New Euros add skill, size to Rockets
By Warren Henderson
Aug 26 2005
Even before his plane touched down on the runway at the Kelowna International Airport this week, Thomas Raffl felt an affinity for the Okanagan city.
"It looks like Austria," Raffl said with a smile. "Coming in on the plane, the hills, the mountains, the lakes-it looks like home. I felt at home before I landed."
If Raffl has his way, the Austrian-born forward will be taking up permanent residence in Kelowna as a member of the Western Hockey League champion Rockets.
The club's main training camp will begin next week with Raffl and Swedish defenceman Alexander Edler occupying the Rockets' two European roster spots.
Second-year forward Lauris Darzins, currently recovering from shoulder surgery will start the season on the injured list, but will be back to compete for a job with the two newcomers.
"If all three guys turn out to be the players we hope, it'll be a nice problem to have," said Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton. "Lauris was one of our top guys in the playoffs last year. We could have a decision to make."
Edler-selected 57th overall by Kelowna in this summer's Canadian Hockey League import draft-is property of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks who took the 6-foot-3 blue liner in the third round of the 2004 entry draft.
An offensive-minded rearguard with plenty of skill, Edler will face the same adjustments most Europeans are confronted with when making the transition to the North American game.
Last season, Edler played in just 33 games in the Swedish junior elite league, registering eight goals and 15 assists. "It's going to be hard playing 72 games, but it's going to be fun," said Edler, 19. "This is a good opportunity for me and a good experience."
Added Hamilton: "Alex will have some adjustments to make early on, he'll need to have intensity spiked up and he'll have to get used to all the travel, the bus rides and everything else that goes along with playing in this league. It's going to take some time for him, but he's a talented player."
As for Raffl, Hamilton expects the 6-foot-4, 215 pound power forward to make a significant contribution to the Rockets in his rookie season in the WHL.
"We think this guy's going to be a good player," said Hamilton. "He's a big strong guy with an edge to his game."
Raffl, who had 12 goals and 22 points last season in the Austrian elite league, has long dreamed of pursuing a career in North American and plans to make the most of his opportunity.
"I know I will get the chance to play and I'm ready to play hard," said Raffl, the Rockets' second choice in the import draft. "It's a great feeling to be here-this is where I want to play."
Rocket shots-More than 200 players are taking part in the Rockets' rookie camp this weekend. On-ice sessions at the Capital News Centre today and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.-The club's main training camp begins Thursday. Sept. 1 at Prospera Place with 50 players competing for jobs.