With three first-round 2017 bantam draft picks on their roster, the Okanagan Rockets won’t be short on rookie talent to start the 2017-18 B.C. Major Midget League season.
On the other hand, with a generally young team to coach and an abbreviated exhibition schedule to get prepared, Eric Blais plans to be exercising patience early in the new campaign.
Still, the head coach fully expects the Rockets to be contenders when all is said and done.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we get out of the gate a little bit slow,” said Blais, in his second season at the Rockets’ helm. “A lot of the teams on the coast have played six, seven games already and we’re nowhere near that.
“I think once we get going and get some games under our belts, we’re going to be very competitive. I like our team.”
The Rockets open up the new season this weekend at home to the Northeast Chiefs. Games go at the Capital News Centre on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.
Okanagan will be led into battle this season by a quartet of returning veterans—forwards Mitchell Gove, Brandon Della Paolera and Will Reimer, and defenceman Palmer Jenkins.
The crop of 15-year-old rookies that has Blais particularly excited includes forward Jack Finley (sixth overall, Spokane) and Ben King (13th, Swift Current), and defenceman Tanner Brown (24th, Vancouver)
“We’re lucky to have three high-end 15-year-old players,” said Blais. “I’m looking forward to seeing them develop and a lot of our other young guys, too. We’re really happy with this group.”
Other newcomers expected to play key roles include forwards Nick Corrado and Brendan Boyle, and defenceman Remy Aquilon, all 16 this year.
A pair of WHL draft picks will tend goal for Okanagan this season—Cole Schwebius, property of the Seattle Thunderbirds, and Roman Basran, a third-round draft pick of the Kelowna Rockets in 2016.
As for his second tour of duty behind the Rockets bench, Blais plans to build on the experiences he gained last season.
“I feel better prepared,” said Blais, whose club finished third last season before losing in the opening round of the playoffs. “The boys returning know what’s expected of them and I also know better what to expect from them.
“It isn’t about winning at this level, it’s about getting the players ready for the next level,” he added. “If you do that, then the byproduct is getting some wins. The winning will take care of itself.”
The Rockets will head to the BCMML Showcase in Richmond next weekend, Sept. 29 and 30, but will play only in exhibition games against the Everett Silvertips U18 team.