The evolution of Rourke Chartier into an elite prospect over the past few seasons can be traced in part to his hockey roots in the city of Saskatoon, where family ties have most certainly played a role in his development.
His father Marc is a school teacher in Saskatchewan’s “Bridge City”, with experience as a player in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades and Billings Bighorns. He later played under coach Dave King with the Huskies at the University of Saskatchewan while pursuing his degree.
His uncle Dave, Marc’s younger brother, played in the WHL with the Blades and was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1982, but has since built a successful career in business while staying involved in hockey. The brothers are founders of the Serious Academy of Hockey in Saskatoon.
Between the pair, they possess a wealth of hockey knowledge and experience.
“Me and my dad get along and he has always had a lot of good advice for me,” Rourke Chartier said in an interview with Hockey’s Future. “He was never real hard on me but at the same time, anything he said, I would listen, I’d take his advice. He and my uncle Dave have been pretty valuable resources for me, that’s for sure.”
Junior hockey across Canada is flush with players today that only have to look across their family dinner table for information about the rigors of playing the game at the highest levels. Indeed, examination of rosters across the CHL, and even the NHL, confirms that there are many sons following in their father’s footsteps.
Chartier, who was selected in the fifth round, 149th overall, by the San Jose Sharks at the 2014 NHL Draft, has successfully parlayed his growth through minor hockey into a breakout campaign with the Kelowna Rockets this season. He was signed by the Sharks on December 31st.
“He was doing then pretty much what he’s doing now in the WHL,” said Marc. “Rourke has had some good coaching, especially back there in the Saskatoon Minor Hockey program. He’s just a real motivated kid.”
Turn on the red light
When the Everett Silvertips visited Kelowna for back-to-back games in January, the matchup served as a meeting between the top two teams in the WHL’s Western Conference. The Rockets were very good in both tilts, winning by scores of 5-3 and 9-3. In fairness to Everett, the two games came at the tail end of a colossal travel grind through British Columbia that included four road games in five nights.
Marc Chartier traveled from Saskatoon to be in attendance at both games, to watch and support Rourke. However, there were four other players on the ice between the two teams that Marc had coached in minor hockey. More on that later.
For Rourke, history was made in the second game when he scored the eventual game winner in the middle period. It was his 40th tally of the season in his 40th game, the first time a member of the Rockets has accomplished this feat.
The closest anyone else has come to Chartier’s accomplishment would be Jamie Benn, now of the Dallas Stars, who scored 40 goals in 50 games for Kelowna during the 2008-09 campaign. Benn finished that regular season with 46 goals and the Rockets later won the WHL championship.
It was fitting that Tyrell Goulbourne (PHI) and Nick Merkley (2015) drew assists on Chartier’s historic marker. The “GMC” line has proven to be among the most prolific trios in the WHL this season.
“It’s not really one thing or another,” Chartier said when asked to try and explain his magic touch around the net this season. “I know I’m a little more confident, and at the same time I’m playing with really good players. It’s a mixture of a bunch of things, I guess.
“Tyrell, he’s one of the tougher guys in the league and brings a lot of energy. He’s very physical. He makes room for us out there. But at the same time he can put the puck in the net. And Nick, he’s obviously a really skilled player and I think by now a lot of people know that. I played a bit with him last year. He’s got great vision, so for me it’s important just to get open, to find open ice, because I know that he’s going to pass most of the time. I just have to be ready for the puck.
“I’m playing more this season. Last year I was behind a couple of better centers like Ryan Olsen (WPG), so I guess as you get a little older you kind of move up the ladder.”
High expectations in Kelowna
The Rockets have been ranked among the top two teams nationwide for most of the current season, jockeying for position with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. Through February 9th, Kelowna is well ahead of Western Conference teams in the standings with a record of 42-8-3-1. In the WHL’s Eastern Conference, the Brandon Wheat Kings have collected 87 points, one behind Kelowna, although the Rockets have a game in hand.
Prior to the WHL trade deadline, the Rockets made a couple of huge deals, adding elite talent to the mix. When Leon Draisaitl (EDM) was returned to junior hockey after playing 37 NHL games this season, he was dealt by the Prince Albert Raiders to Kelowna where he joined his former Raiders teammate, defenseman Josh Morrissey (WPG). Morrissey, acquired by the Rockets in December just prior to the 2015 WJC, did not play for Kelowna until mid-January. These quality additions made an already deep and successful roster even more daunting for opponents.
“It’s tough any time trades are made,” Chartier said. “As much as you bring in new guys that have lots of skill, you’re also losing a couple of friends.
“But in this case, we picked up some real special players. They’ve only been here a little while. I think it’ll take us a couple of weeks and some practices to get everyone on the same page. It’s a good feeling knowing that you have a teammate that can bring more offense.”
With Draisaitl and Morrissey getting acquainted with life and hockey in the Okanagan Valley, pundits and fans alike wonder aloud how opposing teams will game plan for the Rockets. Before the trades were made, Kelowna was already able to boast the top power play in the league. And on the back end, Madison Bowey (WSH) was near the top of the heap in scoring among defensemen in the WHL.
