Rockets get new visitor

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Kamloops Blazers will not provide the opposition when the Kelowna Rockets open a new Western Hockey League season.

The home opening dates, and opponents for each of the league's 22 teams were announced Monday.

The Rockets will kick off the 2019-2020 season Saturday, Sept. 21 against the Spokane Chiefs.

The last time a team other than the Blazers provided the opposition in the home opener was in 2011 when they hosted the Vancouver Giants.

You have to go all the way back to Ryan Huska's first season coaching the Rockets in 2007 for the last time a U.S. Division team kicked off a season at Prospera Place.

The entire 68 game schedule will be unveiled Wednesday.


Draft finds Thomson, Foote

UPDATE 8:15 p.m.

The career hockey paths of brothers Cal and Nolan Foote continue to align.

In 2013, the Kelowna Rockets selected defenceman Cal in the second round of the WHL bantam draft. Two years later, brother Nolan, a forward, as nabbed by the Rockets, also in the second round of the draft.

Fast forward to Friday night, where the younger Foote was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the NHL draft, 27th overall.

As luck, or fate would have it, it's the same Lightning team that drafted Cal two years earlier.

Following his selection Friday, Nolan Foote was almost speechless, saying it was great to play with his brother for two years in Kelowna, and hopefully, they'll have a chance to do it again in the NHL.

Father Adam, also a first round NHL draft choice, 22nd overall in 1989, who was at the draft in Vancouver, was named head coach of the Rockets early this past season.

Could it be the stars align again and the older Foote gets a coaching gig in Tampa sometime down the road?

Nolan Foote led the Rockets in goals this past season with 36 and was second to Kyle Topping in points with 63.

ORIGINAL: 7:20 p.m.

Defenceman Lassi Thomson knows where his long-term future lies.

Thomson, a Finnish native, was taken 19th overall by the Ottawa Senators in Friday's NHL draft.

Now, Kelowna Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton hopes there's a change of heart as to his short-term future.

Thomson was a key part of the Rockets blue line this past season.

He led all rookie defencemen in scoring last season with 17 goals and 24 assists in 63 games.

He was named Rockets rookie of the year, and was runner-up in voting for WHL rookie of the year.

Thomson is seen as a key cog for the Rockets, who will host the Memorial Cup next season.

However, in May, Finnish based scout Lassi Alanen tweeted Thomson would forgo a second season with the Rockets, and instead play for his hometown team in Finland.

Hamilton has said he hopes the team that drafts Thomson will be able to convince him to return to the Rockets for next season.

When asked on the draft floor about Thomson's immediate future, Senators GM Pierre Dorion said they would support Thomson regardless where he wants to play next season.

Foote invited to camp

Kelowna Rockets forward Nolan Foote is on Team Canada's radar for the upcoming 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Foote is one of 43 players invited to take part in the National Junior Team Sport Chek Summer Development Camp.

The camp will be held from July 27 to Aug. 4 in Plymouth, Mich.

In all, 25 forwards, 13 defencemen and five goaltenders were invited to take part in the camp. The group will be split into two teams at the camp.

Canada will play four games over the nine days in Plymouth, two against the United States, along with games against Finland and Sweden.

Foote led the Rockets with 36 goals last season. He was second in team scoring with 63 points.

“We’re very pleased with the group that will be brought together in Plymouth,” said Shawn Bullock, director of men’s national teams.

“This is a development opportunity for some of the younger athletes, and it’s a great opportunity for our coaching staff and players to start developing a solid relationship ahead of the world juniors.”

It should be a busy week for Foote, who should know his professional direction this coming weekend.

Foote is expected to be selected within the first two rounds of the NHL draft in Vancouver.

The first round of the draft will be held Friday night, with the remainder of the draft set for Saturday.


Status quo for WHL

For the second year in a row, don't expect any rule changes in the Western Hockey League.

In fact, the biggest news to come out of the league's annual general meetings is a move by the Swift Current Broncos from the Eastern Division to the Central Division.

The announcement was made following the conclusion of the meetings at the Delta Grand Hotel in Kelowna.

"They have been very good about it. They have a natural rivalry with Medicine Hat, and they'll continue to have some games with their traditional Saskatchewan rivals," said commissioner Ron Robison during a media availability Wednesday.

"That's necessary to accommodate Winnipeg moving into the east."

The former Kootenay Ice franchise relocated to Winnipeg after this past season creating an imbalance between the East and Central divisions.

Robison said nothing will change in terms of rules, saying the game is in a good place right now.

"That's not to say we don't continue to challenge ourselves on everything that's developing, whether it's at our level or the NHL level," he said.

"We're partners with the NHL and we'll follow any new developments up there."

Robison touched on a number of topics concerning the Western Hockey League.

Here are just a few of the items broached by the commissioner.

Move to a 68-game schedule - It was a great move I think. When you look at the number of changes we've made to improve the player experience, that would be a big one. We play in a league that requires a lot of travel. We need more time for schooling, more time for recovery, more practice time. It's led to more of a compact schedule on weekends, about 70 per cent of our games are on weekends.

Raiders quick turnaround before Memorial Cup - Prince Albert didn't really recover after a long league final. Credit to Vancouver for pushing them to seven games. The advantage next year is both teams of lour will be playing in our own region. We charter for the championship series, and try to give the two teams the best conditions. Both teams will be ready to go opening night.

Expansion - We have no plans for expansion. If you look at the league, 22 teams is probably a few teams too many. The 20-team level is where we were quite satisfied, but because of the opportunity to move into markets like Edmonton, Victoria and now Winnipeg, we really have the ideal footprint in Western Canada. We occupy not only all the large markets in Western Canada, but all the most influential secondary markets in Western Canada well as the United States.

Attracting fans - We continually focus on, not only from the hockey development standpoint, but fan experience and how we can use that to improve ticket sales. It's a challenge for every league from the top spots leagues to the amateur leagues like ours. We've done some things and made some changes this year. He have some music over play, we are prompting a bit during the game, we are trying to improve the entertainment level of the game. The hockey itself is outstanding, the quality of the game is outstanding. We think there needs to be a little more added to the entertainment package to make it more appealing to the fans.



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