Rockets host Royals tonight; pre-Christmas trip ahead

Time will tell if the Kelowna Rockets’ latest trade acquisition will pay dividends.

If does, though, the payback could be enormous.

On Thursday, the Rockets announced they had acquired the playing rights to Alex Swetlikoff from the Lethbridge Hurricanes. In making the deal, Kelowna gave up a fourth-round pick in the WHL’s 2022 bantam draft. Swetlikoff, 17, currently plays for the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers and has eight goals and 20 points in 27 games.


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From Kelowna, Swetlikoff announced June 2017 that he was committing to Denver University. The 6-foot-3 forward was originally drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2016, 62nd overall. Seattle traded his rights to Lethbridge this year.

“We certainly want him this year,” said Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton, whose team will host the 2020 Memorial Cup, the top trophy in junior hockey. “I didn’t trade for him to come next year; he has to make a decision. He has to get accustomed to the league and we want him working with our coaches and our skill development people and skating coaches.”

Playing for a Memorial Cup contender is a strong draw, one that has lured previous players with NCAA commitments to drop them. As such, the Rockets can’t be faulted for trying to land Swetlikoff. According to the team, NHL Central Scouting Service has listed Swetlikoff as a C prospect on its players to watch list, meaning he is a candidate that could be drafted in the fourth round or later at the NHL’s upcoming draft this June in Vancouver.

“I’ve followed [Swetlikoff] a lot this year,” said Hamilton. “I think that his game, in my mind, is probably lots of runway ahead of it. He’s young, he’s big. We think he has great upside. But he has to decide if he wants to come here. I’m looking for guys who want to be here, not us chase them around.”

Last year, the Rockets selected Ethan Bowen of Chilliwack with their first pick in the WHL’s 2017 bantam draft. This season, the 16-year-old rookie forward is seventh in team scoring with 12 goals and 20 points in 32 games. Bowen would be another solid addition if he joined the Rockets in 2019-2020.

Tonight, Kelowna (13-15-2-0) will host Victoria (13-11-0-0). Game time at Prospera Place is 7:05 p.m.

This evening’s tilt against the Royals will be the Rockets’ last home game before the annual Christmas break. On Monday, Kelowna will trek east for its annual mid-December road trip, a journey that will feature four games in five nights against Kootenay, Lethbridge, Calgary and Medicine Hat.

On Wednesday, the Rockets trimmed the visiting Tri-City Americans, 5-4 in a shootout. Forward Kyle Topping says that the team is excited to play at home one last time before the break.

“We just need to come out and play our game plan,” said Topping. “It’s our last home game before the break, so we’re trying to end it on a high note. It’s going be fun playing against Victoria, they’re a good team, and it’s always exciting games. Hopefully, we can come out strong and on top.”

In B.C. Division standings, the Rockets are in second place with 28 points, with Vancouver (20-6-2-0, 42 points) leading the pack. Victoria and Kamloops (12-11-1-1) are tied for second with 26 points with Prince George (11-14-1-2) in fifth and last with 25 points.

The Rockets and Royals have met four times this season, with Kelowna having won three times. In their last meeting, Kelowna beat Victoria 3-2 on November 23rd at Prospera Place.

The eight-game season series started on October 5th in Kelowna, with the Royals winning 4-3. But on October 19th and 20th, the Rockets swept back-to-back games in Victoria, winning 8-2 and 5-1.

“Tonight will be a real good test for us because this is a real good team,” said Hamilton. “They have a lot of games in hand on us [six]. But the way I look at it, we have a lot of games behind us and they’re going to have a lot of games jammed into a short period of time.”

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