With a plethora of new players set to wear Rockets jerseys this season, Kelowna is ready to start the year Saturday on a new slate.
After last season’s tie-breaker loss to the Kamloops Blazers that knocked Kelowna out of the playoffs, the Rockets’ added new coaching and nearly 10 new players to the roster this year. With the Memorial Cup ahead, the Rockets are starting the year on a fresh page.
“We don’t even talk about last year with our group,” said head coach Adam Foote.
“We have quite a few new faces, we’ve instilled a new culture for this season. It was a long break, and we have a fresh start, it’s going to be a long season. We talk about developing and moving forward.”
For the first time in eight years, the Rockets will open up the season against a team other than the Blazers. Kelowna hosts the Spokane Chiefs in their home-opener Saturday night for the first time since 1996.
Starting the season with a change seems to be fitting for the Rockets as they embrace the year with multiple changes in their roster which started at the WHL Bantam Draft in May.
In the near five months of the off-season, the Rockets added defenceman Jake Lee, Carson Sass and Sean Comrie, forwards Dillon Hamaliuk, Jake Poole, Deegan Mofford and Pavel Novak as well as goalie Cole Schwebius. Meanwhile, Trevor Wong and Elias Carmichael, two young players, have cracked the opening night roster for the Rockets.
Kelowna got a good look at the young players and new faces during training camps and with a large chunk of the Rockets’ core away at NHL camps. But ahead of Saturday’s puck-drop, the Rockets will start the season minus just Nolan Foote.
“Training camp is an interesting dynamic where you have younger lineups to start. For us we had a young lineup, we had seven guys away at NHL camps. Some of them we’re gone for a while, and we haven’t had our full lineup yet, it’s nice to have almost everyone back,” said Foote.
Newly-acquired Rockets player Dillon Hamaliuk will make his debut Saturday night. The left-winger was traded to Kelowna at the draft and had a busy off-season after being drafted 55th overall at June’s NHL draft and playing for the San Jose Sharks rookie camps.
“Playing with the Rockets has been a long time coming, I’ve been waiting for this moment since May,” said Hamaliuk.
“I’ve found that everyone here is super accepting, it has helped me get adjusted. Spokane is a hard-working team, I think we should be able to dominate them if we play our game.”
A tailgate party in downtown Kelowna will lead into Saturday night’s puck-drop.
The Rockets start the season at 7 p.m. at Prospera Place.
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