Heading into the 2006-07 season, the Regina Pats were pegged by many WHL pundits as likely frontrunners in the East Division of the Eastern Conference. There was plenty of evidence to support the predictions, as the team had produced a 40-win campaign last season and was returning a number of key players, especially among a highly-mobile blueline corps.
The goaltending tandem looked solid as well, with veteran David Reekie (free agent) and second-year player Linden Rowat.
However, through November, the preseason prognostications have yet to be met. In fact, during one stretch on the road in November, the team went over 260 minutes without scoring. The streak finally ended on Nov. 24 in Kelowna, as the Pats managed a 3-1 victory over the Rockets. Rowat was the game’s first star.
Rowat played his midget hockey at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. Prior to the relocation, he played two years of bantam hockey with the Airdrie Extreme near Calgary, Alberta. Among his teammates there were Dana Tyrell (eligible 2007) of the Prince George Cougars and Colton Grant (eligible 2007) of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“I think I was fortunate to grow up with those guys,” Rowat said. “It sure was good to have good shooters against me when we practiced.”
Although the team’s lack of scoring has been the main concern in Regina, head coach Curtis Hunt has been pleased with Rowat’s play.
“He came into training camp in good shape, not great shape, but with a mental mindset to be our No. 1 guy,” Hunt recalled. “He really pushed David Reekie, who has since been moved to Everett.”
On Oct. 10, Reekie was traded to the Everett Silvertips and Rowat took over. Rowat, a native of Cochrane, Alberta, had kind words for Reekie.
“He’s a good friend of mine, so it was sad to see him go,” Rowat remembered when asked about the trade. “But at the same time, the Pats were handing the responsibility over to me, so I had to be happy with that, that I was able to bring my game to that level.”
Back in the club’s opening game, Rowat started and finished, despite an injury late in the game that had the entire club holding its breath.
“I had a minor strain in my MCL, tweaked it in our first game with about five minutes left,” Rowat explained. “I stuck it out and then afterward we had it analyzed and I was out a week or two. But it’s perfectly fine now. It’s all healed, there’s no pain and I’m good to go.”
“Linden came out with a big win in our first game,” Hunt said. “Then he had the injury, was out, and came back and played well. But then he went into a little bit of a funk.”
Hunt, who is one of the assistant coaches with Canada’s national junior team, recognized Rowat needed some help. Enter Corey Hirsch, a former WHL most valuable player and current goaltending consultant with Hockey Canada.
“We brought Cory in to spend a week with Linden and I thought he really took to Cory and Cory was able to help his game,” Hunt confirmed. “They worked on handling the puck, on Linden’s patience, on closing some of the holes in his game. He was close to giving up near one bad goal a game and he’s now gotten to where he has almost eliminated them all together.”
Rowat is thankful for the opportunity to work with Hirsch.
“I had a pretty good start, but then I hit a skid,” Rowat said. “As soon as the club brought in Cory, well, he really helped me to get out of it.”
Hirsch played professional hockey in North America and Europe and is enjoying both his retirement and his new responsibilities with Hockey Canada. His relationship with Hunt through the national junior program precipitated the trip to Regina to work with Rowat.
“It came about because I had a little bit of a break in my schedule,” Hirsch explained during the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge game in Chilliwack, B.C. “We just worked on a lot of things. You know, it took me a long time, 13 or 14 years as a pro to learn and I‘m just trying to pass on some things that can help him to learn.
“I think [Rowat’s] willingness to learn is what caught my eye,” Hirsch continued. “You know, you can’t really help somebody if they don’t want to be helped. I think with Linden he really tried to soak it all up. I really encourage that, I mean I didn’t get a lot of that training growing up. It’s important for these kids to keep their mind open to everything and then decide what they want to take from there.”
At 6’2 and 175 pounds, Rowat covers the net well, though his play initially lacked the consistency required to be a top goaltender in major junior hockey.
“Sure, you can talk about his size, but a lot of goalies have that attribute,” Hirsch said. “The big thing to me is his willingness to open up and learn and to view all ideas and stay open to everything.”
The International Scouting Service has ranked Rowat fourth among goaltenders; second among those in the WHL behind Kurtis Mucha (eligible 2007) of the Portland Winter Hawks. In the Central Scouting Service’s preliminary rankings, Rowat is first among WHL goaltenders.
“It’s a real honor to be rated as a top goalie, but it’s still early in the season,” Rowat cautioned. “I know I have to keep up the pace and continue to play well and hopefully at the end of the season I can be in those same positions.”
Last season, Rowat appeared in 26 games, posting an 8-9-1-1 record and a 3.13 goals against average. Through 20 games this year, he’s 10-7-1-2 with a pair of shutouts, a .890 save percentage and a 2.89 goals against average. Hunt has every confidence that Rowat can continue to handle the workload and give the Pats a chance to win every night.
“He’s a good kid, he works hard and he’s a very driven kid,” Hunt said. “He’s been our go-to guy and overall, he’s played well.”
Rowat is quick to credit his coaching staff and teammates for his ongoing development.
“The coaches are helpful here because they offer a lot of tips about where certain players might shoot,” Rowat explained. “They know a lot about tendencies. But to get used to it all, the big thing is just to stay after practices and get those extra shots from the older guys.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.