Bowey, the team captain in Kelowna, partnered with Morrissey on Team Canada’s blueline en route to winning a gold medal at the World Junior Championship. For a time, it appeared the Rockets might have had three players wearing the maple leaf as Chartier was also vying for a position among the forward group. By some accounts, he was the final cut.
“It was a good experience,” Chartier said when asked about Hockey Canada’s selection camp process in December. “I think it was about 10 days, but at a real high pace. Honestly, I was real disappointed at the end to not be on that team, but it was sure a good experience overall.”
The “call” from Kelowna
After completing his final season of bantam hockey with the Saskatoon Stallions, Chartier learned of his WHL destination at the 2011 Bantam Draft. He was selected in the first round, 15th overall, by the Rockets. There was some comfort in this for his family, knowing their 16-year-old son was on his way to Kelowna.
“It’s a big step letting a 16-year-old go, but ultimately he kind of made the decision himself,” Marc said of his son. “He’s in a pretty good spot and when you take a look at the team, they have a pretty good plan in Kelowna. He’s pretty fortunate to be there and he likes it.
“We know the Hamilton (Rockets owners) family. I know Brent Hamilton well. We actually won a Canadian championship together under Dave King at the University of Saskatchewan. And Lorne Frey (Director of Scouting) used to coach me.
“We’re lucky Rourke ended up in a good spot. To do what the Rockets have done in the last few years, they don’t have the top draft picks but they sure bring in good players, like Merkley. It’s a closely bonded team in Kelowna, and we see Rourke developing well both on and off this ice.”
Familiar faces across the WHL
Speaking of family, Marc was head coach of the Saskatoon Contacts during Rourke’s only season of midget hockey. The group advanced to the 2012 Telus Cup that season, finishing third at the event in Leduc, AB. The young Chartier was among the tournament scoring leaders with 10 points in seven games.
“That’s probably the last time I’ll have a chance to coach him,” Marc said. “It was my second year with him. We had a good group of 15 year olds, about 11 of them. They were just high compete players. Boy, I’m not sure I’ll ever see a group like that again. They showed up every day, banged up, bruised up, they were just very self-motivated.”
The Contacts roster at the 2012 Telus Cup was loaded. At least 16 members of the team had already been drafted into the WHL.
At the 2011 Bantam Draft there was Reid Gardiner (Prince Albert Raiders), Chartier (Kelowna Rockets), Kolten Olenyk (Lethbridge Hurricanes), Josh Uhrich (Moose Jaw Warriors), Austin Glover (Kelowna), Dawson Leedahl (Everett Silvertips), Rylan Parenteau (Prince Albert), Nelson Nogier (Saskatoon Blades), Vukie Mopfu (Red Deer Rebels), Ross Hnidy (Saskatoon) and Rod Southam (Red Deer).
At the 2010 Bantam Draft, the list includes Austin Calladine (Calgary Hitmen), Colby Harmsworth (Calgary), Brandon Scheidl (Portland Winterhawks), Mack Shields (Calgary) and Carson Stadnyk (Everett).
Some of the players have moved on from the teams that selected them, while others have left the WHL. In any event, Rourke agreed that he doesn’t really have to look too far during the off-season when he wants to go strap on the blades for a little exercise back home in Saskatoon.
“Yeah, there sure are a lot of guys around my age,” he said. “Just growing up with them, there are still a number of guys that are playing at a high level. There’s always a good group of guys to get together with to go for a skate, that’s for sure.”
The Saskatoon Contacts
When he looks back at the names of the players and reflects on their respective tenures with the Contacts, Marc Chartier confirmed they all brought a particularly important attribute to the mix.
“The biggest thing is a high compete level,” the head coach said. “We want good kids on and off the ice, and kids that listen. We want guys that want to compete and get to the next level. They’re the kids that will come to the rink and play hard every day. They’re the kids that have a sense of direction. We just had such a good group and they really pushed each other to get better.
“It’s deeply rooted in the years that Jim McIntyre has been there. Mr. McIntyre built up the program to where the Contacts have won a Mac’s Tournament and also a national title. It’s just carried on.
“Getting the good personnel; getting some real good kids that wanted to put the Contacts sweater on every night. I know there have been times when he hasn’t had the most skilled teams, but they have been fortunate to have seen a lot of kids that have wanted to play there and have come in and played hard. I’ve known over the years that he would eventually step back, so when I kind of took over, it had to be the same philosophy.”
McIntyre was inducted into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame at the 29th annual induction ceremony last November.
As for Rourke, even as a youngster, he was well aware of expectations while he was a member of the Contacts.
“It was a fun place to play and Mr. McIntyre, he does such a great job,” said 18-year-old Rourke. “Guys just want to come and play there. I suppose a winning tradition doesn’t hurt.”
Indeed, from the Contacts to the Rockets, winning doesn’t appear to be getting old for either of the Chartiers.
Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @glenerickson51