Prior to the Pandemic
The 2019-20 season was a star-crossed one for the Memorial Cup hosts. After losing nine of 12 games following the Jan. 10 trade deadline, the Rockets fired head coach Adam Foote and promoted assistant Kris Mallette to lead the way behind the bench in the middle of February.
They started to show improvement as players came back from injuries, but their chance to face Canada’s best major junior teams would dissapear as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even with several key pieces moving on from last year’s roster and their season being halted for nearly three weeks after positive COVID-19 tests within the team cohort, the Rockets worked through those challenges as they posted a 10-5-1-0 record in their shortened 16-game slate to earn the second best point percentage in the B.C. Division.
It was also a strong showing in the offensive department as they increased their goals per game mark from 2.87 to 3.62, which was was their highest average since a 3.88 mark in 2017-18.
At the other end of the rink, the Rockets almost matched their 3.30 goals against per game average from last season with a 3.31 mark this season.
- Dillon Hamaliuk (6-7-13 in 16 games – San Jose Sharks Prospect)
- David Kope (6-9-15 in 16 games)
- Mark Liwiski (9-5-14 in 16 games)
- Alex Swetlikoff (6-9-15 in 15 games)
- Ethan Bowen (Unsigned 2nd round pick in 2017 – 11-10-21 in 19 games for the Chilliwack Chiefs – Committed to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks – Anaheim Ducks Draft Pick)
- Ethan Ernst (0-0-0 in two games)
- Pavel Novak (0-1-1 in 15 games for Motor Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic – 25-33-58 in 55 games for the Rockets in 19-20 – Minnesota Wild Draft Pick)
- Jake Poole (2-7-9 in 15 games)
- Turner McMillen (2-6-8 in 16 games)
- Steel Quiring (2-1-3 in 13 games)
- Dylan Wightman (4-3-7 in 16 games)
- Trevor Wong (6-10-16 in 16 games)
- Scott Cousins (1-3-4 in 13 games)
- Daimon Gardner (Unsigned 8th round pick in 2019 – 1-3-4 in 25 games for the Omaha Lancers – Committed to the Clarkson Golden Knights)
- Nolan Flamand (1-6-7 in 16 games)
- Rilen Kovacevic (0-0-0 in three games)
- Andrew Cristall (2-3-5 in 14 games)
- Marcus Pacheco (3rd round pick in 2020 – 0-4-4 in two games for the OHA Edmonton Under-18 Prep Team – 15-24-39 in 30 games for the OHA Edmonton Under-15 Prep Team in 2019-20)
Kelowna’s forward lineup may have been the biggest question mark surrounding the team heading into this season. Kyle Topping and Matthew Wedman had both aged out of the league, Nolan Foote had started his pro career and Pavel Novak wasn’t able to return from Europe.
As it turned out, the Rockets offence ended up being the strongest aspect of the roster. Trevor Wong enjoyed a stellar sophomore season as his point per game performance has moved the 18-year-old from Vancouver into the NHL Draft discussion. Overagers David Kope and Dillon Hamaliuk were right behind Wong in the team scoring race, while veterans Mark Liwiski and Alex Swetlikoff would have smashed through their season-high in points during a normal campaign.
The young faces also showed what they had to offer, with former Prince Albert Minto Turner McMillen and Saskatoon’s Nolan Flamand posting solid numbers in their rookie seasons, along with 2020 first round pick Andrew Cristall.
