It’s down to a matter of days. Kelowna Rockets fans will welcome back their team Saturday night when the Rockets open the season against the Spokane Chiefs.
It’s been an eventful off-season since the Rockets were knocked out of playoff contention last March in a tiebreaker game to the Kamloops Blazers. Trades, drafts, NHL camps and the Memorial Cup enveloped both the Rockets players and management.
Now, the start of the season is knocking on the doors of Prospera Place.
“No more radical changes for us,” said general manager Bruce Hamilton.
“We’re going to be fine when the season starts, there will be some fine-tuning. The big thing will be to get off on the right foot and we’re excited to get going.”
The pre-season wrapped up this weekend for the WHL and through the almost three weeks of exhibition games, the Rockets have been able to see how the young prospects look and how the returning players will best fit into the lineup.
Several Kelowna players have been busy with NHL camps including Nolan Foote in Tampa Bay and Kaedan Korczak in Las Vegas. Newly acquired players Sean Comrie and Dillon Hamaliuk will also soon return to make their Rockets debuts after being traded for at the WHL draft in May.
Hamilton said he’s excited to see the new players but has been impressed with the young prospects looking to potentially crack this year’s rosters.
“During the pre-season, we got to look at the young guys we wanted to get looks at. It gives us an understanding of where we’re going to be, come next season,” he said.
Hamilton noted that he’s liked what he’s seen from young stars Trevor Wong, Elias Carmichael, Jackson DeSouza and Vernon’s Steel Quiring.
With the strength and depth of this years’ Memorial Cup Rockets roster, the young guns may not get as much ice time as desired, but Hamilton notes that all will be exceptional for the team’s future.
The start of the season on Saturday also kicks off the race for the Memorial Cup, which Kelowna will host next May.
It’s been 15 years since Kelowna last hosted the cup and four years since the Rockets last played in the CHL championships. The Rockets management and coaching staff are beginning to feel the buzz around the city and the team ahead of the Memorial Cup’s return to the Okanagan.
“The city is starting to build up and the Memorial Cup committee is finishing up all the events and the planning has gone well,” said Hamilton.
As for the players, be they returning from camps or finishing the WHL pre-season, one of their biggest seasons of their junior hockey careers is about to kick off.
“Our coaches have been through enough to know how this is all going to work out, and from their coaching perspective, (the players) are anxious to get back on the ice and start the season.”
Season tickets are still available, which also gives fans the chance at the first available Memorial Cup tickets.
The Rockets open the season Saturday night against Spokane at 7 p.m.
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