Blais to guide OK Rockets into new BCMML season

Mobile defense and fast forwards to be strength of Kelowna-based major midget

Okanagan Rockets forward Tanner Bahm carries the puck into OHA's zone during the team's Icebreaker tournament Sunday at the Capital News Centre.

A big and mobile defence, a fast group of forwards, and steady between the pipes.

In short, that’s how new head coach Eric Blais describes the 2016-17 edition of the Okanagan Rockets.

In keeping with the standards already set by Rockets teams of the past decade, Blais expects his club to be among the top contenders this season in the B.C. Major Midget League.

“I’m excited,” said Blais. “We’re going to have a good, solid team that should be competitive with the league’s best.”

The Rockets will launch into the new campaign on Saturday, Sept. 24 when they host the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds at CNC.

Blais takes over the Rockets’ bench from Jason Williamson, who moved on after one season on the job.

Blais’ coaching résumé includes three championships, two of those being B.C. Hockey provincial titles with the Kelowna midget tier 1 Rockets.

For the last two years, he served as head coach for Kelowna Minor Hockey.

For Blais, the opportunity to coach at the top level of midget hockey in the country was one he has long waited for.

“It’s really been one of my dreams to coach in this league,” said Blais. “It will be a huge challenge, hockey at this level is pretty impressive, just a step away from major junior.

“I’m excited about working with (GM) Braeden Pistawka and helping continue build on the tradition here, on what is already a model major midget program.”

Pistawka, who worked as an assistant coach to Blais at the midget tier 1 level, said the Rockets’ new coach brings many attributes to the program.

“Eric is a builder of men and programs,” said Pistawka. “He is extremely passionate and develops his players on and off the ice. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to work with him again as we continue to develop our program.”

With the roster not yet finalized, Blais was still waiting on Thursday to hear about the fate of four key players—Lucas Cullen, Wyatt McLeod, Eli Zummack and Keltie Jeri-Leon—all of whom are currently with their WHL clubs.

Another key forward, Chase Stevenson, is currently injured will get a good look from the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers.

Anchoring the defensive corps this season will be returnees Seth Barton, 17, and Cody Schiavion, 16, while rookies Wyatt Head and Jameson Murray are expected to take on key roles.

Forwards Coleton Bilodeau, Hayden Courtney and Jordan Robinson will represent part of what Blais calls “a very fast group up front.”

In goal, Nick Bregeda returns after 14 games of experience last season and will be complimented by BCMML rookie Owen Partrick.

As far as the rest of the league is concerned, Blais expects the defending champion Valley West Hawks, Cariboo Cougars and Northeast Chiefs to be among the teams to beat this season.

Meanwhile, the Rockets tuned up for the new campaign with their annual