It’s almost time to drop the puck on the Kelowna Rockets 2023-24 season.
The team announced its opening night roster on Monday afternoon (Sept. 18) featuring 14 forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders.
Highlighting the roster are forward Andrew Cristall and defenceman Caden Price, who were both selected in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft earlier this year.
Cristall, entering his fourth year with the Rockets, was selected in the second round (40th overall) by the Washington Capitals. The Burnaby native has 169 points (69 goals, 100 assists) in 139 career WHL games, all with Kelowna.
Price was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the third round (84th overall). The 18-year-old has become the leader of the Rockets defensive unit while being able to show his offensive side as well. In 112 career WHL games, he had seven goals and 54 assists.
Price was returned to Kelowna while Cristall was invited to Washington’s main camp this week.
The three features three hometown players – Kelowna’s Dylan Wightman and Max Graham return to the team as they will help provide a veteran presence to the forward group. Graham led the team with five points in four games this preseason.
In that group of three is a new spark plug from Lake Country.
In an early offseason trade, the Rockets acquired Lake Country’s Tij Iginla, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla, from the Seattle Thunderbirds. The 17-year-old has 19 points in 51 career WHL games and had a great preseason, finishing with four points (one goal, three assists) in four preseason games.
The roster also features five rookies, including forward Kayden Longley and defenceman Landon Cowper, who both played a few games with the Rockets at the end of last season. Cowper also recently played for the Kelowna under-18 team out of the RINK Hockey Academy (RHA).
In the rookie forward group is also Hiroki Gojsic, who played and won the BCHL championship with the Penticton Vees last season. His younger brother, Kanjyu, is also Kelowna Rockets property but was assigned back to his affiliate team. As a 15-year-old, he would only be eligible to play in five WHL games.
On the defence is rookie Jackson Gillespie, who’s one of two American-born players on the team. He is from Keller, Texas.
In between the pipes, Jari Kykkanen and the newly acquired Jake Pilon are the Rockets goalies going into opening night. Kykkanen is 22-15-3 in his WHL career with a 3.55 goals-against average. Pilon appeared in one preseason game for the Rockets after being acquired from Edmonton on Sept. 11.
There is one big omission from the Rockets opening night roster – captain Gabriel Szturc. After attending the Tampa Bay Lightning’s rookie and development camp, he has been invited to attend the team’s main training camp, which opens on Thursday, Sept. 21. He is on the Rockets protected list but being a 20-year old, he is eligible to sign an American Hockey League (AHL) deal or play professionally in Europe.
The Rockets open the season on Saturday, Sept. 23 when they welcome the Portland Winterhawks to Prospera Place.
Before the game starts, the team will honour the fire chiefs and firefighters from West Kelowna, Wilson’s Landing, North Westside, Lake Country and Kelowna as well as the Kelowna RCMP in an on-ice ceremony for all their hard work and dedication to protect the public during the Grouse Complex of wildfires that overtook the Central Okanagan in late August.