Ten games into the 2012-13 Western Hockey League campaign, the Kelowna Rockets have precisely the same record (4-5-1) as a year ago.
But as the coaches and returning players are all likely to tell you, there’s a dramatically different feeling inside and outside the club’s dressing room this season.
An older, more unified group than in 2011-12, the Rockets don’t expect to be playing sub-.500 hockey for too long.
“I think this group is a lot more receptive to what we’re trying to do as a team,” said head coach Ryan Huska. “They understand our expectations much better and, with the exception of a few bad penalties, we could have a few more points than we do.
“Our goal is to challenge to be one of the better teams in this league,” he added, “and when we have a healthy group, this room feels like we’re capable of winning a lot of hockey games.
“Our older guys have done a good job of setting an example and this is more like a family than we’ve had in some time.”
After playing seven of their first 10 games on the road, the Rockets are home for a pair of games this week—Thursday night against Prince George and Saturday against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“We have 11 of our first 16 on the road, so it’s important to take advantage of these home games, improve on the way we played on the road and play with the right energy,” Huska said.
One challenge the Rockets will be facing, at least in the short-term, is a depth shortage up front.
Centre Ryan Olsen is sitting out a three-game suspension as the result of a checking to the head major Saturday in Victoria, while fellow forwards Zach Franko (day-to-day), Carter Rigby (three weeks) and J.T. Barnett (two weeks) are all sidelined with injuries.
To help fill the void, 16-year-old defenceman Riley Stadel will move up and play forward for the next couple of games.