With the exhibition schedule now in the books, the Kelowna Rockets will spend the next two weeks fine tuning for the start of the WHL’s 2013-14 regular campaign.
Unlike past years when six games was the standard, the Rockets cut back to just four pre-season contests this September.
Because eight players are still away at NHL camps, head coach Ryan Huska says fewer games and more time to prepare for the new season was simply a better scenario for his club.
“We talked about it last year and thought maybe playing six games was a little too much,” said Huska. “With shorter numbers like we have, you don’t want to play too many games.
“So the next couple of weeks we’re going to work on team building and more detailed-type things at practise. It’s hard to deal with structure with this many guys away, so we’ll work on that when we start getting guys back.”
The Rockets concluded the pre-season with a 3-1 record, finishing up with a convincing 6-1 victory over the Vanouver Giants Saturday night at Prospera Place.
Coupled with a 4-0 shutout of the Blazers a night earlier in Kamloops, Huska was pleased with the way his club played throughout the weekend.
“I thought the guys played hard,” Huska. “I liked the way we skated and the way we played. Most of the guys were focused and did a good job.”
For the third straight pre-season, forward Tyson Baillie led the Rockets in scoring with four goals and eight points.
Second-year forward Rourke Chartier was next in line with two goals and seven points.
“We kind of expected that from Tyson, he’s been good in all of our pre-seasons,” Huska said. “As for Rourke, he’s coming off the U18s (worlds) and is playing with confidence. We liked both of their games.”
Playing a few men short, Huska said the club’s young defensive corps handled itself well during the four exhibition tests.
And with four veterans still to return from NHL camps, Huska is excited his club’s potential on the blue line.
“We’ve kept them together for three years, as 16- and 17-year-old guys and we took a beating at times. This is the season we see them coming into their own as a group and we’re excited about it.”
Jordon Cooke, with two wins and a .944 save percentage in pre-season, and Jackson Whistle (2.67 GAA) once again give the Rockets a solid 1-2 combo in the Rockets net.
The Rockets will open the WHL regular season with a home-and-home set against the Kamloops Blazers—Friday, Sept. 20 in Kamloops and Saturday, Sept. 21 in Kelowna.