Rockets blast off
Sep 21, 2012 / 1:33 pm
The pre-season is over and it's time for the games to start counting.
The WHL regular season kicks off Friday night for the Kelowna Rockets as they play the first of a home and home series with the Kamloops Blazers.
"Everybody's excited," says Rockets Head Coach Ryan Huska. "You always do look forward to that first game to see where you stack up."
The weekend set promises to be a good indicator as to where the Rockets are, with the Blazers coming in, along with with Portland, as one of the early season favourites in the Western Conference.
"We have to go in there and really try to establish our identity as to what we want Rockets hockey to be. I think it's a great way for us to find out where we are at the beginning of the year, playing against a team like Kamloops and the following weekend, a team like Portland."
The Rockets headed into last season as an early favourite but, hampered by injuries all season, never really got on track.
Huska says he expects this year's edition will perform beyond expectations.
"Internally, expectations are very high. They always are and I think you have to have that individually and as an organization, so our expectations don't change."
The Rockets bolstered their roster with the addition of 20-year-olds J.T. Barnett and Dylen McKinlay just before the pre-season ended.
The pair made their impact felt instantly when Barnett scored three times and McKinlay chipped in with a goal and two assists in an 8-1 win over Tri-City to end the pre-season.
Huska plans to rely on his two new veterans heavily this season.
"We're going to rely on them to generate some offense for us, but more importantly, were expecting them to show a work ethic that we expect our team to have. Having them in your line-up allows you to draw on their experience and their maturity level. With them, you're not forced to play 16 or 17 year-olds in your top six (forwards)."
Having said that, Huska admits some of his younger players need to step up and take a bigger role.
"Some guys have shown us that they're wanting more this year, and they're excited about opportunities that are in front of them, and that's what you need. You need a group of guys that are going to improve and challenge to get more ice time and play in different situations, and I expect that out of a lot of our younger players."
Once again this year, Colton Sissons will wear the 'C' for the Rockets.
"I think he's got more confidence in his ability and how people think of him within our dressing room, so I think his year of experience will be a valuable thing for him this year."
The 18 year-old was the Nashville Predator’s second choice, 50th overall, in 2012 Entry Draft
After Friday's opener, the Rockets host Kamloops at Prospera Place starting at 7:05 Saturday night. They play a pair of games in Portland the following weekend before returning home to face Vancouver on October 3.
For ticket information visit the Rocket's website.
The WHL regular season opened Thursday night as the defending champion Edmonton Oil Kings downed the Kootenay Ice 5-3. There's eight games on the schedule tonight.
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