It came to Calvin Thürkauf completely out of the blue.
Until June 30 of this year, the 18-year-old forward assumed he’d be spending his entire hockey career in Europe.
But the moment the Kelowna Rockets named Thürkauf as the 59th choice overall in the CHL Import Draft, the Swiss-born player’s future plans took a sudden turn.
“No one had talked to me before, so I had no idea (I would be drafted),” Thürkauf said. “When it happened, it was like, you better take this opportunity because it won’t come along again.
“It’s a big opportunity in North America,” he added, “you’re in front of a lot more scouts than (in Switzerland). Over here, I’ll have a chance to present myself more, show my best side.”
The Rockets had initially looked at choosing a Slovakian-born defenceman in the Import Draft but when the Erie Otters grabbed that player five choices earlier, the WHL champs turned to Thürkauf—even though there was no guarantee he would be cleared to make the trip across the Atlantic.
“We knew there was some risk in getting his release from his team (Zug) to come here, but his club was really good about it,” said Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton. “They see him developing here with us and if he doesn’t make the NHL, then he can take what he learns here back with him to Europe.”
One advantage Thürkauf has over many of his European contemporaries in the WHL is his background. Thürkauf’s father is Canadian, he has dual citizenship, and has visited Canada on several occasions in the past, thereby presenting far fewer language and cultural challenges.
“It feels like home to me because I’m half Canadian, I have relatives here and have been before,” he said. “It is a bit (of an adjustment), a long way to move but it’s not like it is for players who come from some of the other countries and can’t speak English. It sure made my move here easier.”
Rockets new head coach Brad Ralph said the absence of such barriers has made it relatively communicating and working with Thurkauf. On the ice, Ralph also likes what he’s seen from the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Swiss forward.
“He has a big frame, a strong kid, and he seems to be transitioning well to the ice and North American lifestyle,” Ralph said. “He’s got skill and speed…and maybe speed we haven’t seen the extent of yet. He’s going to be given the opportunity to show what he can do.”
Along with returning Czech-born forward Tomas Soustal, Thürkauf will occupy one of two import spots with the Rockets.
And while Bruce Hamilton is reserving full judgement on his newest Euro, the GM expects Thürkauf will find his way in the Western Hockey League.
“So far he’s looked pretty good, but I’m going to remain guarded until we get into the season,” said Hamilton. “Some (Europeans) have trouble making the transition, but I don’t think that’s going to happen to him. I expect him to be fine.”
Rocket Shots…Eight Rockets on the team’s current roster are at NHL rookie camps this week…Kelowna will play a home-and-home set of exhibition games this weekend against the Kamloops Blazers—Friday night in Kamloops, then Saturday at Prospera Place. Face off is 7:05 p.m.…Kelowna will host the Blazers in the regular season opener for both teams on Friday, Sept. 25.