Sitting out his entire rookie season in the WHL was both a frustrating and humbling experience for Tanner Wishnowski.
Now the Kelowna Rockets forward is hoping to make up for lost time.
During training camp last September, Wishnowksi suffered whiplash and never played in a single game in 2014-15 due to ongoing concussion-like symptoms.
With all of this year’s camp and a full compliment of exhibition games under his belt, the Oak Bank, Manitoba native is steadily returning to form.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good out there,” said Wishnowski, 18, who played the 2013-14 season with the major midget league’s Okanagan Rockets. “I hadn’t really played a game since the Telus Cup the year before, so the preseason has been good, a lot of fun for me.
“Obviously you miss that much hockey and it takes time to get up to the speed of the game again…but it’s coming.”
Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton is encouraged to see a healthy Wishnowksi back on the ice, particularly after what was a trying and challenging year for the young forward.
“Along with our doctors we decided it was best for him (to sit out the season), ” said Hamilton. “It took a long time for him to get better, so we feel good about the way it was handled.
“It’s going to take him a while to get back up to speed, but he has the makings of being a real good player for us. With time, we think he’ll catch up and be just fine.”
By the time the preseason wrapped up last weekend, Wishnowski’s game didn’t look to be all that far off the mark.
The 6-foot, 175-pound forward scored twice on Saturday night against the Vancouver Giants—once on a penalty shot and another on the power play.
Once he’s back up to speed, Rockets head coach Brad Ralph envisions Wishnowksi as a key piece of the team’s lineup.
“Tanner plays with tremendous amount of speed, he’s physical and competes hard,” said Ralph. “After a year off, he’s trying to establish his role on the team and knowing what it takes again to be successful. Getting to play this whole exhibition season has been very beneficial for him, he played in all situations and did very well for us.
“We have high expectations for him,” added Ralph, “and everything we’ve seen so far, we like where his game is headed.”
And even though he lost an entire season due to injury, Wishnowski has no plans to change the fast, aggressive style he’s become known for.
“I’m going to be the same player, I’m not going to be scared for sure. I’m going to come to the rink everyday, work hard to get better,” said Wishnowski, who can’t wait for Friday’s season opener at home to the Kamloops Blazers.
“I’m ecstatic to get to step out on the ice again for real, in a game that means something. I haven’t done that for a long time.”
Rocket Shots…Forwards Nick Merkley (Arizona) and Tyson Baillie (Calgary) returned to the Rockets this week from NHL rookie camps…The Rockets will launch their 25th anniversary season on Friday at home to the Kamloops Blazers. Prior to the game, the club will hoist its B.C. Division and WHL Championship banners to the rafters of Prospera Place…Kelowna will visit the Blazers on Saturday night, before moving on to Vancouver to play the Giants in a 6 p.m. start.