Tonight’s Preview: This is the first of ten meetings between the Rockets and Blazers this season. If you want to throw pre-season games into the mix, these two BC rivals will have played each other 13 times before the regular season ends. Did I mention they last faced one another in an epic seven game opening round playoff series in the 2016 post season? The Rockets won that affair 4 games to 3 with four of the games being decided by a single goal. Last season, the Rockets were 5-2-1-0 in eight regular season meetings against Kamloops, but 7 of those 8 games were again decided by one goal. The Rockets are 29-11-4-0 in the last five seasons against Kamloops including winning 16 of their last 20 regular season games at Prospera Place. Last season the Rockets opened the regular season against Kamloops, winning opening night (4-3) before earning a victory (7-3) a night later in Kamloops. These two teams meet tomorrow night in Kelowna to wrap up a weekend home and home series. The Rockets play 6 of their first 8 games on the road including two games in Prince George next weekend (September 30/October 1st).
What the heck happened? Last season, the Rockets won 48 games and finished this season with 100 points. Only Victoria (106) and Brandon (102) had more points than the Rockets last season. The Rockets scored the 4th most goals in the WHL (269) while allowing the 6th fewest (218). The team advanced all the way to the Western Conference final for a third consecutive season after playoff series wins over Kamloops (7 games) and Victoria (7 games). The team was eliminated by the Seattle Thunderbirds (four straight games) in the Western Conference final. In each of the last two seasons, the Rockets season has ended in overtime. Tyson Baillie led the team in scoring last season with 95 points and was named a 1st team Western Conference all-star. In 2015-16, the Rockets longest winning streak reached five games (twice) with its longest losing streak being two games (four times). The club played in 28-one goal games last season.
Gator-aide: The Kelowna Rockets made a head coaching change at seasons end. After just one year on the job, Brad Ralph parted ways with the team on May 9th. Then on July 6th, Jason Smith was hired as Brad Ralph’s replacement. Smith is the Rockets fourth coach in the last four years. Smith, who retired September 2, 2009, played 16 seasons in the NHL before joining the coaching staff of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, a role Smith has held for the last four seasons’. Smith won a gold medal for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 1993 and was named the WHL Defenceman of the Year that same season.
Winds of Change: The Kelowna Rockets have lost three of their top four scorers from last season. Tyson Baillie (95 pts.), Justin Kirkland (67 pts.) and Cole Linaker (50 pts.) are no longer with the team. There is an outside chance Kirkland could return if he fails to stick with Nashville’s AHL affiliate. Goaltender Jackson Whistle also graduated. Joe Gatenby was traded to Kamloops for Jake Kryski on August 18th. The Rockets return 19 players from last season’s team. The only other change saw Adam Brown join the team as a part time coach. Brown owns the Kelowna Rockets franchise record for games played (200) and saves made (5,079).
Broadcasters Bits: The Rockets were 3 and 2 in five pre-season games. Jake Kryski and Kole Lind led the team in pre-season points with 8 each….Nine members of the Rockets participated in NHL training camps. Tomas Soustal and Gordie Ballhorn earned tryouts with Edmonton and Dallas respectively. Nick Merkley (Arizona), Lucas Johansen (Washington), Dillon Dube (Calgary), Devante Stephens (Buffalo), Calvin Thurkauf (Columbus), Braydyn Chizen (Minnesota) and Justin Kirkland (Nashville) are all drafted players…The Rockets received an honourable mention in this week’s CHL Top 10 pre-season rankings.
Player total: 24
Year by Year Breakdown:
20’s – 3 Stadel, Herringer, Southam
19’s – 8 Johansen, Merkley, Soustal, Stephens, Wishnowski, Coughlin, Thurkauf, Ballhorn
18’s – 6 Dube, Kryski, Lind, Borstmayer, Chizen, Salmond,
17’s - 5 C. Foote, Topping, Bruggen-Cate, Cowell, Smart
16’s – 2 N. Foote, Belcourt
Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150