Much has been made over the past decade about the long line of National Hockey League defensemen with developmental roots that can be traced back to their junior days with the Kelowna Rockets. Call it a “factory” of sorts, one that appears to have another rearguard trending in the same direction as his predecessors.
“I know coming into the league a lot of guys said that time would really fly by, so it would be important to enjoy it,” Bowey said in an interview with Hockey’s Future. “That sure turned out to be true. You just kind of blink and wow, I’m in my fourth year.”
Indeed, Bowey has progressed from student to teacher as a member of the Rockets. There had been discussions about pursuing scholarship opportunities in the NCAA, but there was a certain draw that lured Bowey to the Okanagan Valley.
“That was kind of a big decision my parents and I made,” Bowey said. “During my last bantam year and then in midget, we were considering going the NCAA route. But then, when I got picked by Kelowna and came to my first camp, I was pretty much sold right then and there. But I know we were weighing out both options and in the end we chose Kelowna, which was definitely the best decision we could have made.”
Coming off a championship season with the Winnipeg Monarchs, who won the western Canadian bantam title in Burnaby, BC, Bowey was chosen in the second round, 23rd overall, by Kelowna at the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft. He says he arrived back then as a 6’1” 194-pound, right-hand shooting rookie with plenty to learn. He was young and eager, yet he admits there was no hesitation to leave home and continue his hockey career.
“Not really”, Bowey said when asked if he was ever apprehensive about heading west. “My parents and I knew that my goal was to make it to the NHL. I think for any young player, they probably do have to leave home early. It was a big decision for us to make, but I got put with a great billet family and that made it a lot easier.
“I knew that Kelowna really treated their players well, so for me leaving home at 16 years old wasn’t that big of a deal.”
The Rockets’ penchant for developing pro-ready defenseman had an impact on Bowey from the outset. He is following the likes of Damon Severson (NJD), Tyson Barrie (COL), Tyler Myers (BUF), Luke Schenn (PHI) and Shea Weber (NSH), to list just those who play as right-handed shooters. Bowey credits the organization, confirming that both its history and its record of success continue to play an enormous role in terms of recruiting.
“Lorne Frey has done such a great job finding defensemen,” Bowey said. “For me, seeing the long list of d-men that have come through this organization was a key factor in being sold on coming here. I know they do a great job of producing defensemen and they help you to build as an all-around player.
“When I was 15, I played a game here and got to finish the year off. Tyson Barrie was a guy I really looked up to then and now he’s playing in the NHL. He was one of the top defensemen to come through Kelowna, at least he’s in that category. He’s one of the guys that I really watched and I tried to take as much from him as I could. I know he really helped me out, especially when I got into the line up more as a 16-year-old.”
In an interview with Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, Rockets’ head coach Dan Lambert suggested “when kids get drafted to Kelowna, especially defensemen, it’s a little easier to convince them to come play here because of the history of the Rockets and what they’ve done as far as developing defensemen.”
In the same piece with Friedman, Frey, the director of scouting and assistant general manager said, “we’ve always believed that if we don’t have a good defense, it doesn’t matter how good your forwards are. If you can’t get them the puck, they’re not going to be effective.”
For Bowey, it wasn’t necessarily an easy transition as a rookie, getting accustomed to the lengthy 72-game schedule and the toll it can take.
“Well, I know you sure mature fast in the ‘Dub,” Bowey said. “My first year, I had to get adjusted to it. We traveled a lot. I know I got sick a few times, but as the years go on, it becomes a habit to travel on the bus and you get used to all of the practices.
“You know, you’re doing something that you love, everyday. I think it’s good for guys to play the 72 games because it’s a great way to train your self to get ready for the next level as quickly as possible. For me, it took awhile to get used to things, I needed about a year under my belt, but it’s been smooth sailing since then.”
And since then, Bowey has heard his name called by a NHL team. Selected in the second round, 53rd overall, by the Washington Capitals at the 2013 NHL Draft, he was signed to an entry-level contract on April 2nd, 2014, just 20 days before his 19th birthday.
“It’s been surreal these past couple of years,” Bowey said. “It was huge for my family and I, getting drafted, then signing my first NHL contract. I think really, it’s kind of a big step to make it to the next level and I have that opportunity now.
“It’s pretty cool to be in the same dressing room with guys in Washington that you’ve watched while growing up. Just going to development camps and training camps. I’ve learned a lot and getting to know Barry Trotz, too, he’s one of the elite coaches in the NHL and I know that he’s helped me a lot already at the camps I’ve been at. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and hopefully I can be up there sooner rather than later.”
In the meantime, Bowey is busy as a leader in Kelowna, bolstering an efficient blueline brigade that has contributed immensely to the Rockets quick start this season. Through 26 games so far, Kelowna leads the WHL standings with a record of 21-2-3-0. Bowey has been a beast offensively as well, collecting eight goals and 22 assists. He trails only Joe Hicketts (DET) of the Victoria Royals in scoring by WHL defensemen.
An invitation to Hockey Canada’s selection camp for the 2015 WJC is also a distinct possibility. Bowey also played in the Subway Super Series against Team Russia this month and he suited up at the 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Halifax. The extra activity is something he can certainly live with.
“I think getting those opportunities is all pretty fun,” Bowey said. “A lot of us take this job pretty seriously. To get noticed for those games is an honor. I think that’s one great thing about the WHL; the exposure. To play in those games so the scouts and NHL teams can see us. The opportunities to play in those games have been kind of overwhelming for me, really.”
Prior to the current campaign, Bowey played under head coach Ryan Huska in Kelowna, though he has moved on to the Adirondack Flames of the American Hockey League. Yet under Lambert, who has been with the Rockets for five years now, the current group is rolling along with a vengeance.
“Ryan Huska was a great coach and he played a big role in getting this Rockets team to where it is,” Bowey said. “And I know Dan Lambert has stepped in very well and he is so easy to get along with.
“Dan is just a great player’s coach and I know the guys have great respect for him. He’s really kind of keeping us together and we are becoming a true family. That’s a big part of what Dan has done for us. And as captains, we’re trying to help him while he’s trying to help us.”
Even though his own body of work in junior hockey is far from complete, Bowey recognizes he has progressed in some regards from student to teacher. As a veteran and captain in Kelowna, he is comfortable his responsibilities have increased since his arrival a few short seasons ago.
“That’s one of the cool things about playing here,” Bowey said. “In those first years, you kind of watch and see how things are done and it’s a real eye-opener. In my fourth year now, I’m just trying to do the things that other guys did for me, just showing the guys the ropes. Going to NHL camps, you really learn a lot there too, and I think it’s important for me to bring back that experience to the guys here.
“That’s sure been a fun part for me, to see both ends of the spectrum, to be a learner and to be kind of a teacher.”
Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @