By Tyler Lowey, Times Reporter
A few weeks after the Alberta Junior Hockey League toured to Strathmore, the Western Hockey League will be making a stop here in town.
To break up their 15-hour cruise across Western Canada, the Kelowna Rockets are making a quick stop in Strathmore the night of Dec. 6.
“We are just trying to break up our long road trip. We have done this before in Canmore since I’ve been here,” said Rockets Assistant Coach Kris Mallette. “I think in the early ’90s, the team used to use Strathmore ice for training camp, so the organization is familiar with the town a bit and we really liked the restaurant we ate at last time.”
The restaurant Mallette was referring to is the Strathmore Station Restaurant, one of the town’s most iconic establishments.
“We always strive to make sure everyone who comes in is treated properly and fed properly by the time they leave,” said Strathmore Station owner Peter Klironomos. “We get the Medicine Hat Tigers and Lethbridge Hurricanes along with lots of other sports teams that come in and eat here. We think it’s a popular spot that has spread through word of mouth as teams travel on the road.”
After a fine meal and a long night of sleep, the Rockets will hit the ice at 10:30 a.m. at the Strathmore Family Centre, only briefly, as practice is only scheduled for an hour.
“Strathmore asked us if we wanted to skate for two hours and have kids on the ice, but with liability issues we can’t have kids on the ice and our practice will just be a quick skate,” said Mallette. “Kids are more than welcome to come down and watch. It is an open practice and the players know that kids look up to them as role models, so there will be a brief time allowed for autographs after practice.”
“This is a big night for kids in Strathmore. The WHL is just a step or two below the NHL, so it will be great to have kids come out and see this level of hockey, even if it is only for an hour or so,” said Strathmore Family Centre Arena Manager Kevin Crawford.
The Rockets hope to be well-rested before heading further east, as they enter a gauntlet of a six-game road trip that sees them take on two juggernauts (the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos), and the 2018 Memorial Cup hosts, the Regina Pats, among other teams.
Sitting at 5-5-1-0 this season, this road trip could be a turning point in the Rockets season. If things go well, maybe the four-time Ed Chynoweth Cup champs will start to make a habit of stopping by Strathmore.
“We keep everything in mind and we keep track of stuff like that. Last time we went through, the Station and the rink were very accommodating for us, so we will see how the trip goes this year,” said Mallette.
Currently, the Rockets sit comfortably in second place in the B.C. Division with 31 points.
For any young fans who want to see the players in action, the Calgary Hitmen host the Rockets Jan. 7 (4 p.m.) at the Scotiabank Saddledome.