It’s been almost a month since the Kelowna Rockets have played with something that resembles a full roster.
With three key forwards potentially returning to the lineup this weekend, the defending Western Hockey League champs will—more or less—be back to normal.
Rourke Chartier (Canada), Tomas Soustal (Czech Republic) and Calvin Thurkauf (Switzerland) are all returning to Kelowna this week after a trip to the World Junior Hockey Championship in Finland, as the Rockets host the Everett Silvertips and the Tri-City Americans this weekend.
“It’s going to be a big help to us, it’ll move everybody down a notch or two on the depth chart and give us four pretty good lines,” said Hamilton. “That’s what I think is going to help us in the long run is our depth. We’re just about back to a full lineup, so I’m excited to see what we can do in the second half here.”
While Hamilton would have liked to have seen the three players come home with something more—in particular Chartier and Team Canada—the early exit from the world junior tournament certainly won’t hurt the Rockets’ cause.
“When teams get to the medal games, that takes more out of the players, they tend to be worn out when they get back and usually need to be shut down for a while,” Hamilton said. “Charter was off for two months (with injury) so I’m not worried about him.
“I’m hoping all three guys will be fairly well-rested and they’ll be able to get back at it this weekend. It’s going to take some time for them to adjust”
With as many as six forwards sidelined at times during the month long-stretch, the Rockets managed to grind out a respectable 6-4-1-0 record to remain in charge of the Western Hockey League standings.
Like head coach Brad Ralph, Hamilton was pleased with the way the Rockets (28-10-2-0) fought through the adversity.
“The last two losses of the (Prairie trip) the guys were dead, just out of gas,” Hamilton said. “And with Everett, well they just caught us at the perfect time, we were down a bunch of players, playing five games in seven, so that’s going to happen.
“It’ll take us a little while to get the lineup settled and back to where we were, but that will come.”
The Rockets will host the Everett Silvertips Friday, the third meeting of between the teams in the last 10 days.
On Saturday, the Tri-City Americans will make their first visit of the season to Prospera Place.
Trade deadline Sunday…
With the WHL’s trade deadline looming this weekend, Hamilton said not to expect a repeat of last year’s fireworks from the Rockets.
He assured there will be nothing remotely close to the blockbuster deals that brought Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey to Kelowna for the Rockets’ WHL championship run.
“It won’t be as entertaining as last year, that’s for sure,” Hamilton said. “We’re not really out there soliciting hard for anything, we’re just keeping our ears open to see what’s available.”
Ideally, Hamilton would like to acquire an older defenceman with offensive ability for the stretch run, but said the Rockets are “in line with about 15 other teams” who want the same commodity.
Hamilton added that if the Rockets don’t make a trade, he can live with the personnel already in place.
Head coach Brad Ralph agrees.
“If everyone is health and playing, we have a heck of a hockey team,” Ralph said. “We’ve still got some work ahead of us, but I think we do have the players to make it work. Whatever route Bruce decides to take with trades, I’m happy with that.”