Thanks to his extended family, Brendon Wall already had ties to the Okanagan.
Now as a member of the Western Hockey League’s Rockets, the 20-year-old defenceman’s connection to Kelowna is complete.
“I’ve been here to visit family before, I love the city, and I know how great the fans are and that the organization is first class,” said Wall, a native of Saskatoon who has a cousin living in Kelowna. “I knew there was a chance I might be going somewhere for my final year. I’m just really glad it was Kelowna. I don’t think there could be a better situation for me.”
Wall will spend his fourth and final season of junior hockey in Kelowna after the Rockets acquired the 6-foot-1 rearguard from the Prince Albert Raiders last month.
The Rockets dealt for both Wall and fellow blue liner Kevin Smith, 19, this summer to help stabilize a young defensive corps in 2010-11.
Wall, who started his major junior career with the Saskatoon Blades in 2007, classifies himself as a stay-at-home defenceman but is committed to shouldering whatever duties the coaches have in store for him.
“I’ll be anything they want me to be,” Wall said with a smile. “I feel like I’m a well-rounded player, I look after my own end first, but I like to think I can jump up an contribute offensively as well. I’m here to help the team in whatever way I can.”
Smith, a Vancouver native, came over from the Moose Jaw Warriors in August in a one-for-one swap for Collin Bowman.
The 6-foot-2 195 pound Smith has more of an offensive bent to his game than Wall—he notched seven goals and 24 points last season with the Warriors.
With 169 games of WHL experience under his belt, Smith will also be looked to for leadership.
“They’ve told me I’m coming into fill a leadership role, so I’m going to do the best I can to help the younger guys out,” said Smith. “I know we have a young team, but at the same time we have a lot of top players, a lot of guys coming back…Hopefully we can get things pointed in the right direction from the start and go far in the playoffs.”
In addition to providing a measure of stability and experience, Wall and Smith will also serve as an insurance policy of sorts in the event WHL defenceman of the year Tyson Barrie doesn’t return from the camp of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
In the eyes of Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert, the addition of two seasoned veterans helps to bolster a young defensive corps that has taken some considerable strides in the last 12 months—including Colton Jobke, Antoine Corbin and Mitchell Chapman.
With many of the growing pains of 2009-10 now in the past, Lambert said much more will be expected from the back end.
“Some of the young guys we had last year look extremely good in camp, they all worked hard in the summer, and getting to play last year showed them what it takes to get to the next level,” said Lambert. “Last year there weren’t a lot of expectations because we were so young. This year we’re going to want to push them to be a lot better and at the end of the day we’re going to expect more.”
As for Wall and Smith, Lambert expects both vets will adapt to their new surroundings and quickly become vital players, both on and off the ice.
“Right now they seem like quiet guys, but as they feel more comfortable with everybody around them and getting more familiarized with the coaching staff, we do expect them to step up in the room and on the ice.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets will be in Ladner Friday night to battle the Vancouver Giants in the first of a home-and-home weekend set. The teams will face off again Saturday at 7 p.m at Prospera Place…Kelowna and Kamloops will meet for two exhibition games next weekend, Sept. 9 and 10.