The Kelowna Rockets are welcoming a pair of veterans back into the fold as the team prepares to hit the road for a pair of games in Prince George.
Forward Justin Kirkland (Nashville) and defenceman Mitchell Wheaton (Detroit) have been returned to the Rockets after attending their respective team’s NHL training camps.
Kirkland, 18, was a third round pick of the Predators this past off season, while Wheaton, 19, was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 draft by the Wings.
“We’re really excited to get Justin and Mitchell and we’re hoping Rourke Chartier (injury) will be back as well,” said Rockets’ head coach Dan Lambert. “Slowly but surely our lineup is getting to where we were hoping it would be. The danger in getting those guys back is everyone might think they are going to do it for us but the reality is we are going to have to win as a team and score by committee.”
The return of Kirkland and Wheaton leaves only captain Madison Bowey (Washington) and forward Tyrell Goulbourne (Philadelphia) still at NHL training camps
The Rockets are coming off a decisive 6-1 win over Kamloops in its home opener on Saturday, the team’s only game of the 2014-15 WHL season. Six different Rockets scored in that game while West Kelowna native Jackson Whistle earned the win in net.
“I was really happy to see the balanced scoring,” said Lambert. “When you lose your top three scorers you’re always concerned about who’s going to fill the void. We feel we have lots of guys that can step up their game.” This weekend the Rockets will play two games in Prince George against the Cougars, as Prince George plays its first home games after an ownership change in the off season.
After years of playing to crowds of less then 1,000 fans, the Rockets will likely find a sold out building on Friday night as the Cougars are expecting close to 6,000 fans for the team’s home opener on Friday night.
“I think the atmosphere will be a lot of fun,” said Lambert. “It will be an energized building and we hope to weather the storm. It will be a different atmosphere for Prince George and one I haven’t seen since coming into the league “
The Cougars split two games in Tri-City last weekend. The Rockets next home game is Wednesday Oct. 1 against the Vancouver Giants.