Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open their 20th season in the Okanagan when they welcome the Kamloops Blazers. The team came to Kelowna in time for the start of the 1995-96 campaign after four short seasons (1991-1994) in Tacoma Washington. The Rockets are entering their 24th season in the WHL and will celebrate its silver anniversary in 2015-2016. This is the first of 10 meetings between the Rockets and Blazers this season. The Rockets visit the Blazers on October 15th. After playing the Blazers twice in the first 9 games, the two teams won’t see each other until December 27th. Last season the Rockets were 8-0-0-0 vs. their BC Division rivals, out-scoring Kamloops 38-15. The Blazers last win in Kelowna was February 16/2013 in a 3-1 victory. Following tonight’s game the Rockets are on the road where they will face the Prince George Cougars in back-to-back games next Friday and Saturday night. The Rockets next home game following this evenings contest is Wednesday October 1st against the Vancouver Giants.
Banner Raiser: The Kelowna Rockets raise two banners high to the rafters at Prospera Place this evening. The team won the Western Conference regular season title with 118 points last season, which was five points better than the Portland Winterhawks. It is the Rockets first WHL regular season banner since 2003-2004. The team also won the BC Division title last season with an 18 point advantage over the Victoria Royals. It is the third BC Division banner in four years. The team has won BC Division banners in 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.
Rockets Review: The Rockets set franchise records for wins (57) points (118) and road wins (29) last season. The teams overall record was 57-11-4-0. The club was able to score 310 goals which was one of only two teams to accomplish that feat. The Rockets were 28-4-0-0 on home ice. After a successful regular season, the Rockets eliminated the Tri City Americans in five games in round one before dispatching of Seattle in four games in round two. In the Western Conference final against Portland, the Rockets were eliminated in five games. Myles Bell led the team in goals (42) and points (77) while Damon Severson led the team in assists (46). Madison Bowey set a new team record for goals by a defenceman (21). Cole Martin led the WHL in +/- with a plus 61.
Back for More: The Rockets return 18 players from last year’s team. Captain Madison Bowey anchors the blue line while Justin Kirkland, Nick Merkley, Tyson Baillie and Rourke Chartier return to put the puck in the net. The team does lose its top three point getters in Bell (77), Ryan Olsen (64) and Damon Severson (61). Marek Tvrdon also graduated after a deadline deal in January. Jordon Cooke is now attending the U of S and will play with the Huskies. Jackson Whistle returns after playing a back-up role to the CHL goalie of the year. Whistle played in 22 games last season and won 18 times. Tyrell Goulbourne, Colton Heffley, Cole Martin and Carter Rigby are fighting for three overage spots.
This and That: Dan Lambert was named the head coach of the Rockets after Ryan Huska resigned June 23rd to take the head coaching job with the Adirondack Flames of the American Hockey League….Lambert has two new assistant coaches. Kris Mallette, a former Rockets defenceman, joins Lambert behind the bench after spending last season as an associate coach with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. Travis Crickard is the team’s new goaltending coach after Kim Dillabaugh took a full time job with the NHL’s LA Kings. Crickard has coaching experience with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s…Kris Mallette played two seasons with the Rockets from 1996-1998 before being traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors….The Rockets had two players drafted this summer by an NHL team. Justin Kirkland was taken by Nashville (3rd rd). Rourke Chartier was selected by San Jose (5th rd.)…Jackson Whistle attended the Vancouver Canucks Young-Stars Classic in Penticton on a tryout and played in one game with the Canucks….Tyson Baillie and second year defenceman Dalton Yorke earned tryouts with the San Jose Sharks….The Rockets have won 50 or more games in back-to-back seasons….The Rockets are rated as the 5th best team in the CHL Top 10 rankings which were released prior to the start of the season…Cole Martin is a +108 in the last two seasons…The Rockets won last season’s home opener with a 5-2 win over the Blazers…Last season the Rockets first game was on the road – @ Kamloops – in a 5-2 victory…This is the third straight season that the team opens the regular season against the Blazers…Dillon Dube (born 1998) is the only 16 year-old on the roster. Rookie Lucas Johansen is still 16, but turns 17 November 16th…Johansen is the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets and former Portland Winterhawks forward Ryan Johansen…Dan Lambert earned his first WHL victory behind the bench December 14, 2011, in Regina, in a overtime victory over the Pats. Ryan Huska was away at the World Junior Hockey Championships where he was an assistant coach…Lambert also coached three games in January of last season when Ryan Huska’s father fell ill.
New Faces: Devante Stephens is a 17 year-old defenceman who was listed by the team. Stephens, from White Rock, played last season with the BCMMHL’s Valley West Hawks. Dillon Dube was the Rockets first round pick in 2013 and played last season with the Notre Dame Argos of the Saskatchewan Major Midget Hockey League. Jake Morrissey is a 17 year-old goaltender from Calgary. Morrissey will back-up Jackson Whistle this season. Tomas Soustal is a 17 year-old Czech Republic native who was picked in this summer’s CHL Import Draft. Lucas Johansen is a 6th round pick of the Rockets from 2012. Tanner Wishnowski is a listed player who was a member of the BCMMHL champion Okanagan Rockets last season. Tate Coughlin was a listed player who scored 25 goals with the Peninsula Panthers last season.