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Santa Rosa native, Jr. Sharks product Rickert finds hockey home in New Jersey with NCDC’s Rockets

 

Rickert

Mitchell Rickert knows he’ll never be the most famous product of Santa Rosa.

He’s OK with that.

It’s hard to compete with a smart and imaginative beagle … or that boy in the yellow shirt with a zigzag stripe, for that matter.

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Yes, the “Peanuts” comic strip may be Santa Rosa’s world-famous export, but the New Jersey Rockets are happy with their Santa Rosa connection. Rickert has been a catalyst – especially in the defensive end – for the Rockets’ epic turnaround year in the tuition-free junior National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC).

“I think it’s going great, we’re winning games, and I think the biggest thing is that the coaches Jason Kilcoyne and Jason Franzone are trying to create a culture change,” said Rickert, who grew up skating at Snoopy’s Home Ice, originally owned by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. “That culture change has really been resonating with the Rockets team and with the guys. We have to have a mindset of winning and working hard. It’s just a good culture to have and it’s helped me a lot to improve.”

Rickert, a 2000-born forward, has played in 15 games as a two-way forward and penalty killer.

“‘I try to get the puck out of our zone and make things happen on the forecheck,” Rickert added. “I like that role and try to focus on the little things to be successful.”

The pressure was on the Rockets this year, however, after posting just 14 points in 54 games in 2017-18. They jumped out to a 10-2 start in 2018-19 but have cooled a bit since then. They were just 4-5-1-0 in their last 10 games heading into the Dec. 12 game against the NCDC league-leading New Jersey Hitmen, the Rockets’ Garden State rivals.

Rickert joined the Rockets after a former Omaha AAA teammate connected him with Franzone, who invited Rickert to the Rockets’ main tryout camp last summer. He earned himself a spot as the quest for a rebirth began.

“It’s all about focusing on the hockey – there’s a lot of stuff going on around you and you just have to focus on the game, focus on every shift to the best of your ability,” Rickert said. “Focus on that and not what you can’t control.”

Rickert is a first-generation Californian, the son of a father who grew up in Chelmsford, Mass. (home of NHL star Jack Eichel), and eventually migrated west, taking his love for hockey with him.

“My dad got into hockey through the whole Bobby Orr craze,” said Rickert. “Right away, I liked the speed of the game, how you’re always moving and there’s a good flow to the game.”

Rickert felt lucky to have the Santa Rosa Flyers travel hockey organization right in town. He stayed with the Flyers right into Pee Wee years.

From there, he wanted a bigger challenge, and joined the San Jose Jr. Sharks, where he remained for most of his next five years.

“It was just a really good group of guys,” Rickert said. “A lot of the teammates I played with at Pee Wees were still there when I played 14s and 15s. We were a really close team.”

Unfortunately, driving two hours each way for practices and games began taking its toll on Rickert and his mother, who was often at the wheel for these long commutes to San Jose.

When Rickert faced his 16U season, the family made a decision to send him east and into a billet situation, and he played that 2017-18 season with Omaha before joining New Jersey this season.

There’s a lot of hockey still to be played this season, and Rickert is soaking in every opportunity to jump over the boards and help his Rockets team.

Hey, you have one good hockey player there, Charlie Brown.

Learn more about the USPHL at USPHL.com!

— Joshua Boyd/USPHL.com

(Dec. 31, 2018)