As one of the busiest teams leading up to the Western Hockey League’s trade deadline, the Kelowna Rockets’ intentions couldn’t have been any clearer.
GM Bruce Hamilton and assistant GM Lorne Frey have equipped the club’s coaching staff with what they envision to be a championship-calibre roster.
“We just feel with the core group that we have, with quite a few guys here that went to the Memorial Cup, we wanted to give them another shot at winning a league championship,” said Hamilton.
“We feel like there’s a chance do that. We’ve added as much as we can, because there aren’t too many bullets left in the chamber.”
In acquiring Gardiner, the Rockets surrendered three draft picks to the Prince Albert Raiders, including a conditional first-rounder.
Kelowna also had to move Riley Stadel, 20, to the Edmonton Oil Kings to make room for Gardiner to occupy one of three overage spots.
Gardiner, who scored 43 goals last season in P.A., played the first half of this season with Wilkes Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
“He’s an exciting player,” Hamilton said of Gardiner, “a pure goal scorer with some pro experience.”
The Humboldt, SK native had the option of playing pro for the remainder of the season, but viewed coming to Kelowna as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“Just the team itself, coming to a place like Kelowna, the city, the fans, it’s all pretty special,” said Gardiner, 20, who scored his first goal as a Rocket Saturday at home to Kamloops. “They develop players, you can see by their alumnus, guys in world juniors and even winning championships.
“I wanted to come and be a part of that as much as I could and help build this tradition.”
As an added bonus, Gardiner gets a chance to play with his younger brother, Erik, for the first time in their careers. The Rockets acquired the 17-year-old forward in November from the Regina Pats.
“Coming here to play with my brother was a big part of it,” Reid said. “To be able to be able to share this experience with him is special, and to be here and bug him the odd time is good, too.”
On Sunday, the Rockets added Twarynski, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward from the Calgary Hitmen in exchange for forward Jake Kryski.
The Calgary native is a third-round draft pick of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
Twarynski, who will bring both skill and physicality to the Rockets, is excited to be joining one of the WHL’s most successful franchises in what is arguably the league’s most competitive division.
“To be told I was going here, I was definitely happy to hear that, that they were going to try and take a run at it,” Twarynski, 19, said Monday after his first practise with the Rockets.
“I think it’s awesome I want to win this year, there’s no telling what next year is going to bring for me. To be on a team like this is good, and to be in a division where there’s a lot of fun hockey right now,” added Twarynski, who had 10 goals and 21 points in 36 games with Calgary.
“It’s close, anyone’s game, but this team definitely has the capabilities to do it.”
The Rockets (24-15-3-0), with their newly-configured roster, are on the road this week, with games in Victoria tonight and Friday against the division rival Royals.
On Monday afternoon, Kelowna will visit the Everett Silvertips.