As far as Jackson Whistle knew, trips back to Kelowna this season would either entail visiting family or suiting up for Western Hockey League games with the Vancouver Giants.
After being acquired late last week by Kelowna Rockets, the 17-year-old netminder is home to stay.
“At first I was obviously shocked, I enjoyed being in Vancouver, and I wasn’t expecting to be traded,” said Whistle, who spent much of his childhood in West Kelowna and played three seasons with the Pursuit of Excellence program.
“But when I heard it was Kelowna, I was really happy. Coming home to play and with a really good organization, I couldn’t ask for much more. I’m pretty pumped about it.”
The Rockets, who dealt a third-round bantam pick to the Giants for Whistle, were looking for a young backup to both complement and push No. 1 stopper, 19-year-old Jordon Cooke.
“I think first and foremost we want someone who will compete for time and force Jordon to be better at the same time,” said Rockets goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh. “As a 17-year-old and with a year of WHL experience, it gives us a chance to with work Jackson and bring him along, and hopefully he’ll become a very reliable netminder for us.”
As a 16-year-old rookie, Whistle played in 21 games for the Giants last season posting a 3.61 goals against average.
On Saturday night, Whistle got his first taste of life in Rockets colours, making 19 saves in a 3-2 pre-season shootout loss to the Victoria Royals.
Whistle hopes it’s the beginning of a long and productive relationship with his new WHL club.
“I’m looking forward to being here, hopefully for a long time,” said the 6-foot-1, 187-pound Whistle. “I’m coming in to try and be an important part of the Rockets, and eventually I want to be the starter on this team.
“I’m excited to be a Rocket and to have a chance to play in front of family and friends.”
And while Kim Dillabaugh’s exposure to Whistle has so far been limited, the Rockets assistant is looking forward to overseeing the young stopper’s progress.
“From my limited viewings, what I’ve seen is that he’s a competitive individual, he’s more of an athletic, reactionary goalie, so we’ll look to maximize those attributes,” Dillabaugh said. “At the same time, we’ll identify areas we need to work on. There’s still a lot of room for development in his game.”
To make room for Whistle, the Rockets reassigned 18-year-old Cam Barnes to Canmore of the AJHL.
Rocket Shots…The Rockets will close out their WHL pre-season schedule with two games this week. On Thursday, the Rockets will visit the Spokane Chiefs, then will return home Saturday to host the Tri-City Americans…The Rockets’ exhibition record is 1-1-0-2 after a pair of losses to Victoria last weekend, 4-1 and 3-2 in a shootout…Kelowna will open the regular season Friday, Sept. 21 in Kamloops.