‘Work ethic’ a priority for new Rockets coach

Jason Smith looks for WHL club to compete and 'play the whole rink'

Former NHL captain Jason Smith will make his WHL coaching debut with the Kelowna Rockets on Sept. 23 in Kamloops.

In the three weeks since officially taking the helm in Kelowna, Jason Smith’s expectations of his team remain unchanged.

Work ethic and solid fundamentals will be at the forefront of the game plan when the Rockets take to ice for start of the 2016-17 Western Hockey League season.

“We want to play a strong team game, with attention to detail and a strong work ethic,” said Smith, the Rockets’ new head coach. “The standard is we’re going to compete, play hard every night and play the whole rink.

“Our players are not just going to play in the offensive zone, looking after the defensive side is going to be a priority.”

With seven players away at NHL rookie camps, Smith will get one last preseason look at his new team on Friday night against the Vancouver Giants. Face off at Prospera Place is 7 p.m.

And while all the personnel is new to Smith, he said a strong corps of 17 returning players and an experienced coaching staff have helped with the transition.

“With most of the guys having been here, I think I have a pretty good feel for this group and the style we want to continue to play,” he said. “I think it should be an exciting team for the fans to watch.

“As a team, you’re going to make adjustments and change some things throughout the season, but the basics are all there.

“We’re going to try and play fast and create offensively, while also working to improve defensively.”

The Rockets will open the regular campaign with a home-and-home set against the Kamloops Blazers.

The clubs will play Friday, Sept. 23 at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, then again the following night at Prospera Place. Face off is 7 p.m.

Rocket Shots…

Seven Rockets are attending NHL rookie camps this weekend: Devante Stephens (Buffalo), Lucas Johansen (Washington), Dillon Dube (Calgary), Calvin Thurkauf (Columbus), Brayden Chizen (Minnesota) and Gordie Ballhorn (Dallas). Most, if not all, are expected back with the club next week.