Lassi inks in Ottawa

Good news for the Kelowna Rockets in their hope of retaining defenceman Lassi Thomson next season.

The Finnish product signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators Monday.

The deal comes less than a month after the Senators used the 19th overall pick to grab the Rockets defenceman in the NHL draft.

Reports out of Finland have indicated Thomson would forgo another year in the Western Hockey League to play with his hometown team in the Finnish Hockey League.

Thomson is under contract with Ilves.

Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton has been cautiously optimistic Thomson could return to the Rockets.

However, a lot of that, he said, hinged on whether he signs with the Senators.

"If Ottawa signs him, they're going to have a say in where he goes," added Hamilton.

In 63 games with the Rockets last season, Thomson scored 17 goals and 24 assists, tops among rookie defencemen.

His 17 goals were third best among all WHL redarguards.

"Lassi has great offensive instincts and an NHL-calibre shot," said Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion in a news release.

"He also brings a high compete level - he's always moving his feet and driving the pace of play. We came away from development camp in Ottawa very impressed and feel that he is going to be an important piece of our team's future."

Thomson will suit up with Finland at the 2019 World Junior Showcase later this month in Plymouth, Mich.

The event features teams from Finland, Canada, the US and Sweden as they tune-up their rosters for the World Junior Championships.


Fiddler on the bench

The Kelowna Rockets have brought in a familiar face to round out their coaching staff.

Vernon Fiddler, who played 152 games over parts of four seasons for the Rockets from 1997 to 2000, has been hired as an assistant under head coach Adam Foote.

He replaces Travis Crickard, who left the team following a mutual parting of the ways in December.

Fiddler retired in 2017 after a 15-year NHL career in which he amassed 104 goals and 157 assists in 877 games with Nashville, Dallas, Phoenix and New Jersey.

He spent last season as an organizational coach within the Dallas Stars system. He assisted with skills and development coaching with both the NHL Stars and their AHL affiliate the Texas Stars.

"He brings a lot, we're thrilled to have him join our organization," said Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton.

"We really wanted to find a forward for our coaching staff. I think it's great that Fiddler is a former Rocket player. He has some experience working with the Dallas Stars and had a great NHL career."

Fiddler joins Foote and other ex-Rockets Kris Mallette and Adam Brown on the coaching staff. Foote and Mallette were both NHL defenceman, while Brown was a goaltender.

Foote says he's excited for both the coaching staff and the players.

"In my opinion, from the years I played against Fiddler I thought he had a really high hockey IQ and I loved how he played with confidence," said Foote.

"He brings wisdom and years of his experience that our players have not had, that in the forward position can help teach them. I feel we're very fortunate to have a guy of this level on our team."

For Fiddler, he says it feels a bit like deja vu.

He said Hamilton gave him a chance in 1997 as an undrafted player, and now he is getting a chance in coaching.

"With my experience playing in the American League and the NHL as a solid defensive forward, I think that I'm going to be able to help these young guys with a lot of things," said Fiddler.

"Those things are what you need to be good at to make yourself a better player, from the things I've learned over the years and to develop into an NHL player I think that I can help these young guys."

New look to Rockets sked

There are some new twists to the Kelowna Rockets 2019-2020 Western Hockey League schedule.

They have abandoned the traditional home opener with Kamloops, and instead will usher in the new season against the Spokane Chiefs Sept. 21.

And Kelowna's annual pre-Christmas trek to the Prairies won't mark the unofficial end to the first half of the season.

"We are going to go on the road before Christmas then come home and play a game (vs. Vancouver) before Christmas which is a first," said Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton.

"We were going to end up with way too many days off, and I think that will be an exciting game for our community to play a game right before Christmas."

Overall, Hamilton likes his 68-game schedule.

"I like the schedule after Christmas at home, and the stretch run is pretty good."

The Rockets play 21 of their final 36 post-Christmas games at home, as well as six of their last eight down the stretch.

The flip side of that is a more road-heavy schedule to start, with nine of their first 14 games away from Prospera Place.

That opening stretch includes three games in Prince George and a pair in Victoria.

Their longest road stretch is the six-game jaunt through the Eastern Division, while the longest homestand is five games at the beginning of February, culminating the with Family Day matinee against the Calgary Hitmen.

The Rockets also have just one three-game in three-night stretch which takes them to Everett on a Friday, and Portland for back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday.

They'll close out the regular season at home Saturday, March 21 against Vancouver, before beginning what they hope is a long playoff run culminating with a berth in the Memorial Cup.

Historic draft for Rockets

The Kelowna Rockets made history of sorts during Thursday's CHL import draft, dipping for the first time into the Russian hockey market.

With their second pick of the draft, 73rd overall, GM Bruce Hamilton selected right winger Daniil Gutik from Yaroslavl, Russia.

With Yaroslavl Loko in the MHL, Gutik, listed as 6'3" and 179 pounds, had five goals and 13 points in 36 games. He added four assists in five games at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup tournament.

Prior to the draft, Hamilton said he has never been big on the Russian market.

"I don't know if we will go there because you never know what you're going to get or if you're going to get," he said.

Gulik's availability could hinge on whether Finnish defenceman Lassi Thomson returns to the Rockets next season. Thomson, who finished second in rookie of the year voting in the WHL, may return to his hometown team Ilves next season, with whom he is under contract.

However, that decision could depend on whether he signs with the Ottawa Senators, who selected Thomson in the first round of last week's NHL draft.

"If Ottawa signs him, they're going to have a say in where he goes," added Hamilton.

With their first pick, 13th overall Thursday, the Rockets grabbed Czech right winger Pavel Novak.

Novak split his time between the Czech Junior League and the men's 2nd Czech Hockey League.

With Ceske Budejovice Jr. in the junior league, Novak had 29 goals and 16 assists in 31 games. He added three assists in 20 games in the men's league.

Novak, who turned 17 two months ago, is listed at 5'10", 167 pounds.

The Rockets will only be allowed to carry two imports once the season begins.

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