The 2001 Western Hockey League bantam draft netted the Kelowna Rockets the Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan born, Blake Comeau. Now in his fourth WHL season, Comeau is looked upon as a leader, a veteran required to show responsibility both on and off the ice.
Upon his return from the Islanders training camp this year, Comeau and the Rockets faced the prospect of starting the regular season with a number of key veteran players on the sidelines with significant injuries. Tyler Spurgeon (EDM) and Lauris Darzins (NAS) watched until December, out with shoulder injuries. Kyle Cumiskey (COL) got a late start as well.
“I expected him to continue to develop and motivate himself to be a better player,“ explained head coach Jeff Truitt, when asked about his expectations of Comeau heading in to the current season. “Over the past couple years he’s taken the steps to make himself an elite player here and a great pro prospect. He’s certainly not complacent.”
Comeau has played only 37 of the Rockets 49 games this season, thanks to a successful stint with Team Canada at the WJC. To date, he’s posted 16 goals and 35 assists in a Rockets uniform.
“He’s contributed offensively and defensively,” Truitt said. “And he’s really stepped up as a leader on the hockey club. I guess the biggest thing is we rely on him for consistency and to keep himself motivated to continue to develop. We want him to help make the other players play better.”
Truitt is proud of Comeau’s development as a member of the Rockets organization.
“When he came in here, he had raw talent great instincts,” Truitt recalled. “He was able to learn from some good people here in the locker room, too.
“He’s a great power forward with great speed. He has become a real physical presence on the ice, especially when he uses his power to hit along with his speed.”
Hockey’s Future caught up with Comeau before practice, a couple days prior to an important road game against the BC Division leading Kootenay Ice, which Kelowna won, 6-0.
HF: You’ve had a busy season personally, but how do you feel about the Rockets play?
BC: It’s gone pretty good so far. I thought we got off to a good start and then we leveled off, then we picked it up again. So, I guess it’s been kind of up and down so far this year. It was a big two points for us against Lethbridge at home last week to kind of help get us out of this little slump we were in. Hopefully it can help us to get back on a little roll here.
HF: What kind of expectations did you have coming into this season?
BC: Obviously our goal, like any other team, is to finish first in our division and first in our conference to get home ice advantage in the playoffs. With our division as tight as it is this year, we can’t afford to give away any points on any night.
HF: How has your role with the Rockets evolved? Are there leadership expectations in Kelowna?
BC: Yes there are. It’s my fourth year here and obviously I’m going to be expected to put up some points and carry the load offensively. I have to lead, not only on the ice, but off the ice as well. I think with my experience being at the Islanders camp and the World Junior Championship, the guys kind of look upon me to lead the way and that’s something I take pride in. So besides taking care of both ends of the ice, just being a leader off the ice as well.
HF: Who have you been playing with this season?
BC: Right now I play the power play with Justin Keller (TB) and Tyler Spurgeon (EDM) and we seem to be clicking right now. I think our power play is No. 2 in the league right now. And five-on-five I’ve been playing with Lauris Darzins (NAS) and Chris Ray. It’s been a while though, because I was gone for the WJC and before that Darzins was out after his shoulder surgery. We haven’t had a full lineup except for these past couple of weeks so it’s good to see everybody back and I think the chemistry is really going to start building.
HF: At the beginning of the season, some key veterans were out of the lineup for extended periods. How did the team gel when there were a number of key players on the sidelines?
BC: I think it hurt us, obviously when a team is missing guys of that caliber it’s going to hurt your team. But we did do a really good job. Guys stepped up, guys who maybe didn’t play that much last year. Clayton Bauer and Brent Howarth, those guys really filled the void. But we’re really happy to get all the guys back in the lineup and finally get some line combinations and try and work on the chemistry. Getting those guys back really helped with the depth and I think now we have four lines that can really compete with anyone in the league. You know, we’ve got guys on the fourth line that played here last year, like Kirt Hill (2006 eligible), who can play on any line when he has to. I think we’ve got great depth.
HF: What can tell us about your experience at the recent WJC?
BC: It was pretty awesome. You don’t realize how big the tournament is until you get there and then the media hype around it. And all the support we had, you know we got to our lunchroom, and there were notes from the Toronto Maple Leafs and some other NHL stars were wishing us good luck. Pat Quinn was there after we won and he was shaking our hands. Like I said, you just don’t realize how big it is. It was such a great experience to wear that jersey and represent the country and win gold. I’ve been pretty fortunate as a junior hockey player to have won a Memorial Cup and now a gold medal. It’s just been an unreal experience for me since I came to junior.
HF: Talk about your minor hockey days, leading up to the opportunity to play in the WHL?
BC: Played my bantam hockey in the Meadow Lake minor system in the Centre Four Hockey League. In grade 10 when I was 15, I moved away to play midget AAA with the Saskatoon Contacts. From there I came to Kelowna. Kris Westblom (Rockets backup goaltender drafted by MIN) played there, too. And with Luke Schenn (2008 eligible) here, there’s a lot of history from the Contacts on our team.
HF: How did you enjoy taking the gold medal back to Meadow Lake?
BC: To go back with the gold was pretty special. And you know, my parents and my sister were at the WJC too, so any time you can have your family there to enjoy that experience, it makes all that much better.
HF: You’re not the first player from Meadow Lake to win a WJC gold medal, are you?
BC: Yeah, that’s right. Jeff Friesen. (Note: Friesen, a Meadow Lake native, also played midget hockey with the Saskatoon Contacts. He won WJC gold in 1995 and a Stanley Cup in 2002-03 with the New Jersey Devils.)
HF: Didn’t he also bring the Stanley Cup to Meadow Lake? Is this something you’ve got planned?
BC: (Laughing) Sure, if I could bring the Stanley Cup there too, it would be pretty special, but I know I’m a ways off from doing that.
HF: What kind of experience have you had with the Islanders so far?
BC: I keep in contact with their head of player development, Dan Marshall, usually once every couple of weeks. Last year was my first camp and I thought I had a good camp. I played in three exhibition games, one in Boston and two in Philadelphia. You know, if you come back to junior with something like that under your belt, it’s obviously going to boost your confidence and I think that’s when you’re going to play your best hockey. To see the speed and what it takes to play at the next level was an experience that I think has really helped me this year.
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