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Game Day Preview: The Kelowna Rockets face the Kamloops Blazers to open the 2018-2019 Western Hockey League regular season. This is the 7th straight season the Rockets have met the Blazers in the opening game. The Rockets are 4-1-1-0 in those six previous meetings. The last time the Rockets opened against another opponent was in 2011-2012 when they visited the Everett Silvertips to begin what was then a 72 game schedule. This season we play 68 games falling in line with the OHL and the QMJHL. These two teams face each other at Prospera Place tomorrow night before meeting again December 28th and 29th in another home-and-home series. The Rockets were 8-0-0-0 against the Blazers last season and is an impressive 26-9-1-0 in the last 36 meetings between these two teams.
Rockets Review: The Kelowna Rockets are defending BC Division champions. The team won 43 games last season (6th consecutive season of 40+ wins) and earned 93 points, 9 more than second place Victoria. The team scored 280 goals, the 5th most in the WHL and third most in the Western Conference behind Victoria and Spokane. The team tied for 8th in fewest goals allowed and earned a Western Conference high 26 home ice wins. Only Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Brandon won more times at home. With 79 power play goals, the Rockets had the third most with the extra man behind only Victoria and Swift Current. The Rockets also scored 17 shorthanded goals, tied with Moose Jaw and Brandon for the league lead.
Who’s Gone: The Rockets lose their top four point producers in Kole Lind, Dillon Dube, Carsen Twarynski and Cal Foote. That is over 300 points missing from the 2018-2019 roster. Also graduating was 20 year-old’s James Hilsendager and Gordie Ballhorn. Goaltender Brodan Salmond was claimed off waivers in the summer by Moose Jaw while Czech born forward Marek Skrvne was released. In total, 8 player from last year’s team are not with the hockey club. Kole Lind was the leading scorer while Cal Foote was named the Defenceman of the Year.
New Faces: The team welcomes three rookies back on the defensive core. Listed player Devin Steffler is joined by Finnish born blueliner Lassi Thomson (Turns 18 on Monday). Both are 18 year-old defenders. Joining those two is 17 year-old Cayde Augustine (turns 17 October 5th). Up front, the team has added 16 year-old Ethan Ernst (3rd round pick in 2017), 17 year-old Kyle Crosbie (8th round pick in 2016),and acquired 20 year-old Ryan Bowen via trade with the Lethbridge Hurricanes last season. The team also obtained the playing rights to Mark Liwiski, a third round bantam pick of the Tips from 2016.
Broadcasters Notebook: The team failed to have a player drafted in the 2018 NHL draft. Forward Kyle Topping attended San Jose Sharks rookie camp on a free agent tryout….Second year defenceman Kaedan Korczak won a gold medal for Canada at the first ever Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in Edmonton in August…Head Coach Jason Smith returns for his third season at the helm. Both assistant Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard enter their 5th seasons in the WHL….The Rockets play seven straight games to start the season against teams in the BC Division….The team is in Prince George for back to back games next weekend and host them this Wednesday at Prospera Place….The Rockets are in their 24th season in the Okanagan after relocating from Tacoma for the start of the 1995-1996 season…The Rockets have made the playoffs 11 consecutive seasons…The team has averaged 104 points in the last 6 seasons including a franchise high 118 in the 2013-2014 campaign when the hockey club lost only 11 times…The Rockets currently have 14 alumni playing in the NHL. That list includes Colton Sissons (Nashville), Josh Morrissey and Tyler Myers (Winnipeg), Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton), Damon Severson (New Jersey), Alex Edler (Vancouver), Shea Weber (Montreal), Mikael Backlund ( Calgary), Tyson Barrie (Colorado), Jamie Benn and Blake Comeau (Dallas), Madison Bowey (Washington), Luke Schenn (Anaheim) and Duncan Keith (Chicago)…Crickard spent the summer as an assistant coach and interm GM for the Botany Swarm of the New Zealand Ice Hockey League. The Swarm play from late April to early August.
Player total: 24
Year by Year Breakdown:
20’s (1998) – 2 Chizen, Bowen
19’s (1999) - 5 Topping, Mattson, Gardiner, Bruggen-Cate, Cowell
18’s (2000) - 10 Brennan, Porter, Foote, Zabransky, Kindree, Brennan, Kushniryk, Pow, Hair, Steffler,
17’s (2001) - 6 Korczak, Crosbie, Basran, Liwiski, Wilton, Augustine
16’s (2002) - 1 Ernst
Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150