By Marissa Tiel
Alex Swetlikoff didn’t immediately find out that he’d been traded. The Kelowna hockey product was ankle-deep in his second campaign donning the Maple Leaf as a member of Team Canada West.
The group had just finished dinner and was settling into their Calgary hotel for the night to prepare for their first real game the following day. The players received their devices for about a half hour of phone time.
When Swetlikoff turned his on, the messages started to flood in. They came from friends and family. They wanted to know his decision. They wanted to know if he was coming home to the Kelowna Rockets.
But he hadn’t decided yet. There was college eligibility to consider. Not to mention he was just at the beginning of the 2018 World Junior A Challenge and the team had a medal to win.
After going 1-1-1-1 in tournament play, Canada West would go on to lose the semifinal 3-2 in overtime to the United States, playing the Czech Republic for bronze, which they would ultimately win 3-1. It was sweet and sour for Swetlikoff, who was part of the U17 crew to lose in the bronze medal game.
This time, they’d be heading home with a medal, just not the colour they were hoping for. “I’d say we underachieved a bit,” says Swetlikoff. “Obviously we want to win gold, but third is still pretty good.”
And then it was decision time.
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On Dec. 18, the Kelowna Rockets announced the signing of 17-year-old Alex Swetlikoff. He ceded his college eligibility and for now, will play at home. He is the first Kelowna-born skater to make the regular season squad since defenceman Jonathan Smart in 2016-17.
“We’re very excited to have him join the Rockets,” said president and general manager Bruce Hamilton. “I know it’s difficult to leave another team. However, I think that Alex understands that if he wants to get to the next level the best move for him is to come to the Western Hockey League to achieve those goals. We’re looking forward to helping him become a better player and get him in a position to be drafted this June.”
Swetlikoff was in his second season with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. Over 27 games, he had 20 points (8G, 12A) and 20 penalty minutes.
His hockey journey played out close to home.
Swetlikoff grew up in Okanagan arenas watching his older brother skate and his dad coach.
“I liked being around the older guys,” he says. “I was in the locker room with them and when they’d win tournaments, I’d come onto the ice with them.”
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He had a plastic trumpet that he’d blow into, making noise to support the team. He loved the atmosphere at games.
Swetlikoff has always been a forward. Now he likes to use his size to his advantage. He’s one of six Rockets forwards to stand over six feet tall. At six-foot-three, he and captain Nolan Foote are tied for tallest forward.
Swetlikoff worked his way up through minor hockey, attending the Yale Hockey Academy from 2015 to 2017. He was drafted 62nd overall in the third round of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft by the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Rockets got his rights from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in the 2022 Bantam Draft.
“I just felt I needed better development and just needed to push myself a bit more so Kelowna was an easy choice for me to sign here,” he says.
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Swetlikoff is listed as a C prospect by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service on their Players to Watch List. He is projected to be drafted in the fourth round or later at the NHL’s draft this June.
He’s been learning since day one as a Rocket.
“It was a little tough the first day, eye-opening a bit,” he said in a Jan. 2 Rockets press release. “It’s getting easier as each day goes by though.”
Things were looking up even more a few weeks later.
“All the guys have helped me out but you know the hockey is better, a lot more competitive a lot faster,” he says.
“I think I’m still adjusting to that and every day I’m feeling more comfortable with the team, with the level of play and that. So yeah, it’s been really good.”
There’s been changes on and off the ice. After living away from home the past few years, Swetlikoff is back with his parents in his old neighbourhood and getting ready to go back to school after having online classes.
“It’s really nice seeing all my friends again that I grew up with,” says Swetlikoff. “They think it’s pretty cool to know someone on the team.”
Swetlikoff is also adjusting to the new league.
“It’s a lot different. I think they expect more out of you,” he says. “I think when you sign you have to act more professional. As it is a harder league, you have to treat your body right and you gotta do the stuff that will help you succeed on the ice.
“It kind of pushes you and drives you so that’s been helping me. I think that’s helped my game a lot and changed it a bit.”
Swetlikoff stepped onto the ice as a Kelowna Rocket for the first time on Dec. 29. For a teen who’s used to watching the game from the stands, it was a bit of an adjustment.
“I was kind of looking around a bit. Usually, I’m here to watch a game, I’m in the stands watching the guys play, so it’s different,” he says. “It was cool to have all my family and friends here supporting me.”
His parents are at all his home games, also travelling to games in Kamloops. His brother and sister try to go to his home games as well.
Swetlikoff hopes to have a long career. If he keeps working his way up the leagues, we may one day soon see him playing live on a Saturday night.