Unlike last year’s fireworks which brought Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey to town, the Western Hockey League’s trade deadline passed on Sunday with nary a flicker from the Kelowna Rockets.
Ideally, GM Bruce Hamilton would have liked to land an older, offensively-skilled defenceman to fortify the blue line, but the price for such a commodity was simply too high.
In the end Hamilton stood pat, leaving both he and head coach Brad Ralph satisfied with the assets the defending WHL champs already have in place.
“We’ve got a great hockey team here and we have from the start of the season,” said Ralph. “We haven’t had the whole group together very much, so it’ll be nice to get things settled and to be able to work more as a team. We like the team we have right now.”
Through injuries, illness, suspensions and absences due to the world junior hockey championship—123 man games lost—the Rockets have still managed to maintain their place atop the WHL standings with a 29-10-3-0 record.
Improving on a daily basis remains Ralph’s overriding philosophy.
“We didn’t practise much as a team in December with our scheduling and players missing, so now we’ll have more of a chance to focus on the details, clean up our game, and be diligent with our systems,” said Ralph. “There are always things we can improve on, so we’ll continue to work on playing the game the right way.”
Rockets goaltender Jackson Whistle remains sidelined (hips, two weeks), so Michael Herringer will carry the weight in the Kelowna net for the foreseeable future.
Kelowna Chiefs junior B netminder Brady Lenardon will serve as the backup for the time being.
Ralph said the Rockets have confidence in the 19-year-old Herringer, who has posted a 2-1-1-0 record since Whistle went down Dec. 30.
“Obviously it’s tough losing a player of Jackson’s calibre,” Ralph said, “but Michael Herringer has proven to be a capable starter. The way our scheduling sets up, we’ll be able to ride Michael for while, so we feel good about that.”
The Rockets also announced the assignment of Danny Gatenby to the B.C. Major Midget League’s Okanagan Rockets to give the 17-year-old defenceman more ice time.
Kelowna currently has seven blue liners on the roster, eight including the adaptable Riley Stadel.
The Rockets are on the road this weekend, as they take on the Victoria Royals on Saturday and Sunday at Save on Foods Memorial Centre.