Down on the farm’ is a bi-weekly feature series on Oil Caps prospects. Next up in this series: Bray Rookes. Enjoy.
By Lanny Stewart
Bray Rookes believes he’s got a pretty good understanding of what it’s going to take to make the Oil Caps roster in the future after his training camp stint with the club last fall.
“It was a great opportunity to get a taste of the next level,” said Rookes, a first round pick (fifth overall) by the Oil Caps in the 2017 MJHL Bantam Draft, who wound up impressing management with his performance, which included a goal against the Dauphin Kings in preseason action. “Now I have an idea of where my game needs to be to play for the Oil Caps.”
At 16 years of age and currently listed at 6-feet and 202 pounds, Rookes is described by those who know him as a steady, dependable blueliner and he’s showcasing that ability with his current club in Yellowhead with the AAA midget Chiefs. Now in his second season, Rookes is really coming into his own, displaying a blend of defensive prowess, along with an offensive side to his game as well as he currently has five goals and 27 points in 38 games (as of Feb. 6). Rookes and the Chiefs are currently in a dead heat with the Winnipeg Wild for first place in the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League standings (Chiefs currently sit second, only two points behind the Wild).
“Bray has really improved his defensive play and he’s done a real good job of keeping players to the outside,” said Chiefs head coach Chad Facey. “Bray’s skating has also really improved over the years that I’ve worked with him. He really is a competitor; he battles hard every night and is a focused individual that seems to enjoy being at the rink.”
Born and raised on a family farm in Manson, located just outside of Elkhorn, Rookes’ roots lie right in the heart of southwestern Manitoba – and because of that, he has ties to the Oil Caps organization as the defenceman has played against the likes of current Oil Caps Tristan Thompson, Riley Wallace and Logan Rands.
“He’s a steady defenceman that makes a good first pass and he plays the game the right way,” said Thompson, who played against Rookes last season as a member of the Wild. “I’m excited to see him bring this to the junior hockey level.”
Jamie Hodson, director of business and hockey operations for the Oil Capitals, agrees with Thompsons’ sentiments.
“He’s got a solid frame and core and he’s hard to move off the puck,” Hodson said. “He’s got a lower centre of balance that makes it difficult for forwards to get by him and he’s physical in front of the net with clearing the crease. Offensively, he’s got some gifts there as well. He’s got a good shot, he plays on the power play at times, so he could potentially be a big part of our PP as well. We feel with a good summer of training and going into next season, it’s only going to get that much better for him.”
Hodson also touched on Rookes’ overall makeup, adding that he comes from a quality hockey family background – and that it’s already benefitting the Oil Caps organization.
“Knowing the family, Bray is a real character kid. He’s a guy that players will look up to when he’s here even as a young guy. He’s a calming influence in the dressing room and a very positive guy. That’s certainly an additional trait off the ice that we’re going to relish.”
Meanwhile, Troy Leslie, Oil Caps head coach and GM, liked what he saw from Rookes in camp and his overall progress he’s made since the club drafted him.
“He’s one of those guys who is going to settle in and be a really good solid defenceman in our league,” Leslie said. “From all accounts, he leads by example. He’s a quiet leader but at the same time, I think he just tries to do the right things both on and off the ice.”
Leslie believes Rookes will have an opportunity to crack the roster next year.
“It’s going to be one of those things where we’re going to have a few returning defencemen but we’re certainly going to need some guys incoming and Bray should be right there in the mix.”
‘A hockey-rich family’
Hockey has always been a big part of Rookes’ life while growing up with his parents Michael and Leanne and his brothers Cody and Kurt.
Rookes’ father played AAA midget with the Chiefs alongside uncle and former Oil Caps management executive Chad Leslie (Troy Leslie also his uncle), in the early 90s. Rookes and Leslie helped the Chiefs win the 1994 AAA midget league title. He also has cousins who have played in the Western Hockey League.
“I come from a hockey-rich family on both sides. Growing up I played mini-sticks with my brothers and skated at Manson whenever I got the chance,” Rookes said.
A scout’s take
“Bray is a big body on the back end that is extremely hard to play against,” said Oil Caps head scout Brian Elder. “There is a bit of old school in him that we really like. You will know when you are out there against him. He plays a good one-on-one and has a heavy shot from the point. He’s a terrific kid and is a leader.”
Tidbits on Rookes . . .
-A highlight of Rookes’ life was him taking in an Edmonton Oilers prospects camp in Jasper, Alta. while on a family vacation to the mountains.
-In his downtime, he likes to work on the farm, golf, play baseball and hangout with friends. “I can see myself one day pursuing agriculture as a career.”
-Next year, he’s striving to play for the Oil Caps and then, if the opportunity arises, play college hockey.