McAuley’s Jake Poole and the Kelowna Rockets have displayed their resiliency en route to Western Hockey League success this season.
Last season the B.C.-based team had geared up to host the Memorial Cup, Canada’s national major junior hockey championship. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup were cancelled – and the start of the 2020-2021 season was pushed back until March. After splitting their opening weekend this season, the Rockets had to suspend activities due to positive tests.
Since returning to the ice, the son of Dana and Robin Poole and the Rockets have been successful. As of May 3, Kelowna had an 8-2-1-0 record. Poole had two goals and nine points through 11 games.
“You get a taste of playing two games, just getting back into things, and you get shut down for another two weeks,” he said. “It was tough, but I think the way we came back and showed that we can battle through adversity. … I think it shows what kind of team we are and shows how resilient we are.”
A 6-foot-2, 197-pound forward, Poole had four goals and 16 points as a 17-year-old in 59 games last season.
“He’s definitely playing a way different role,” Kelowna assistant coach Vernon Fiddler said. “Last year he was in more of our third, fourth line role. This year he’s found a spot on our top two lines, which obviously gives him a little more time in the offensive zone. He’s been creating a lot of chances.”
The coach praised Poole’s size, strength, work ethic, and confidence on the ice this season.
“I feel like he’s come back a little bit stronger and he’s much more confident with the puck,” Fiddler said. “I think he’s been able to hang onto pucks a little longer and let plays develop. He sees the ice well. He’s a big, strong kid. He’s been a good, heavy presence for us in the offensive zone.”
As well as his size and skill, Poole has had an impact on the Rockets with his personality.
“He’s just a really popular guy in the room,” Fiddler said. “Everybody loves him. He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s always willing to work. It doesn’t matter what you ask of him, he is willing to put his head down and work his hardest. He’s a pleasure to work with for our coaches.”
When asked about his success, Poole said that having a year under his belt at the major junior level has helped.
“I’m more mature as a player. Found my way,” he said. “Also, I’ve been playing with some pretty high end, talented players. It’s made my life easy. When the team is having success, individual success usually follows too.”
Last season Poole was named the Rockets’ Scholastic Player of the Year. While Poole succeeded academically, he is pleased to have graduated high school last year and now to be able to firmly focus on hockey.
“Having school, sometimes during a game you’re worried about a test or handing in your homework or something,” Poole said. “I’d say now that I’ve graduated, I can focus more on my game. Pick pieces of video apart … things you wouldn’t normally have time to because you’re doing homework. That’s been very nice.”
What has Poole enjoyed most about this season?
“Just getting back and playing hockey games … We’ve waited basically a year to be playing and obviously our team had COVID … so we were shut down for two weeks. I think everyone is just happy to be back and really excited to play games. I think that’s what has contributed to a lot of our success.”
Before the WHL season started, Poole played two games with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Virden Oil Capitals. Poole, who recorded an assist with the team, enjoyed playing close to home.
“I loved that time. … It was great to get back into playing games for that little bit,” he said. “They were a really good team, so it was easy for me to come in and play. They accepted me well. It is a really good organization.”
Oil Caps head coach Tyson Ramsey said the organization appreciated the opportunity to have a player like Poole.
“Although it was only a few games, it was certainly good for our guys to watch a guy like Jake and what he does on a daily basis to have become the player he is,” Ramsey said. “Jake is a guy that I know has worked extremely hard both in season and during the off season, to get to where he is today. He is a player that makes a huge impact on and off the ice. We wish him nothing but the best in his career moving forward.”
Whether he is playing in Manitoba or in B.C., Poole is appreciative of the backing his parents provide.
“They are always supporting me no matter what. …If I need anything, they are always there. They have sacrificed a lot. Like, Mom and Dad both driving me to practice three times a week (when he played for the Shoal Lake-based Yellowhead Chiefs) … you’re not getting home until 11. Dad used to coach me too growing up. He’s taught me a lot.”