KELOWNA – If many people are surprised to see Tyson Baillie leading the Western Hockey League in scoring this season, Lorne Frey is not among them.
The Kelowna Rockets’ assistant GM and director of player personnel said the 20-year-old centre is simply doing what the club expected of him in his final season of major junior hockey.
“We projected a couple of years ago, that if he was still here as a 20-year-old, he’d be right up there with the top guys in the league,” said Frey. “(Tyson’s) always been a scorer, he’s been in the league a long time, and he’s just gotten better every year. I don’t think a lot of us with the team are surprised at all.”
Through the Rockets first 37 games this season, Baillie leads the league with 61 points on 24 goals and 37 assists.
For Baillie’s part, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound forward expects nothing less of himself in his last tour of duty in the WHL.
“I felt like I could do this,” said Baillie, the 53rd overall pick in the 2010 Bantam Draft. “As a fifth-year guy, a 20-year-old, I think a lot was excepted of me, but more of it comes from what I expect of myself. I expected to be a leader and I’ve tried to live up to that.”
Because of what’s perceived as his less-than-fluid skating style, the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. product has had his share of detractors over the years.
But the doubts of others has only served as extra impetus for Baillie to succeed.
“There have always been naysayers and there still are, but that’s what drives me and motivates me,” he said. “I feel like I have a passion for the game, a passion to score goals and to win, so I think that’s what the keys are for me.”
Frey said Baillie has worked hard at improving his skating abilities over the years and more than holds his own against other top players in the league. Any deficiencies Baillie may lack, Frey said he more than compensates with work ethic, skill and hockey sense.
“The thing he has always brought and still does, is work ethic,” said Frey. “He works hard and he has a good skill level to go along with that. He has a great shot, great alertness, and the puck just seems to follow him around. He’s always been a big-time scorer and he’s had a great run and great career with us.”
While there is still half a season remaining and much can happen in the interim, Baillie is on pace to become the first Rockets player ever to win a WHL scoring title.
Jesse Schultz, in 2003, and Colin Long, in 2009, both came close but settled for second best each time.
“There’s a long way to go, but right now it’s pretty cool to be on top of the league in scoring. A lot of great players have been there. A lot of great players have come through with the Rockets, so to become the first for our team would be a huge honour.”
Baillie is the sixth all-time scorer in the history of the Rockets franchise — dating back to Tacoma — with 276 points.
The over-age centre is also well known for being a clutch performer, having delivered more than a few big goals during his career, including five game winners in last season’s playoff run. It’s a role Baillie thrives on.
“I always like a good challenge, I like when the pressure is on me to perform,” he said. “The big game situations, when the game’s on the line, it doesn’t make me nervous, it just makes me want to be the go-to guy.”
With several players absent — three due to the world junior hockey championship — Baillie has been very much the Rockets’ go-to guy of late.
Prior to Wednesday’s contest with Everett, Baillie had six goals and 10 points his last six games.