As the regular season continues to progress, there are those pivotal moments that give Western Hockey League supporters the kind of talking points that keep the conversations and speculation afloat.
When the calendar flips to December, well past the quarter pole for the 22 WHL teams, thoughts turn to the annual World Junior Championship, then on to the Jan. 10 trade deadline. It’s a time of year where teams are thinking about how they might juggle, to elevate performance during the second half of the season, or to plan for the future.
In Kelowna this season, there is perhaps a different kind of urgency, as the Rockets will play host to the 2020 Memorial Cup.
On Thursday, Kelowna made another trade, acquiring 20-year-old forward Matthew Wedman from the Seattle Thunderbirds. Wedman, who was selected by the Florida Panthers at the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 40 goals last season and Rockets general manager Bruce Hamilton hopes the Edmonton-native can bring that kind of production to the Okanagan Valley.
“I think when he gets playing with Nolan Foote, or whoever we end up putting him with, his offense will come back,” Hamilton said. “He brings just a big presence.
“And I think he understands what it’s going to take here and I really liked fact that he was the captain of their team. He’s gonna bring you know some more stability.
“I think Nolan has done a real good job as our captain and I think this just gives him some more help in making decisions and things like that.”
The deal for Wedman, which cost the Rockets three future draft picks including a 2023 first-rounder, came on the heels of a trade with Moose Jaw on Nov. 24 when Kelowna acquired another overage forward, Jadon Joseph from the Warriors in return for three roster players.
“It’s the same with Joseph,” Hamilton said. “He’s gonna be the same kind of player, a real good skater.
“I just think I’m excited about it all, I feel we still need to some kind of a move on defense, but to get this out of the way before Christmas is huge for us. We’re thrilled we got it done.”
Adding Wedman, a fourth 20-year-old, also forced Hamilton’s hand. Leif Mattson, who had played his entire WHL career with the Rockets, was moved to the Spokane Chiefs.
“That was a tough meeting last night,” Hamilton said. “There were quite a few tears shed and right from the coaches on out because we really asked Leif to become a man this year and he did. He took on a tremendous leadership role.
“He’s going to Spokane. They lost (Jake) McGrew to a very serious injury, but they’ve got an excellent hockey team and Leif’s going to get a chance to step into something that’s pretty good there with good players.”
When queried by DUBNetwork about the blue line brigade, Hamilton confirmed the organization has been in contact with import rearguard Lassi Thomson. The Finnish defenceman was outstanding last season with Kelowna, earning the nod as the western conference rookie-of-the-year. In June, The Ottawa Senators chose Thomson 19th overall at the NHL Draft in Vancouver.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with Newport Sports about what’s going to happen with Lassi Thompson,” Hamilton said. “Right now, it looks like he’s gonna stay and I don’t think that Ottawa is gonna force the hand to get him to back here.
“So, that’s gonna leave us a spot open. That’s probably a position that we’ll look at after Christmas. If there’s an opportunity to fill out, we’ll look at that then.”
When asked how the current roster would look if Thomson was in the mix, a right-handed shot with proven offensive skills, Hamilton provided an emphatic response.
“If we had him here, I wouldn’t have to make a trade.”
It may be awhile before the Rockets ice the roster that will see itself through the second half of the WHL campaign. Nolan Foote will leave soon for the WJC Selection camp and should he crack that roster, he will be away until mid-January. Pavel Novak returns next week after sitting out an eight-game suspension.
Forward Liam Kindree is out for at least three more weeks with a shoulder injury. Kyle Topping is about six weeks away, recovering from a broken ankle.
Kelowna 2 at Prince Albert 1
The Rockets earned two points in its first game of a road-trip through the East Division.
Wedman, acquired the night before, arrived in time to suit up and chipped in with an assist on the game-winner by Nolan Foote at 13:27 of the final frame. For Foote, it was his 14th of the season, a power play goal as Kelowna was playing with 5-on-3 advantage.
The Raiders played the role of gracious hosts, taking four straight minor penalties in the game’s final eight minutes.
Dallon Wilton, with his second of the season, gave the Rockets a 1-0 lead early in the second period, but Ozzy Wiesblatt evened the score early in the third.
Roman Basran made 26 saves, while Boston Bilous stopped 13 of 15 shots for the Raiders (18-6-3-1).
Kelowna (15-8-1-2) takes on the Saskatoon Blades (14-13-1-1) Saturday night.