WHL NOTEBOOK: Poole thrives on Royal road
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Jake Poole wouldn’t recommend an experience he had in early October.
The 20-year-old forward from McAuley was traded by the Kelowna Rockets to the Victoria Royals on Oct. 4. A day later, he was in the Royals lineup as they met the Rockets in Kelowna’s Prospera Place.
“It was too weird to play them right at the start,” Poole said. “It didn’t feel right, it felt a little weird. It was a tough game to play emotionally too, being with the Kelowna guys for the day and shedding a couple of tears. It was a pretty sad day, and then the next day I’m excited to be with a new team but then look over at the other side and it’s the guys you were just playing with the day before.”
Poole spoke to Kelowna head coach Kris Mallette during the summer and had the sense he might be staying as one of the three Rockets overagers, but after suiting up for the team’s first two games, he was a healthy scratch on Oct. 1.
That’s when he figured the writing was on the wall, but it didn’t make the trade news any easier to take.
“It was pretty hard,” the six-foot-two, 197-pound Poole said. “Some of the guys I had been with for four years and I was close with a bunch of those guys. Leaving them was tough but I was excited to come to Victoria. I knew I would get a second chance and a new start, and that was pretty huge for me.”
The Royals are unlikely to have acquired more for less in their recent trade history.
They sent an eighth-round pick in 2024 to Kelowna for Poole, who had a goal and an assist in two games with the Rockets to start the season.
Poole said it didn’t take long for him to fit in on Vancouver Island.
“I was pretty quiet the first couple of days but the guys in Victoria are social butterflies too so they talked to me and it felt like family pretty early after I got here,” Poole said. “It’s been awesome. The guys have been super welcoming and helped me to fit in real well.”
A common refrain for overagers is they are expected to provide leadership as any team’s oldest players. Poole admitted there was an awkward time when he didn’t feel he could pipe up as he got a read on the new dressing room and they got to know him.
But that quickly passed, in part because the Royals were facing an epidemic of injuries at the time.
“It took me two or three games and then I started to feel like myself in the room,” Poole said. “I started to use my voice. When I got traded here, they were kind of expecting me to go into a leadership role and I was ready for it, being a 20-year-old and one of the oldest guys in the room. I’m a leader to start with, so it wasn’t too hard to be a leader when I got traded here.”
It also didn’t hurt that his offence returned in a big way.
The right-handed shooting Poole came up through the Yellowhead Chiefs system, playing two years at both the under-15 and U18 levels. In his final U18 season, 2018-19, he exploded for 40 goals and 41 assists in 48 games to finish fifth in league scoring and was named to the Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League’s first all-star team.
He debuted in the WHL in his 17-year-old season, 2019-20, as the Rockets prepared to host the Memorial Cup. He picked up 16 points in 59 games and Kelowna was 32-14-1-3 and second in the B.C. Division when the season was paused and eventually cancelled.
In 124 games over parts of four seasons with the Rockets, he posted 21 goals and 38 assists, with 32 points in 48 games in the 2021-2022 campaign.
Poole’s career numbers might be a fair bit higher if it wasn’t for an unexpected medical emergency a year ago. He earned a career-high five points in a game against Victoria on Jan. 15, and had the winning goal on Jan. 29 in a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Giants.
On Feb. 1, however, he had his appendix removed, and didn’t see action again until March 4. In his final 19 games, he posted just six points after putting up 26 in his first 29 games.
“In my bantam and midget days I was always kind of a numbers guy,” Poole said. “I think being in the WHL, my first two years were pretty hard and last year I started to play well and then my appendix had other plans. I’ve recovered from that and now having a second chance and a different team really helped, having a fresh start and fresh mind coming to a new team.”
After posting the two points in two games in Kelowna to start this season, Poole weathered a three-game drought without a point after joining Victoria. He’s been remarkably consistent since, contributing career highs of 25 goals and 26 assists in 43 games with the Royals.
His return to form after a non-hockey-related injury has made his offensive explosion that much nicer. He linked his success to a combination of things.
“I think the biggest thing is confidence,” Poole said. “I kind of lacked that a bit in Kelowna. Once I got here, being one of the top guys on the team and being relied upon gives you that extra confidence, and then you put up a couple of points and your confidence gets even higher.
“And obviously being an older guy on the team, you’ve been in the league for a while and kind of know what to expect, and I’ve played a lot against B.C. Division teams so I know what to expect. It’s good to have that experience but confidence is the biggest part.”
He’s currently tied for 23rd in league scoring with 53 points and his 26 goals have him in a tie for 11th place.
With Victoria’s injuries, he’s played with a rotating cast of characters, but he’s skated the most with 18-year-old Brayden Schuurman and overager Alex Thacker, the former Lethbridge Hurricane. He’s also played with 19-year-olds Matthew Hodson and Teague Patton.
One of the young players who is helping Poole and the Royals is former Wheat Kings forward Teydon Trembecky, who was part of a huge deal on Nov. 24 that brought forward Tony Wilson and defenceman Luke Shipley to Brandon.
In 25 games with Victoria, Trembecky has six goals and seven assists after earning a single assist in 19 games in Brandon.
