When the Kelowna Rockets made the deal with the Saskatoon Blades in early 2010, a move that netted them forward Colton Sissons, one wonders if at that time the Rockets knew the North Vancouver native had the makings of an important team leader.
Fast forward almost three WHL seasons and that is precisely the role Sissons plays today in Kelowna, wearing the “C” and leading a team that might be considered somewhat of a pleasant surprise so far this year. Now in his third full season with the Rockets and second as team captain, the 19-year-old is well aware of the organization’s expectations.
“Being the captain, I don’t think the expectations can get much higher,” Sissons said in an interview with Hockey’s Future before a practice at Prospera Place. “But, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Last year was a bit of a learning curve for me to have that (responsibility) on my shoulders. I think I’ve done a good job with it this year and I’m pleased that the team is performing really well. That has helped me out significantly.”
The Rockets were an inconsistent bunch last season, due in part to significant youth on the roster. However, the group did seem to play much of its best hockey on the road. Even though the team advanced to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, they often left the hometown faithful wanting more. The organization addressed a few issues during the off-season, but Sissons also knew that Prospera Place in Kelowna had to become a tougher place for opponents to play.
“We have some added size, especially up front for sure,” Sissons said. “I think this year, one of the things that has helped us to be successful so far is maturity. A lot of our young guys grew up last year and during the off-season, which helps a lot and we have a lot of confidence now.
“We‘re playing good hockey now and we’ve been pretty hot a home, which we didn’t do last year. We’ve had a lot more compete this year than the past two years and the fans have really responded well here. So those things have been huge for us.”
Sissons began his junior hockey career with the Westside Warriors of the BCHL. During that 2009-10 season, in which he celebrated his 16th birthday, he was property of the Blades. At the WHL trade deadline in January of 2010, the Rockets dealt rugged forward Curt Gogol to Saskatoon in exchange for Sissons. Gogol was subsequently dealt by Saskatoon to the Chilliwack Bruins early in the 2010-11 season.
Clearly, the Rockets emerged as victors in the deal with Saskatoon. Sissons has developed quickly in Kelowna, becoming a leader on and off the ice. He has also become a consistent offensive producer. He suggests he has added between 20 and 25 pounds to his frame over the course of his junior career, and now checks in at 6’1” and 190 pounds. To those who have watched Sissons in a Rockets’ jersey, the physical transformation is apparent.
During his first two years in the WHL, Sissons collected 41 points in each campaign, while appearing in 63 and 58 regular season games, respectively. Last season, during the home stretch, Sissons sustained a concussion that kept him out of action for 14 games. It was a difficult time personally for Sissons, and his absence had an impact on the team as well. But he made the commitment to try and get the most benefit possible from his time on the sidelines.
“It was pretty tough, especially with a head injury and you’re just not feeling right for an extended period of time,” Sissons said. “And especially too, when the team was kind of struggling. That made it worse because I really wanted to be out there to help the team.
“I watched a lot of hockey during that stretch and I saw a lot of details in the game that maybe I had been missing out on. So, yeah, I suppose there were some positives to take from that period, but the bottom line was I wanted to be out there (on the ice) but I was stuck on the couch.”
Sissons returned to the lineup and appeared in all 10 of the Rockets playoff games, posting three goals and three assists. Kelowna was eliminated in the second round by the Portland Winterhawks.
While it was beneficial for him to get back on the ice for the post-season, there is no way to determine if the injury had any impact on his stock for the 2012 NHL Draft. A few weeks before the injury, he relished the experience of playing in the 2012 CHL Top Prospects Game in Kelowna where he was the captain for Team Orr, which was a 2-1 winner over Team Cherry. He was also an alternate captain for Team WHL at the 2011 CHL Subway Super Series.
Rated as a mid- to late-first rounder for much of the regular season, Sissons was eventually selected in the second round, 50th overall, by the Nashville Predators. The days surrounding the draft became a somewhat nerve-wracking experience for Sissons and his family.
“We had decided around Christmas to attend,” Sissons said. “My agent and I thought we should go because I was ranked in that late first round, early second round range. It was a pretty exciting few days, but I was pretty stressed out. It was good to have my family there, kind of a good support staff. It’s pretty wild sitting in the stands there waiting for your name to be called.”
Since then, Sissons has signed an entry level contract with the Predators. The pact was announced in mid-September, a couple of weeks before the WHL regular season began.
“My parents were definitely involved,” Sissons said when asked about the process. “But mostly it was my agent and I. The offers came in and we negotiated over two or three weeks. Eventually we settled on what we both felt was fair and both sides were happy.
“It was a huge relief for me that Nashville had that confidence in me and that I’ve performed well enough here. It’s enabled me to relax this year a little bit and focus on playing good hockey here.”
The signing elevated Sissons’ confidence, in part due to the reality the organization did not have a look-see at either a gathering of its rookie prospects or the team’s training camp. It was a kind of a disappointment for Sissons, who along with prospects around the globe were denied these exciting training camp opportunities due to the current NHL lockout.
“For sure, that’s probably the most exciting one for players, that first training camp after the draft,” Sissons said. “It was disappointing to miss out on that. But looking at it realistically though, I would have been back here in Kelowna this season anyways, so I’m definitely looking forward to getting to my first NHL camp next September.”
Now a well-known and highly regarded veteran in the WHL, there are few secrets among opponents concerning his skill set. Sissons knows he’s a player opposing teams have to be prepared for.
“It’s kind of a weird thing to think about,” Sissons said. “My junior hockey days have gone by so fast. I know everyone says that, but it’s really hit me this year.
“Early on, I was just a guy who really tried to work hard and guys didn’t really key in on me. But now, I’m considered one of the top guys on my team and an offensive threat, so it’s kind of cool to know that other teams have to key on you. It’s kind of a confidence boost out there to be considered a threat, but it does make things more challenging when they’re throwing their top checking guys out there against us.”
Through 25 games this season, Sissons had tallied 10 goals and 15 assists, while compiling a plus-23 rating and 22 penalty minutes.