Players at the Kelowna Rockets training camp receive instruction from coaches earlier this week at Prospera Place. —Image: contributed

Updated: Kelowna Rockets to open 2018 preseason Friday

The Rockets will host Victoria at Prospera Place after wrapping up their training camp

The Kelowna rockets 2018 training camp is underway with 58 players vying for positions on the WHL team for the upcoming season.

During the camp, players are being split into three squads, with the first taking the ice early for practice and other two then facing off in a scrimmage.

Players are then given a break, and one of the two teams that scrimmaged hits the ice again for practice in the afternoon, followed by a scrimmage by the other two squads.

“It has been really good to see the guys again, and to be able to get back to the high-paced tempo that we get used to throughout the season,” said Rockets forward Wil Kushniryk, who is entering his second season in Kelowna.

“It’s really high speed and high tempo and it’s good to see the younger guys out there doing well too so it’s exciting. We’ve been working on a lot of conditioning. Just getting back into shape and ready. We’ve worked on some skills and things like that but most of the focus has been on getting back into shape for the season.”

It’s a sentiment shared by returning defenceman Libor Zabransky.

“Camp has been good,” said Zabransky. “We’ve had a couple of games so far, everyone is out there working hard and trying their best so it’s been fun. We will be in good shape,” he said.

The native of Brno, Czech Rep. spent the offseason training back home.

“It was a fun offseason. I was at home so I got to enjoy some time with my family and my friends. I was also with my old team in Brno so I had summer workouts with them which was nice for me working out with older, bigger guys, I really enjoyed it,” Zabransky said.

“I just tried to get bigger and faster, and just improve myself overall. With guys like Cal Foote and the other guys not being here anymore, it’s going to a bigger challenge for me this season.”

Related: Rockets open camp with bar set high

The main training camp continues for Kushniryk, Zabransky and the rest of the team this week and will wrap tomorrow, with the Rockets preseason starting Friday when they host division rivals, the Victoria Royals at Prospera Place. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

Tickets are now on sale for that game at selectyourtickets.com, at the Prospera Place box office or by phone at 250-762-5050. For full preseason schedule, click here.

Season tickets are also now on sale. The Rockets are bidding to host the 2020 Memorial Cup and say season ticket holders will have the rights to their seats for the tournament if Kelowna wins the bid.

Prior to the start of the main camp, the team’s rookie camp wrapped up on Friday with newcomers given an opportunity to showcase their talents for the team’s coaches.

Speed and creativity were abundant as Rockets hopefuls played 3-on-3 to finish their camp.

While the rookies played their final games, players attending the main camp took part in fitness testing on Friday.

Players were tested on bench press, squats, agility, vertical leap, pull-ups, and a reach test, as well as body fat tests. Usually the players are also tested during a five-kilometre run but due to health concerns posed by the smoke in the air that day,the run was cancelled.

Veteran Erik Gardiner said he was happy with how he and his teammates looked at the fitness testing.

“I thought I did pretty well. Everybody looks bigger, stronger, and faster like I think they should and I think everyone is just anxious to get out on the ice and get started,” Gardiner said.

Entering his third season with the Rockets, Gardiner said he’s happy to be back and starting training camp.

“I’m really excited. It’s nice to be back in Kelowna despite the smoke (which cleared Sunday),” he said.

“It’s great to be back around the guys, see the coaches, and be around the room. I’ve been waiting for basically the whole summer to get back, so it’s awesome to be here.”

Gardiner, a Humboldt, Sask. native, said it was a tough offseason with aftermath of the tragic bus crash that killed 16members of the Humboldt Broncos Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team in April.

“But it was nice to get away from it moving to Saskatoon,” he said. “I had a lot of support, so I ended up turning into a fun offseason. I worked really hard and I feel like I improved on everything so I’m ready to get back out there.”

He said he worked mainly on his skating as he felt that was a weakness in his game.

“I think I improved on that and hopefully I can show how much I’ve improved in camp,” Gardiner said.

“As a team every year we’re looking to make the playoffs and we’re looking to hopefully build on kind of what we’ve been building since I’ve been here.

He said losing to Seattle a couple years ago was tough and then losing again last year was even harder, so hopefully the team can do better in the upcoming season.

“(We need to) just play as a team, and play strong. If we do that we should be pretty successful,” said Gardiner.

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