Defending champs poised for new WHL campaign
Rockets forward Blake Comeau, entering his third season in the WHL, will be expected to provide some added scoring punch for his team in 2004-05. The Rockets open the new season Saturday at home to Everett.
Capital News file
By Warren Henderson, staff reporter
Blake Comeau’s off-season was shorter than most major junior hockey players.
Almost four months to the day after winning the Memorial Cup title, the 18-year-old forward and his Kelowna Rocket teammates will be back on the ice when they open the 2004-05 WHL season against Everett Silvertips Saturday night at Prospera Place.
“I had a really good summer and it was nice to have some time off, but I’m ready to get going,” said Comeau, a second-round draft choice of the New York Islanders this summer.
“With the way the city went nuts last year, it was a little tough coming back to exhibition games with the seats only half full. But I think once we get the season going, we won’t have any problem getting motivated.”
Comeau is among a formidable corps of Rocket players who have enjoyed their share of success over the past couple of seasons. As a rookie, the native of Meadow Lake, Sask., celebrated a WHL title and a trip to the Memorial Cup in Quebec City in 2003. Factor in a run to the national junior championship last season, and Comeau and his teammates have developed expectations like few other teams or players in the game.
“We’ve talked about being defending champs and what it means and we know other teams are going to be coming after us,” said Comeau, who added 15 pounds of muscle over the summer to weight in at 210. “We’re a hard working team and we’re prepared for it. We know we’re not going to get there over night. We just want to keep improving like we’ve always tried to do.”
Comeau is also part of a core group of players who are 18 years old this season—as many as 10 will make the team—who will be counted on to make contributions on a game-by-game basis.
Like Comeau, Tyler Spurgeon and Mike Card are entering their third WHL seasons, while Justin Keller, Derek Yeomans, Chris Ray, and Kyle Cumiskey take to the ice with a full season under their belts.
“Those guys are going to be the difference for us on most nights,” said Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton. “We don’t have an abundance of 19 year olds, so a lot will be asked of these guys. The 18s is where our depth is.”
For players like Tyler Spurgeon who has two B.C. division titles, two WHL regular season titles, one WHL playoff championship, and a Memorial Cup, one could assume there may be a little less motivation
Not so, says Spurgeon.
“I think there’s even more hunger here this year,” said Spurgeon, a native of Edmonton. “We’ve got a great group of guys and a great atmosphere here and I think our experience will only help us this year.”
Rocket shots…The Rockets are expected to announce as many as four cuts today. General manager Bruce Hamilton said the team plans to carry either 23 or 24 players on the roster…Defenceman Brandon Weber was assigned to the Sicamous Eagles junior B team on Sunday…The Rockets will raise four banners to the rafters prior to the game Saturday night at Prospera Place including the WHL championship and Memorial Cup banners.