Four key forwards will be conspicuously absent from the team bus when the Kelowna Rockets head across the Prairies this week on a six-game Western Hockey League road trip.
Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley will be on their way to Etobicoke, Ont. for the Canadian junior team’s selection camp, Tomas Soustal will be competing for a roster spot with the Czech Republic, while Calvin Thurkauf vies for a position on Team Switzerland.
All four are hoping to represent their respective countries at the IIHF World Junior Championship beginning Dec. 26 in Helsinki, Finland.
While the Rockets’ depth will be put to the test, head coach Brad Ralph said it’s an exciting time for both the departing players and for the players who will try to hold the fort during their absence.
“It’s a tremendous honour, it’s exciting for the players who are leaving, just an unbelievable experience to get a chance to play for their countries,” Ralph said. “Back here, it’s exciting, too, everybody gets more ice time and guys will be asked to step up.
“There will be times when our backs are against the wall, there will be ups and downs,” he added, “we just need to make the most of the downs. It’s a good challenge that our club can grow from.”
For those Rockets who make their country’s final roster, it will be close to a month before they play in another WHL game.
To compensate for the shortage of forwards, the Rockets have added Conner Bruggen-Cate and Alexander Uryga to the roster.
Bruggen-Cate, 16, plays with Yale Academy, while Uryga, 17, is from North Vancouver.
“It’s not going to be easy, those four players have been very good for us the last month,” Ralph said. “But depth has always been the strength of our team, so that’s what we’ll be relying on during the trip. Goaltending, defence and discipline are going to be key for us.”
The Rockets will play six games in a nine-day stretch on the Prairies, beginning Friday night in Regina against the Pats.