Ex-Rocket trio named to play for Canada in Sochi
Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Jamie Benn were all among the best players ever to wear a Kelowna Rockets' uniform.
Next month, all three NHL stars will be donning their nation's red and white jerseys at the Olympic Games in Russia.
Keith, Weber and Benn were among 25 players named this week to Team Canada's roster for the Olympic men's hockey tournament beginning Feb. 12 in Sochi.
Keith, a former Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's top defenceman with the Chicago Blackhawks, is the league's top scoring blueliner this season with 42 points.
Weber, the captain of the Nashville Predators, remains one of the game's most dominant rearguards, and this season had 10 goals and 27 points in 40 games.
Keith, a product of Penticton, and Weber, from Sicamous, will both be pursuing their second Olympic medals after helping Canada win gold in Vancouver in 2010.
"It's going to be a huge thrill for Shea and Duncan again," said Rockets' head coach Ryan Huska, who coached all three players in Kelowna. "Although they were there already, you can bet it's an honour for them to play for their country a second time and have a chance to defend gold."
Benn, who played his way on to the team after not being invited to the development camp last sumer, has emerged as a force with the Dallas Stars, a team he now captains.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound power forward from Victoria has 37 points in 42 games.
"I would imagine Jamie is over the moon about being chosen," Huska said. "He was one of those guys on the bubble early on but showed everyone what kind of player he is. I think he'll do a great job at whatever role the (Canadian) coaches have planned for him."
Despite playing just half a season in 2002-03, Keith had a considerable impact on the Rockets, helping lead the club to a WHL title and berth in the Memorial Cup.
When in came to skills and skating ability, Huska said few were in Keith's class.
"It was my first year here and what stood out about Duncan was his ability to make skilled plays," said Huska. "He used to drive (former coach) Marc (Habscheid) a little crazy with some of the high-risk plays he used to make. But he could do a lot of things other players couldn't."
Huska was an assistant for the four seasons Weber played in Kelowna (2002 to 2005) and said the Sicamous native developed into one of the finest all-around defenceman ever to come out of the WHL.
"When Shea was 19, you could really see the signs of him becoming what he is now. He was very physical, hard to play against and had that great shot. I remember him knocking Nigel Dawes (Kootenay) out of the (2005) playoffs and what an impact that had on the series. That's the kind of player he is."
As for Benn, Huska was the club's head coach in 2009 when he played a vital role in leading the Rockets to a Memorial Cup berth that spring in Rimouski.
"No slight to other guys who have played with us, but Jamie is the best power forward we've ever had in my time here," said Huska, who joined the team as an assistant in 2002. "Once he figured out how to be a professional, how he had to work to be successful, he was hard to stop. He's carried that into the NHL."
In all, six former Rockets will play at the Olympics. Also making the trip to Russia will be defenceman Alex Edler (Sweden), and forwards Lauris Darzins (Latvia) and Thomas Raffl (Austria).
"All six guys are great ambassadors for the organization," Huska added. "It's nice to see players representing our team at the Olympic level."
The Olympic hockey competition runs from Feb. 12 to Feb. 23 in Sochi. Canada's first action is Feb. 13 against Norway.