Rockets defence standing tall
Sep 19, 2013 / 9:30 am
As the old hockey adage goes, offence wins games - defence wins championships.
If that translates to the 2013-2014 edition of the Kelowna Rockets, it could be another banner raising season at Prospera Place.
While not making any bold predictions about the season, Rockets President/GM, Bruce Hamilton does concede the back end will be the strength of the team.
"I think our team will be exciting to watch because I think with our defence, having had the amount of time they've had here - a lot of them are into their third years - we should see some transition out of our own end quicker than in the past," says Hamilton.
"Playing against us should be a lot tougher because these guys are all a year or two older than when they got here. They're not boys now, they're young men."
The Rockets are returning their entire defensive corps from a year ago, Damon Severson, Madison Bowey, Jesse Lees, MacKenzie Johnston, Cole Martin, Riley Stadel and Mitchell Wheaton.
Barring injuries, talented rookies Dalton Yorke and Joe Gatenby will likely find it tough to crack the line-up on a regular basis.
Hamilton says he expects the defence to make it tough on opposing teams to play in the Rockets end of the ice.
"Last year we were better but I think the strength of these guys is that they've had a real good summer of training and they are just young men that are maturing," says Hamilton.
"Their bodies are getting bigger and they are certainly a lot stronger. What our goal would be will be to make it very, very uncomfortable to play in our rink. When we pin somebody they're pinned and when we knocked somebody over they're knocked over."
It may be a few weeks before the entire Rockets defence hits the ice as a group.
Severson remains in the camp of the NHL's New Jersey Devils while Wheaton is a few weeks away, after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery.
The Rockets enter Friday's season opener in Kamloops full of expectations - especially from pundits outside the market who view the Rockets as the team to beat in the BC Division and perhaps the Western Conference.
It's something Hamilton doesn't put much stock in.
He believes the BC Division will be strong from top to bottom.
"There will be lots of tight games and lots of very good games. Prince George is certainly a better team. They've been rebuilding that team for a few years now and I don't think they've lost yet in exhibition," says Hamilton.
"The Giants are going to be a competitive team, they've been re-tooling. Kamloops is doing what we did a couple of years ago, they're going to get it kick-started but they have enough older guys that will make them competitive also."
Hamilton says Victoria will ice a very good team as well. Physical as always.
"There will be no free dinners over there. Anytime we played them here last year they were very entertaining."
The Rockets come into the season off a record breaking 2012-2013 campaign in which they tied a club record with 23 straight wins on home ice and broke the franchise record with 52 regular season wins.
Hamilton agrees that type of season is hard to duplicate.
"There are so many good teams that you are going to have a tough time doing that - but that was a magical run," says Hamilton.
"All that does is make every team coming in here more aware of how hard you have to play to get points out of here and it will be up to our guys to counter that."
While Wheaton may be a couple of weeks away from returning, Hamilton believes it will be December before third year forward Carter Ribgy returns to the ice.
Rigby is coming off surgery on both shoulders and now, according to Hamilton, has developed a bit of a knee problem as well.
The other question mark is forward Myles Bell who, like Severson, remains in New Jersey.
However, unlike Severson, Bell as a 20-year-old is eligible to be sent down to the Devils American League farm club in Albany.
Hamilton says he didn't get the sense Bell would be sent down to Albany when he talked with the Devils earlier this week, however, he says the big winger did have an outstanding summer.
"He trained really hard and got down in weight and he brings something a lot of guys can't and that's his shot," says Hamilton.
"Getting him back is huge for us but if we don't it makes our decision on overages a lot easier but probably puts us in a situation where we have to look for a shooter or something like that."
After kicking off the season in Kamloops Friday, the two teams will head south down Highway 97 for the Rockets home opener Saturday.
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