“He’s a great guy,” Poole said. “We love him here. He’s a great guy and a social butterfly himself. Obviously I think his confidence is starting to show here in Victoria. He’s starting to score some goals and you can see how skilled he is as a forward and an offensive playmaker and he has a great shot. “He’s been a great addition for us.”
It’s been an up-and-down year for the Royals, with an avalanche of injuries and a number of players asking for trades. They are 14-28-4-1, but after a 5-4-1-0 stretch, have pulled into a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference with Kelowna.
“We have a good team, but with all the injuries, nobody is ever in the lineup,” Poole said. “It feels like every time we get a guy back, another guy goes down. We’re still missing (19-year-old defenceman Gannon) Laroque and Schuurman, two of our top players, so it’s tough to play without them.
“We’re still finding our way here. If we can make the playoffs it will be a different story for our team. There hasn’t been much success in the win column in recent years but we’re working on changing that this year.”
It’s not a bad legacy to potentially leave behind.
With just 21 regular season games remaining in Victoria’s season, Poole is acutely aware his junior career is winding down. Still, he’s postponing any decisions on whether to go to school or play pro next season until this one is over, although he admits it’s on his mind.
“I’d be lying if I said it’s not,” Poole said. “It’s on every 20-year-old’s mind at this time of year and throughout the whole year. Right now I’m just trying to focus on this year and have the best season I can. Pro hockey would be my number one option right now and school would be plan B.
“Sometimes you have to think it — obviously when you have schools calling you, it’s hard not to think about it — but you just have to take it day by day. Things will work out eventually after the season so I’m not worried about where I’m going to play next year.”
In the meantime, the kid from McAuley who had the chance to live and play hockey in Kelowna and Victoria isn’t taking anything for granted.
“It’s pretty tough to reflect on it when you’re still playing here and enjoy it but my parents (Dana and Robin) just came out to Victoria and were like ‘You have to check out all these places, you don’t know how lucky you are,’” Poole said. “Obviously they came from -40 in Manitoba and you come out here and there’s no snow on the ground and it’s plus one.
“I’m going to remember Victoria and Kelowna. They’re two great places to live and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
THIS AND THAT
• QUIZ — Since Brandon joined the WHL for the 1967-68 season, how many times have they been to the Memorial Cup? What years did they win the most games? How did they get in each time?
• WEEKLY AWARDS — Portland Winterhawks forward Chaz Lucius was named WHL player of the week for the week after the Winnipeg Jets prospect had four goals and seven assists in four games. The 19-year-old product of Lawrence, Kansas, who was reassigned to Portland by Winnipeg on Jan. 9, has 15 points in his first six games after spending most of the season with the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose. In net, Tri-City Americans goaltender Tomas Suchanek was named goaltender of the week after winning his three starts with a 1.67 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.
• SIN BIN — On Saturday, Craig Armstrong of the Red Deer Rebels was given a one-game suspension for a slew footing double minor against the Saskatoon Blades on Friday, and Andrew Petruk of the Everett Silvertips was given three games for a charging major and game misconduct against the Tri-City Americans on Friday.
• ALUMNI GLANCE — In his debut season in professional hockey, Jake Poole’s former Yellowhead teammate Chad Nychuk is skating with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings. The Rossburn product has four goals, 17 assists and 10 penalty minutes in 36 games, and participated in the ECHL’s all-star festivities on Jan. 16. Nychuk, who was listed by Brandon, played 206 career WHL games — including three as a 16-year-old in 2017-18 — and posted 141 points over four full seasons between 2018 and 2022. As an overager in 2021-22, he led all WHL defencemen with 21 goals and posted 71 points overall, earning a spot on the East Division second all-star team last April.
• THE WEEK AHEAD — Former Wheat Kings forward Jake Chiasson makes his return to Brandon tonight with Saskatoon. On Friday, the Winnipeg Ice skate into Westoba Place at 7 p.m., and the Wheat Kings visit Saskatoon on Sunday at 4 p.m.
• ANSWER — Brandon has been to the Memorial Cup five times in the modern era. They won the league in 1979, went 2-2 in the round-robin of what was then a three-team tournament, and lost 2-1 in overtime to the Peterborough Petes in the final in Montreal.
In 1995, a team including current head coach and general manager Marty Murray made it to the league final to meet the Memorial Cup host Kamloops Blazers, thereby earning a spot in the event as the WHL representative. The Wheat Kings lost in the league final, and then went 1-2 in the round-robin at the Memorial Cup, and lost 2-1 to the Detroit Junior Red Wings in the semifinal.
Brandon returned in 1996 after winning the WHL title, going 2-1 in the round-robin, and then falling 4-3 to the host Peterborough Petes in the semifinal.
In 2010, Brandon hosted the event. They went 1-2 in the round-robin, topped the WHL champion Calgary Hitmen 5-4 in overtime in the semifinal on a goal by Jay Fehr, and then were crushed 9-1 by Taylor Hall and the Windsor Spitfires in the final.
In 2016, they won the league title and then lost all three round-robin games and were eliminated following a 2-1 overtime loss to the host Red Deer Rebels.