The Golden Rockets are getting ready to kick off their 2020-21 season, with training camp set to begin around Oct. 5 and the season opening game Nov. 13.
While some teams have hit the ice already after the KIJHL moved into Stage 3 and authorized on-ice training camps, the Rockets still have to wait for the ice to be put in at the Plywood Palace in early October.
While the roster is far from set, head coach Chuck Wight says his team has a strong returning core and some promising prospects coming up.
“We’ve got at least four returning defensemen, a lot of teams aren’t going to have that luxury, so from the back end, we’re looking strong,” said Wight.
“Some players that have briefly played for us in the past and got traded are circling back, so they’ll get a chance to prove themselves as well.”
According to Wight, Bryce Trimmer will be back, having scored 15 goals and registered 40 points in 40 games with the Rockets last season.
Connor Funke will also be back after being acquired mid-season last year, registering eight goals and 14 points in 30 games.
Wight said the two will be a big part of the teams leadership group moving forward.
Global Academy will be hosting a showcase tournament at the end of September in the Calgary area, which Wight says will provide an opportunity for the Rockets to sign some promising players to flesh out their roster closer to the start of camp. “We’re the last on the ice and a lot of other teams have their rosters more or less set, but ours will be set based on the final Junior A releases and who is available,” said Wight.
He doesn’t anticipate the late start affecting the team, as they still have plenty of time to bond as a group.
He says the main concern is the players won’t have as many chances to get in exhibition games as other teams.
Golden does have tentative plans for a home-and-home against Revelstoke.
As Wight’s first season behind the bench, he’s excited to implement a more European style of play with more emphasis on offence and fast transition in the neutral zone.
“People are going to notice how much more quickly we can get the puck headed north towards the other team,” said Wight.
“There’s gonna be more offensive flair and counter attacking. We’re still going to pressure, but it’ll be a type of team pressure as much as we can in all three zones.”
Wight also says beyond having about a half dozen goaltending prospects, he is waiting to hear back from Ryan Baker on his return to the team for his final year of eligibility as the final piece of roster puzzle.
The team will be playing a shortened season, with only 15 home games, in a cohort model that sees them limit the amount of other teams they interact with.
Wight says it’s hard to predict how this will affect the team’s playoff chances, as there is no confirmation yet on what the playoff format will look like.
The Rockets season will look a bit different for fans, as COVID-19 restrictions means that only team personnel can be in the arena on game days.
Games will be livestreamed for fans, with the team looking into hosting watch parties, where fans can pay a small fee to gather and cheer on the team while still supporting them financially through fundraisers and 50/50 draws.
Marko Shehovac, marketer for the team, says the team will look to rely on community sponsors more than ever to help them financially get through the season.
Three teams in the KIJHL already have opted out, with the Rockets deciding not to in the hopes of preserving the 2021-22 season as well.
“The big thing is our sponsors in the community, if they stay with us, we think we can stretch this thing out,” said Shehovac.
“I’m very happy to say that the sponsors are mostly sticking with us, saying that they want the Rockets to survive.
“My message to the community is that those who want to sponsor and help us out can contact me, as we’re looking for new sponsors to help us get through this.”
Fans may return to the stands per the KIJHL return to play model if the province increases the 50-person maximum attendance limit for public events.
The Rockets also have their own COVID-19 guidelines, which will see them make adjustments to their changing room to allow for more room and social distancing, who can come on the team bus, as well as protocol should a player gets sick.
Wight says they’re also working on ways to keep the team in involved in the community.
That is being done through team involvement with charities such as Little Mittens and the food bank, although they want to be sure they can do so safely without putting the players or the community at risk.