Similar to two years ago, the Kelowna Rockets have fortified their lineup for a run at the Western Hockey League title.
And much like 2015—when the WHL club acquired Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey prior to the trade deadline—the coaching staff is expecting an adjustment phase as the Rockets work on developing team chemistry.
But with the additions of forwards Reid Gardiner and Carsen Twarynski, and a different group of core players, assistant coach Kris Mallette said the 2017 edition of the Rockets is taking on a considerably different identity than two years ago.
“There’s always an adjustment period when you change the roster, there are new systems to learn, and it takes time to get to know the players,” Mallette said.
“With Reid and Carsen, you have two very good players who came from good programs, who I think, given time will thrive in this environment.
“Our nucleus is different this time around, I want to say we don’t have as many egos with this group,” Mallette added, comparing the two teams.
“We have different personnel who I think will maybe deal with the changes a little better.
“We know it’s still going to take time, but it does feel different.”
While being far from perfect, the Rockets first game in the post-trade deadline era produced a 4-3 win Wednesday over the hometown Victoria Royals.
Dillon Dube had a goal and an assist and Kole Lind added three assists, as Kelowna scored twice in a 38-second span in the third to pull out the win.
Discipline was an issue for the Rockets, who took eight penalties including five in the second period.
On the upside, Kelowna’s penalty killing was sharp, running at a clip of 88 per cent.
Mallette said the Rockets will have to clean up their act to be a legitimate contender in the ultra competitive Western Conference.
“It’s a cause for concern, and we’ve had to say it over and over to the guys that we have to be better in that area of the game,” said Mallette.
“Now with the recent acquisitions and all our players back, we have a full team and some hungry players on the outside who want a chance.
“If we continue to have problems with discipline, I can’t see management being all that patient. It has to be made clear moving forward that (penalties) can’t be allowed to be a determining factor.”
The Rockets (25-15-3-0) and Royals (22-17-4-0) will meet again tonight in Victoria.
Kelowna will finish out its three-road trip in Everett on Monday with a matinee against the Silvertips.