Produced by the Western Hockey League in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
When your father is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion and an Olympic gold medalist while your brother is a first-round selection at the NHL Draft and a gold medalist with Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship, being the best hockey player in the family is no easy feat.
That’s the challenge facing Kelowna Rockets forward Nolan Foote at the moment. Having only recently turned 18-years-old, the youngest Foote is well-aware of his family’s hockey legacy and eager to prove he belongs in the professional ranks. However, there’s still plenty unfinished business in the Foote’s home of Kelowna.
In terms of introductions to the game of hockey, Nolan has had a rich learning experience.
“Being at the rink and being in the NHL locker rooms, seeing how they prepare themselves or get ready for games or take care of themselves and learning from them, and I got to meet a lot of NHLers,” noted Foote. “It was really good.”
Still, experiences like that can only put you on the track to greatness, still requiring plenty of will to make that dream happen, something Foote has done at each stage of his young hockey career.
As an ‘A’-rated prospect by NHL Central Scouting, the pressure of living up to the expectation of a first-round NHL Draft selection isn’t easy, but Foote has proven his worth and thrived within the challenge. It has also helped that Foote was selected by the same organization and in the same spot, 43rd overall, as his brother was taken two years prior. While the responsibility of getting regular work in professional hockey eventually falls on the player, there’s no denying how crucial WHL teams are in helping with that development.
When it comes to the Kelowna Rockets, they can talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to showcasing trophies and a long list of alumni in the NHL.
“He’s one of the players that watches a lot of NHL games and so he’s watching what other players do all the time, which is something I think a lot of guys should do,” noted Rockets General Manager Bruce Hamilton. “He’s a student of the game. He understands it and he wants to learn more all the time.
“He watches what other people do and learns from them. He’s really blossoming into the player we all thought he would be.
While both Cal and Nolan have thrived in their time with the Rockets, Hamilton insists there’s no added pressure from the organization because of their last name and hockey heritage. It’s also not a unique situation to the Rockets, who helped foster the start of Tyson Barrie’s career over 256 WHL regular season games after his father, WHL Alumni Len Barrie, enjoyed a successful professional hockey career.
“I think treating these guys as just who they are, not worrying about what their last name is, is real important,” added Hamilton. “They have enough on their plate because of that as it is. We try not to dwell on that all.”
When it comes to the sport of hockey, Nolan enjoys it at its simplest form in chats with his brother. The pair share a close relationship as siblings and have shared advice, tips, and methods of finding success since ‘day one’ in Foote’s words.
“Seeing Cal get drafted and I was there, being able to watch that was huge for me,” added Foote. “It was a great experience. I’m just looking forward to it and now doing everything I can to be in the same spot as them.”
Foote’s path will lead up to June’s draft and continue into an important year for the Rockets as they prepare to host the 2020 Memorial Cup presented by Kia. After some early-season struggles to begin the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season, the Rockets have atoned for early falters, sitting in a familiar spot near the top of the B.C. Division to begin the unofficial second-half of the season.
“We’re finally getting used to our systems and how we play, getting back to our game plan,” continued Foote. “Things are starting to roll and each night get better and play our systems and know what to do against the opposition.”
Hamilton added that among a group of talented forwards, Foote would be a bigger, stronger leader for the team. Though no family rivalry exists for scoring leaders, a better and faster Nolan Foote playing next season would be able to challenge for the family all-time scoring lead in major junior hockey. Cal holds the mantle at the moment with 163 points compared to 162 for Adam. A big year for Nolan, currently at 107 points, during the Rockets’ run to the Memorial Cup would push him to the top.
“I know he’s really worked hard this summer because he filled out and I think his skating has got better and I think it’s going to get better as he matures as a young man,” noted Hamilton. “He’s still a lean guy. By this time next year, he’ll be 10 or 15 pound heavier and even stronger.
“I think we’re just seeing the early phase of him right now.”