Big numbers to show up at Kelowna Rockets’ main camp

If there is indeed strength in numbers, then the Kelowna Rockets should have a head start on assembling a formidable roster for the 2010-11 Western Hockey League campaign.

If there is indeed strength in numbers, then the Kelowna Rockets should have a head start on assembling a formidable roster for the 2010-11 Western Hockey League campaign.

In the club’s largest main training camp in recent memory, as many as 70 players—split into four teams—will take to the ice next week at the Capital News Centre.

Aside from the graduation of over-ager Lucas Bloodoff and the likely departure of Brandon McMillan to the pro ranks, the Rockets will return virtually their entire corps of forwards from last season.

So with vacancies up front rather scarce and, with a large and skilled group of new candidates joining the fray, the Rockets’ brain trust expects a long and intense battle for jobs.

“There’s going to be some really good competition,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “We have a really strong group of forwards coming in and there are only so many jobs. The guys who were already here are going to be pushed, so we look at that as a real positive.”

The Rockets will be looking to bolster an already substantive forward lineup, led by veterans Evan Bloodoff, Geordie Wudrick, Shane McColgan, Brett Bulmer and Mitchell Callahan.

Newcomers up front pushing for employment will include the team’s 2010 import picks, Andreas Stene from Norway and Slovakian Gal Koren.

Adding drama to mix will be Abbotsford’s Jason Siebert, the club’s first pick in the 2009 bantam draft; Zach Franco, 17, a top prospect from Winnipeg; and Colton Sissons, the North Vancouver product who played last season with the BCHL’s Westside Warriors.

Then there’s a pair of 16-year-old rookies who saw call-up duty last season when the Rockets ran headlong into injury trouble—Colton Heffley from Swift Current and Edmonton’s Tyrell Goulbourne.

On the back end, newly-acquired veterans Brendon Wall, 20, and Kevin Smith, 19, will bring considerable experience to the Rockets, while also serving as an insurance policy in the event 2009-10 WHL defenceman of the year Tyson Barrie lands a job with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

Sophomores Colton Jobke, Antoine Corbin, Mitchell Chapman and MacKenzie Johnston round out the cast of rearguard returnees, while Damon Severson, 16, hopes to push for full-time status after appearing in five games last season.

With the excessive injury woes suffered by the club last season, Huska knows how crucial depth is to an organization.

Only Mitchell Callahan played in all 72 regular season games last season as the Rockets regularly struggled to put a full lineup together.

At one point last season, Kelowna was missing eight regulars due to injury, while a ninth, Brandon McMillan, was at the World Junior Championship.

From Huska’s perspective, there’s no such thing as too many players vying for jobs.

“Last year was a very challenging year for coaches and players,” said Huska.

“With all the injuries we had, with guys in and out of the lineup, the ones who were playing were maybe not competing as hard as they should be every night. It’s nice for us to have some options, then no one gets too comfortable with their place on the team, and it makes everyone push that much harder.”

Rocket Shots…The Rockets rookie camp continues until Sunday morning at the Capital News Centre with more than 140 players on display…Main camp begins Tuesday morning at CNC with on-ice sessions at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.…The Rockets will host the Vancouver Giants Saturday, Sept. 4, 7 p.m. at Prospera Place.

whenderson@kelownacapnews.com

Kelowna Capital News

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