The Okanagan Rockets will officially kick off their 2017/18 season this weekend when they host the Vancouver NE Chiefs.
Leaving off from last year: The NE Chiefs had a rock solid season, finishing only two points behind the first-place Cariboo Cougars. After knocking off the Valley West Hawks in consecutive games in the quarterfinals, the Chiefs fell to the Greater Vancouver Canadians in a three game semifinal series. As for the Rockets, an outstanding first half to the season was followed up by a mostly average second half, to finish in third place. The Rockets were upset via a first-round sweep at the hands of the Vancouver NW Giants.
Head-to-Head: The best matchup between the two teams in 16/17 was the first meeting in Port Coquitlam, which saw the teams split the weekend. In February, the teams faced off in Penticton in the most lopsided weekend of the season for the Rockets. Okanagan dropped both games by 5-0 and 10-2 scores.
Historically Speaking: Looking back to the 2006/07 season, the Rockets have put up a 22-16-6 all-time record against the Chiefs. 12 of those wins have come on home ice, with this weekend being the Chiefs’ first trip to the Capital News Centre since 2014.
Returnees: The Rockets will have four returnees in their lineup heading into this season. Brandon Della Paolera and Mitchell Gove cracked last year’s opening day roster as 15-year-olds, and will make up a big part of the leadership core this year. In 33 games, Gove put up 20 points (11-9), while Della Paolera finished with 14 points (5-9) in 34 games. Other veterans are 16-year-old forward Will Reimer, and 17-year-old d-man Palmer Jenkins, who each got promotions from the Tier-One team partway through the season, who finished with 11 and 5 points respectively. Both Reimer and Jenkins will also be heavily relied on for their talent and veteran experience by the Rockets this season.
Fresh Faces: The Rockets will have plenty of people talking about the three WHL draft picks from the Pursuit of Excellence Academy’s Bantam Prep Team. At the top of the list is Kelowna’s Jack Finley, who had a couple memorable AP appearances with the team during last year’s playoffs and KIMMT tournament. Finley was taken sixth overall by the Spokane Chiefs, after putting up 48 points in 27 games. He’ll also be joined up front by Ben King, who was taken 13th overall by the Swift Current Broncos. King had 46 points in 22 games last season. On the defensive side, Tanner Brown will add some grit with offensive upside, as he recorded 29 points over 26 games last season. Brown was taken in the second round, 24th overall by the Vancouver Giants. Another defenceman to watch will be ’02 Scott Gilowski, an OHA grad who was taken in the 7th round by the Prince George Cougars. Forward Brendan Boyle has also signed with the Cougars, while ’01 Nolan Corrado was a Broncos draft pick in 2016.
Between the Pipes: The Rockets will have a new tandem between the pipes this year, who are expected to split a lot of the time early in the season. 16-year-old Cole Schwebius comes from the OHA program, where he put up a 2.93 GAA with a .911 save percentage with the Elite 15s last season. He was also drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 10th round of the 2016 draft, and spent time in their camp this year. He’ll be joined by Kelowna Rockets draftee Roman Basran, who spent last season at the Yale Academy. He was taken 64th overall in the 3rd round last year, and put up a line of 3.13/.901 through 16 games last season.
Lineup News: The Rockets will be without a couple of veteran faces to start the season this weekend…Brandon Della Paolera will be out of the lineup as will Will Reimer. Puck drop this weekend will be 3 pm Saturday, and 10 am Sunday at the CNC.