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Kelowna Rockets will begin an abbreviated 24-game season later this month

Excited to return to the ice

Players and coaches with the Kelowna Rockets are "chomping at the bit" to return to the ice for some meaningful hockey.

They'll get that chance when the Rockets, along with their four division rivals take to the ice March 26.

At that point, it will have been 380 days since the team, last played a game after shutting down operations following games on March 11, 2020.

"It's been tough on everybody," said Rockets head coach Kris Mallette the day after it was announced the BC Division would be able to put on an abbreviated 24-game schedule.

"The youth of today has really taken a hit with their sports not being able to play."

Tuesday's announcement means players will have to self-quarantine at home for seven days beginning Saturday, then quarantine another seven days after arriving in town. A week-long training camp will follow.

"Whatever it takes," was the reaction of the players when told of the news and what was required of them.

"Every guy to a T, and I talked to them all (Tuesday), whatever needs to happen, we'll do," said Mallette.

"Even once they get here, they know it will be strict protocols for all teams involved, and they are not going to do anything that would jeopardize that opportunity to play."

While excited to play, there will be some challenges as not everyone has had the same opportunity to train and skate due to different restrictions in different jurisdictions.

And, there's the matter of physical contact, which Mallette says most players have not had on the ice in more than a year.

"My biggest concern would be slowly integrating physicality into the game, running into guys. How to give it, how to take it.

"I'll be reaching out to a lot of contacts we have around the league who are playing right now to see what they've done and what's worked for them."

There won't be anything on the line except pride and a chance to perform in front of NHL scouts - no title, no championship, no playoffs - just 24 games then back home to get ready for what everyone hopes is a more normal season in October.

For Mallette, these 24 games are as much about next year.

"It will be interesting especially considering our roster coming in. There will be a lot of new faces and a lot of young players," he said.

"I'm really excited about that, to be able to implement not only the on-ice play, but what is expected of them as Kelowna Rockets. When we do get back to some sort of normal, fingers crossed that's October of next season, that's what I'm building for.

"It's just laying that foundation and those habits. I want good people here, and that's what the basis is going to be."



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