The days of a short bench are about to end for the Kelowna Rockets.
Rookies Damon Severson and Colton Heffley are expected to return to the lineup Thursday when the Rockets host the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The rookie duo recently played for Team West at the World Under-17 Championship in Winnipeg.
“It’s definitely important for us to get those two young guys back,” said Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert. “We’ve been pretty shorthanded lately, we’ve been going with an AP (Tyrell Goulbourne) and still only dressed 19 guys. This way we’ll have a little more leeway in the things we can do. It’ll be nice to have a full lineup for a change.”
Still, the Rockets roster is a long way from being flush as the club continues to play without captain Tyson Barrie, Mitchell Callahan and Andreas Stene, all of whom are at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
The Rockets’ lack of depth was particularly apparent in back to back games as they were dominated by both Spokane and Kamloops in their first two outings of 2011.
“We haven’t played well the last two games,” said Lambert. “We want to focus on re-establishing our forecheck and playing a high tempo game. With so many guys away, you put other guys into positions they’re not used to.
“Most guys have done a pretty good job, but let’s face it, you can’t replace a guy like Tyson Barrie who eats up big minutes, and (Mitchell) Callahan who brings a lot of energy.”
On the upside, the Rockets have more or less weathered the storm since head coach Ryan Huska left to join the Team Canada coaching staff, and Barrie, Callahan and Stene all exited last month for the WJC.
Under assistants Lambert and Ryan Cuthbert, Kelowna has gone 5-4 and remains in the hunt for top spot in the B.C. Division.
“When Ryan (Huska) left and we lost some of those players, we knew it was going to be a tough go, but overall it’s gone reasonably well,” added Lambert. “At that time we were one point out of first place…and now we’re still a point out of first place. So we’re pretty excited about the situation we’re in, and when everybody gets back we can look forward to a good last half of the season.”
As for the Rockets latest setback, 5-1 Sunday night in Kamloops, the club pulled goaltender Adam Brown in the second period after he yielded five goals on 20 shots.
Still, Lambert said Brown continues to give the Rockets legitimate chances to win on a nightly basis.
“He has had a pretty amazing year so far,” Lambert said of Brown who has a 2.63 goals against average and a 91.5 save percentage. “We didn’t pull him in Kamloops because of his play, it was to try and shake things up, to see if the guys would respond. Adam continues to work hard in practice and play very well, and he’s been great for us.”
The Rockets will host the Blazers Saturday, 7 p.m. at Prospera Place.