Welcome back, Rourke Chartier.
The 19-year-old centre made an auspicious return to the lineup Wednesday night scoring a hat-trick, as the Kelowna Rockets downed the Kootenay Ice 4-1 at Prospera Place.
Chartier, who missed the club’s last 19 games with a hand injury, was seeing his first action since Oct. 6.
He didn’t waste time in returning to his role as an offensive catalyst with a wrap-around goal just past the seven-minute mark of the first period to open the scoring.
“That was great for me, I know confidence is a huge thing in the game,” Chartier said. “Just to get it back pretty early on, it’s nice.”
Chartier wasn’t done there as he connected for back-to-back goals in the second period, both on one-timers from the top of the face-off circle that Ice netminder Wyatt Hoflin had little chance of stopping.
“He’s got an NHL shot,” Ralph said of Chartier. “It’s comical on the bench, we just kind of smirk at each other because it looks like it’s unstoppable.”
As for Chartier’s performance after missing nearly two months of action, Ralph said the skilled centre hardly missed a beat.
“He’s been skating hard here for a couple of months, so it was good to see all his hard work pay off,” said Ralph. “We all saw it in his conditioning and his skating ability.
“Rourke, it’s great to have that piece up the middle back and good to see him get rewarded.”
Justin Kirkland also scored for Kelowna, while Nick Merkley and Tyson Baillie each added a pair of assists.
The Rockets (20-6-1-0), the WHL’s top team, dominated play from start to finish, outshooting the Ice 59-19.
Kootenay, missing several key players with injury and coming off a 5-1 loss Tuesday night in Kamloops, is last overall in the WHL standings at 6-21-2-0.
Meanwhile, Chartier will play two more games with the Rockets this weekend before heading off with teammate Nick Merkley next week for Canada’s national junior team selection camp in Etobicoke, Ont.
Chartier, who was one of the last players to be released a year ago, has vastly different plans this time around.
“Getting cut last year from that camp was pretty tough, I know I’m pretty motivated to get back there and make the team this year,” he said. “I know I would have been pretty disappointed if I wasn’t ready to go for that.
“I’m just happy to be back playing hockey, this was a pretty tough two months.”
The Rockets return to action Friday night when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers.
On Saturday, the Portland Winterhawks will visit Prospera Place.