Six games into the Western Hockey league schedule and the Kelowna Rockets sit firmly in second place in the BC Division with a record of 4-1-0-1.
A couple of sweeps, home-and-home against the Kamloops Blazers, then on the road against the Prince George Cougars account for the Rockets victories. Kelowna dominated Kamloops in both games, despite the absence of some veteran players. Up in Prince George, with a full roster less some injuries, the Rockets managed a pair of overtime wins, 7-6 and 4-3.
During the first three weeks of the current campaign, the usual influx of returnees from National Hockey league camps has meant some roster juggling.
Kole Lind (Vancouver Canucks), Cal Foote (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Braydn Chizen (Minnesota Wild) were returned prior to Kelowna’s season opener. Dillon Dube (Calgary Flames) and Carsen Twarynski (Philadelphia Flyers) came along a couple of games into the schedule. It is unlikely defencemen Devante Stephens (Buffalo Sabres) or Lucas Johansen (Washington Capitals) will wear a Rockets jersey this season.
The trade of import forward Tomas Soustal to the Edmonton Oil Kings for a fourth round draft pick solved a couple of challenges for the Rockets. At the CHL Import Draft, the organization selected defenceman Libor Zabransky and forward Marek Skvrne, both of whom have seen ice time early on this season. Soustal, also 20 years of age, would have occupied two spots (overage and import), hence the trade.
The core leadership group in Kelowna now includes team captain Cal Foote and assistant captain Dube, along with defencemen James Hilsendager (20), Gordie Ballhorn (20). Lind, who led the team in scoring last season, is on pace so far to do the same this year.
Goaltender Brodan Salmond has handled the bulk of the work so far with five appearances. His 3-1-0-1 record is acceptable, but a 3.61 goals against average and .877 save percentage are numbers that will have to improve quickly. Rookie James Porter was outstanding in his only start, the team’s 4-3 overtime win in Prince George, so any inner-competition between the goalies is sure to be beneficial.
Through the remainder of October, the schedule is simply, well, bizarre. Between October 13 and November 1, Kelowna will play nine games. The schedule looks like this:
Oct. 13: vs Calgary
Oct. 14: at Portland
Oct. 15: at Portland
Oct. 17: at Tri City
Oct. 20: vs Portland
Oct. 21: vs Portland
Oct. 27: vs Tri City
Oct. 28: vs Prince George
Nov. 1: at Tri City
Rockets Fuel…PG finally burst the Rockets bubble last week, scoring twice in the first period during its 7-6 loss at CN Centre. The Rockets didn’t give up a first period goal in its first four games, outscoring opponents 7-0 in the process…Lind leads the Rockets scoring derby with seven goals and seven assists through six games. Dube (3 – 6; 9) and Cal Foote (2 – 7; 9) are next…Soustal played three games as a two-spotter for Kelowna before being dealt. According to Lorne Frey of the Rockets, Soustal was the first 20-year-old import to suit up for the Rockets since Jan Fadrny played 56 games for Kelowna back in the 2000-01 season…Kelowna is fifth in the league in goals scored with 28. The Portland Winterhawks (5-1) lead with 36 while the undefeated Victoria Royals (6-0) are next with 35…Kelowna has surrendered 24 goals so far…The Rockets are 1-1-0-1 at home and 3-0 on the road…Kelowna has scored six times in 25 opportunities on the power play. The team has given up one shorthanded goal so far. Last season, the Rockets were the only team in the WHL that did not surrender a shorthanded goal against…In 25 chances, opponents have scored seven times on the power play against Kelowna, placing the Rockets penalty killing proficiency among the bottom half (16th) in the WHL. Last season, the Rockets led the league in total penalty minutes. So far this season, Kelowna is 14th among the 22 WHL teams.