The Kelowna Rockets opened a three-game tour of Alberta on the right foot Wednesday night with a win in Lethbridge.
Jason Smith’s squad will look to keep the momentum going tonight in Edmonton against the Oil Kings, then again tomorrow against the Rebels in Red Deer.
After a rather turbulent start to the Western Hockey League season, with players away at NHL camps and injuries playing their part, Smith said the 2016-17 version of the Rockets (2-4-0) is now beginning to take shape.
“We’ve pretty much got our core group in place now, so we can continue moving forward, and keep working on our structure and systems,” said Smith. “We’re obviously missing Dillon (Dube) right now, but other than that we know what we’ve got so can really get down to the details, keep working and look at improving every day”
Centre Nick Merkley played his first game with the Rockets in eight months Wednesday, helping Kelowna end a three-game slump with a 6-3 win over the Hurricanes.
Merkley, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last Februrary, returned to the Rockets this week from the camp of the Arizona Coyotes and contributed an assist.
“I think he stepped in and played really well,” Smith said of Merkley. “Coming from pro camp obviously is an adjustment, but he was excited to play, and he’s highly-skilled player who is going to be key for us this season.”
Another NHL draft pick, Calvin Thurkauf, paced the Rockets to victory in Lethbridge with a pair of goals, an assist, and all-around effort.
“(Calvin) was obviously a big part of it, he played well in our end and in the offensive zone,” Smith said of the Columbus Bluejackets’ prospect. “He was a presence every time he was on the ice.”
And other than the Rockets lacking a little discipline, Smith was pleased with the result in Lethbridge.
“I think it was a real strong team effort,” he said. “We still took too many penalties, but we did a lot of things the right way, things we can build on.”
The Rockets next home action is Friday, Oct. 14 against the Saskatoon Blades.