(KELOWNA, BC) With the announcement from the Western Hockey League Board of Governors on October 14, pegging Friday, January 8, 2021 as opening night for the WHL Regular Season, Kelowna Rockets President and General Manager Bruce Hamilton offered his thoughts in a release from the organization.
It’s good news at this point in the central Okanagan city that was slated to host the 2020 Memorial Cup in May.
There was widespread disappointment in the region, outlined in this DUBNetwork season review article on April 2 when the tournament was cancelled due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hamilton, re-elected as Chairman of WHL Board of Governors in June, says the regular season start date gives fans and players a sense of optimism.
“I think it gives some clarity for our fans and most importantly for our players when our hope is to get started,” he said. “Once again, a lot of this will depend on the health boards. In particular, here in British Columbia, Dr. Bonnie Henry will have a significant influence on it.”
Hamilton indicated some regions in the WHL will be cleared to play between now and January 8, which will afford the league some time to work through challenges being faced in the other regions.
“In our league, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are prepared to get going even earlier, so they’ll be ready to go by then,” Hamilton said. “It’ll be British Columbia, Alberta and the American Division waiting to see what approval we get.
“It’s a few months out, hopefully, things calm down and there’s some movement towards getting people back in facilities so we have an opportunity to run our business.”
When it comes to the European players, Hamilton is hopeful they will be able to join their respective teams. For the Rockets, the imports are Pavel Novak and Michael Krutil, who were both selected in last week’s 2020 National Hockey League Draft.
“Hopefully we can get them here,” Hamilton said. “Right now the challenge is to get American and European players visas, understandably the government of Canada has really slowed that down.
“Both Novak and Krutil will more than likely be on the Czech Republic’s World Junior team in Edmonton, so we hope that as soon as the Championship is done they’ll be allowed to come to Kelowna and join our team, that’ll be a work in process.”
Novak led the team in scoring as a rookie last season with 25 goals and 33 assists in 55 games. He sat out an eight-game suspension during the first half of the season after an incident in Kamloops. The Minnesota Wild chose Novak in the fifth round, 146th overall.
Krutil has yet to play a game in the WHL. Kelowna acquired the right-handed shooting defenceman with the 24th overall pick at the most recent CHL Import Draft. The Chicago Blackhawks called Krutil’s name in the fourth round with the 110th overall pick.
A quick look at the WHL website confirms defenceman Devin Steffler remains on the current Rockets roster. Steffler hails from Durango, Colorado.
Steffler has appeared in 121 regular season games for the Rockets over two seasons. Now 20 years old, one wonders how the COVID-19 protocols might be applied should the American-born defender remain part of the organization’s plans for the upcoming season.
Hamilton thanked Rockets fans, while adding he’s excited to have a firm date to start the season.
“We really appreciate the patience of our fans and our season ticket holders, we can’t wait to get started,” he said. “In saying that, we need to start when it makes sense for the players and fans health.
“It has to be a decision that works business-wise also, we’re like many others out there who have been shut down, we’re eagerly awaiting that window to get our business back to somewhat normalcy.”
(DUBNetwork thanks Paige Bednorz of the Kelowna Rockets for continuing to issue timely and concise communications.)