hockey’s Future about his continued commitment to improve his skating, it was Huska’s assertion that the speed element was evident immediately upon the youngster’s arrival in Kelowna.
“He had it from day one when he was here,” Huska said. “He just didn’t use it consistently. He did a lot of standing around until we started to break down how valuable that asset is to him and how he should use it. We began to see it during the second half of last season and into the playoffs and he’s been very consistent this last little while.”
For Huska’s part, it certainly didn’t bother him as a head coach to be armed with the knowledge that Goulbourne was a capable pugilist.
“He was one of the favorite guys in the dressing room,” Huska said. “He wore a letter for a reason. The way he plays for one, but he also grew into that role where he learned how to handle his teammates, when to push and when to back off. He knows when to be goofy in the dressing room. He became an important piece of the puzzle in our room and he did a great job of maturing with us, improving himself on the ice and also off the ice.”
Goulbourne played in Edmonton’s northwest zone during his pee wee days in minor hockey. In bantam, he moved on to the Canadian Athletic Club program, which is also in the northwest zone. Of note, he played with friends Brandon Magee (Victoria Royals) and also played summer hockey with him. There was also Brandon Troock (Seattle Thunderbirds), who has since signed with the Dallas Stars. It was during these formative years for Goulbourne that the Rockets came calling.
“I remember waking up that day,” Goulbourne said when asked about the WHL Bantam Draft. “I think I actually slept through the draft, but found out I was taken in the fifth round (156th overall). I came to a couple camps and didn’t make the team, so I was pretty bummed about that.
“But coming to Kelowna really helped my game and Ryan Huska really helped with that. There’s nowhere I’d rather be, whether it’s school or another team in this league. It’s really helped me develop my game by being here in Kelowna.”
The 2014-15 campaign will be very important for Goulbourne, as he has not yet signed with the Flyers. An injury kept him out of training camp this past September, and briefly delayed his start with the Rockets upon his return as one of the team’s 20-year-olds. Since he returned to the lineup, he has been instrumental in Kelowna’s fast start, as the team sits atop the WHL standings with only one regulation-time loss in its first 21 games.
“Last year, I thought we could have went a little further than we did,” Goulbourne said of a Rockets team that lost to the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL Western Conference final series. “But everyone is confident and they want to play, they want to win.”
In 13 games this season under new bench boss Dan Lambert, the 6’0”, 200-pound Goulbourne has scored eight times and added five assists, skating alongside WHL scoring leaders Rourke Chartier (SJS) and highly touted Nick Merkley (2015).
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