Just 12 games into the Western Hockey League campaign, the Kelowna Rockets are already in midseason form in at least one category—injuries.
Due largely to the growing list of walking wounded, Rockets head coach Ryan Huska has been hard pressed to ice a full team on most nights.
The WHL club was without six players during weekend action. Injured are Jesse Lees (4-6 weeks, upper-body), Jessey Astles (head, day-to-day), Kevin Smith (shoulder, week-to-week), and Carter Rigby (upper body, week-to-week).
Filip Vasko sat out Sunday’s game in Vancouver due to a suspension for a boarding major the previous night against Victoria. Then there’s the continued absence of forward Brett Bulmer who remains with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
Huska said the Rockets are trying to make the best of a difficult situation.
“It’s a challenge when you’re down so many players, you end up having to overplay some of your older guys, like (Shane) McColgan, (Colton) Sissons, and (Spencer) Main,” said Huska. “At the same time, we’re asking some younger players to play more minutes than they might be ready for right now.
“On the other hand, we have to look at this as good experience for our young guys who will learn from this and get better.”
After a solid effort in a 6-3 win over Vancouver Thursday night, the Rockets (4-7-1-0) came up empty over the weekend—a 3-2 loss at home to Victoria Saturday, then a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Giants Sunday in Vancouver.
Once again, Huska said the losses aren’t necessarily due to a lack of effort.
“I don’t think it’s the try-factor, the guys are working hard,” said Huska. “We just have to get playing the right way.
“I saw us as a tentative group Saturday against Victoria. On Sunday, it was a poor decision or poor play that cost us a couple of goals. We’re still making those mistakes.”
As for Bulmer, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound forward has played in eight NHL games with the Wild and has recorded three assists. If he plays in two more games, the first year of his contract would kick in and the Rockets would be unlikely to see him again in 2011-12.
Huska said the team has already made plans to move on without Bulmer.
“For Brett, it’s great, we’re in the business of helping players move on,” said Huska. “We miss him, but we’re happy for him. We can’t worry or waste our energy on whether or not he’s coming back. We have to move forward.”
The Rockets return to action Tuesday night when they host the Prince George Cougars (3-8-0-1). Face off at Prospera Place is 7 p.m.