|Cal Foote makes WHL debut Friday|
Tonight’s Preview: The Rockets organization opens their 25th season in the Western Hockey League tonight when they welcome the visiting Kamloops Blazers. Before tonight’s game, the team will raise a Western Hockey League championship banner to the rafters at Prospera Place after eliminating the Brandon Wheat Kings in four games in last season’s league final. This is the fourth straight season the Rockets have opened at home against the Blazers. Back on September 20, 2014 the Rockets earned a 6-1 win before a crowd of 5 thousand 325. Tyson Baillie and Kris Schmidli each had a goal and two assists in the win. This is the first of eight meetings between these two teams this season. They renew acquaintances tomorrow night at the newly named Sandman Centre. Last season the Rockets were 9-1-0-0 against their BC Division rivals, who along with the Vancouver Giants, failed to make the playoffs in 2014-2015. The Rockets have a busy weekend ahead of them with three games in three nights. The Rockets are in Kamloops tomorrow before facing the Giants in Vancouver Sunday. The defending WHL champions play eight of their first 11 games on the road.
Banner Raiser: The Kelowna Rockets raise two new banners before tonight’s game after winning the BC Division with 112 points and capturing the WHL title with a series sweep over the regular season champion Brandon Wheat Kings. It is the Rockets fourth WHL championship banner after winning the league crown in 2003 (vs. Red Deer), 2005 (vs. Brandon), 2009 (vs. Calgary) and 2015 (vs. Brandon). The BC Division title is the teams sixth, after earning 30 more points than the Victoria Royals, the BC Divisions second place team last season. The Rockets also won the BC Division in 2013-2014, 2012-2013, 2010-2011, 2003-2004 and 2002-2003.
New Kids on the Block: The Kelowna Rockets named 34 year-old Brad Ralph as the head coach on August fourth. Ralph took over from Dan Lambert, who resigned at seasons end to take an assistant coaching position with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Ralph is the ninth head coach in Rockets franchise history after leaving the Idaho Steelheads after three seasons in the ECHL. On defense, the team welcomes 16 year-old Cal Foote, the son of former NHL’er Adam Foote. Foote was the team’s second round bantam pick in 2013 and his younger brother Nolan was the Rockets second round pick in this past May’s draft. The Rockets selected 18 year-old Swiss forward Calvin Turkauf in this summer’s CHL Import draft. Other new faces include rookies Danny Gatenby (Joe’s younger brother) and 18 year-old Gordie Ballhorn, who played last season with the AJHL’s Whitecourt Wolverines.
Significant off-season losses: Winning a WHL title with an older team means the hockey club lost seven players and a coach following an appearance in the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City. Moving on to pro hockey are Leon Draisaitl, Josh Morrissey, Cole Martin, Chance Braid, Tyrell Goulbourne and Captain Madison Bowey. Defenceman Mitch Wheaton was traded to the Saskatoon Blades in the off season and head coach Dan Lambert resigned July 6th to take a job in the NHL.
My memory is good, just short: For a third straight season the Rockets won 50+ games. With a record of 53-13-5-1, the team accumulated 112 points, two fewer than the regular season champion Brandon Wheat Kings. The Rockets won 26 times on home ice and a league high 27 times on the road. The Rockets were one of only two teams to score 300 or more goals (305) with Brandon leading the way with 340. Lost in the team’s successes last season was allowing a league low 183 goals against. Everett was next at 199. The team eliminated Tri City in round one, Victoria in round two and Portland in the Western Conference final. They quickly dispatched Brandon in the WHL final in four games.
Is a repeat in the cards? The Rockets return their top three point producers from last season. Nick Merkley (90 pts), Rourke Chartier (82 pts), and Tyson Baillie (76 pts) are all back with the team. Merkley was taken in the first round of this summer’s NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes while he and fellow teammate Chartier both attended Team Canada’s summer camp for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships. Baillie received a free agent tryout with the NHL’s Calgary Flames. Jackson Whistle, who played in 50 regular season games and posted a goals against average of 2.55, is back for his 20 year-old season. Whistle suited up for the Vancouver Canucks for a second consecutive season in the Young Stars Classic in Penticton. The hockey club returns 15 players from last season’s championship squad.
This and That: The Rockets had two players taken in the NHL draft. Nick Merkley was taken in the first round by Arizona. Devante Stephens was chosen in the 5th round by Buffalo…Cole Linaker (Oilers), Tomas Soustal (Flames) and Tyson Baillie (Flames) all received free agent tryouts…Dillon Dube (3+3=6) and Kole Lind (1+5=6) led the team in pre-season scoring…The Rockets were 3-2-0-0 in five games during the pre-season…The CHL Top 10 rankings have the Rockets as the fourth best team in the nation heading into the season. Last year before the puck was dropped the Rockets were ranked fifth….The team’s first ever goal in Kelowna was scored by Brett McLean in the fall of 1995…The Rockets have won the last three home openers against the Blazers. Last season the score was 6-1 and the year prior it was a 5-2 victory…This is the fourth straight season the Rockets open the season against the Blazers…The team plays three games in three nights four times this season but twice in the first two weekends…In the last three seasons, the Rockets have a combined regular season record of 162-40-8-6 in 216 games. Portland is next with a mark of 154-48-5-9 over that same period.