- Sean Comrie (0-9-9 in 16 games – Committed to Grant MacEwan Griffins for next season)
- Tyson Feist (2-8-10 in 14 games)
- Kaedan Korczak (3-5-8 in 15 games – Vegas Golden Knights Prospect)
- Jake Lee (3-7-10 in 16 games)
- Robert Kincaid (Unsigned 9th round pick in 2017 – 1-10-11 in 26 games for the Minot Minotauros – Committed to the Maine Black Bears)
- Michael Krutil (Unsigned 2020 Import Draft Pick – 0-3-3 in 21 games for the Rockford IceHogs – Chicago Blackhawks Draft Pick)
- Jarod Newell (Tri-City’s 4th round pick in 2017 – 0-1-1 in six games for the Camrose Kodiaks – 0-0-0 in nine games with the Americans and Rockets in 2019-20 – 0-6-6 in 23 games for the Kodiaks in 2019-20)
- Elias Carmichael (2-4-6 in 14 games)
- Jackson Desouza (0-1-1 in four games)
- Noah Dorey (1-2-3 in nine games)
- William Irvine (0-0-0 in four games)
- John Babcock (0-1-1 in nine games)
- Caden Price (2nd round pick in 2020 – 2-2-4 in six games for the Saskatoon Under-18 Contacts – 31-24-55 in 31 games for the Saskatoon Under-15 Generals in 2019-20)
Had the 2020-21 campaign been a normal one, Vegas Golden Knights prospect Kaedan Korczak might have been the biggest name on the trade market, especially as the Rockets look to regain assets that they used on their Memorial Cup team. Instead, the 20-year-old from Yorkton stayed in Kelowna for the last leg of a hectic season that included time in the AHL with the Henderson Silver Knights and Canada’s world junior team.
In addition to Korczak, the Rockets blueline was led by their veterans, as Jake Lee and Tyson Feist both cracked the double digit marks in points, with overager Sean Comrie close behind.
The lead youngster on the backend was sophomore Elias Carmichael, who had six points in 14 contests after posting 10 points in 59 games during his rookie campaign.
- Roman Basran (4-2-1 with a 3.86 GAA, an .876 save percentage and zero shutouts)
- Cole Schwebius (5-3-0 with a 3.11 GAA, an .891 save percentage and one shutout)
- Cole Tisdale (8th round pick in 2017 – Played one game for the Whitecourt Wolverines – 10-7-1 with a 3.34 GAA, a .901 save percentage and one shutout for the Camrose Kodiaks in 2019-20 – Played one game for the Rockets in 2019-20)
- Nicholas Cristiano (1-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA, a .969 save percentage and zero shutouts)
While Roman Basran had solidified himself as the starter for the last two seasons with the Rockets, he and Cole Schwebius ended up splitting time this spring, with Schewbius posting the better numbers. With the overage situation still needing to be sorted out in Kelowna, the pair might be squaring off in training camp to determine who ends up leading the way in between the pipes.
At the moment, 19-year-old Cole Tisdale and 16-year-old Nicolas Cristiano are the only other two goaltenders that have signed with the club. Cristiano, who made 31 saves in his WHL debut against the Victoria Royals, would appear to have the inside track on the backup role, unless the Rockets make any trades or signings this summer.
With at least six overagers vying for three spots on the roster (which could increase to seven if the Golden Knights were to send Korczak back to Kelowna), how general manager Bruce Hamilton goes about constructing next year’s Rockets side might be one of the more interesting storylines of the off-season.
The offence should be solid, especially if Novak returns from Europe, but the defensive depth and whoever ends up being the goaltending tandem might determine whether the Rockets can earn a spot in the top half of the Western Conference.
The biggest question though is if Kelowna will get the chance to host the Memorial Cup in 2023, when the WHL is expected to hold the tournament again. The Kamloops Blazers, who along with the Lethbridge Hurricanes lost out to the Rockets in the bid process for the 2020 tournament, are making noise that they’ll have a better team than the Rockets for that season and should host the event, which will only heat up the rivalry between the two sides.
One problem the Rockets might face in building up their roster if they get to host the CHL’s showcase event in two years is their limited draft capital. With no true trade deadline this year to regain picks, they currently only have a third round choice in 2021 and a fifth round pick in 2022 from the first ten rounds of the next two prospect drafts.
They do have a second and a fifth round pick in 2023, plus all of their picks in the first five rounds for 2024, but do you risk selling your future once again just to be competitive for one week in May and being a barren wasteland when the 2023-24 season starts.