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Five things to watch in the 2019-20 Western Hockey League season

The Kelowna Rockets celebrate after hosting and winning the 2004 Memorial Cup. In May 2020, Kelowna will once again host the four-team national championship. .
The Kelowna Rockets celebrate after hosting and winning the 2004 Memorial Cup. In May 2020, Kelowna will once again host the four-team national championship. . The Canadian Press

There was plenty of change across the Western Hockey League in the summer, whether it was a coach returning to where he had the most success, or an entire organization switching cities.

Here are five story lines to keep an eye on in the 2019-20 WHL season, which begins Friday with seven games.

READ MORE: Junior hockey: Rockets fall to Blazers, Vees bash Cents

Willie Desjardins’ return to Medicine Hat

A decade after leaving the Medicine Hat Tigers for an NHL career, the 62-year-old returns to the organization as both general manager and head coach.

The success Desjardins had with the Tigers between 2002 and 2010 – including two WHL titles – led to a job with the Dallas Stars in 2010. After stops with the Vancouver Canucks, L.A. Kings and the Canadian Olympic team, the Climax, Sask., native is back in a place he feels is “home.”

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WATCH BELOW (Aired Sept. 19, 2019): Edmonton Oil Kings hope to carry momentum from last season’s success to start of new WHL campaign

Edmonton Oil Kings hope to carry momentum from last season’s success to start of new WHL campaign
Edmonton Oil Kings hope to carry momentum from last season’s success to start of new WHL campaign

With Desjardins, the Tigers won championships in 2004 and 2007, while he also earned a coach of the year award in 2006. He replaces Shaun Clouston, who had a nine-year run as head coach with the Tigers after serving under Desjardins as an assistant in the latter man’s first tenure.

Clouston is now with the Kamloops Blazers as head coach.

Junior hockey returns to Winnipeg

The Kootenay Ice moved from Cranbrook, B.C., to Winnipeg for the 2019-20 season under the ownership of 50 Below Sports and Entertainment,  returning major junior hockey to the Manitoba capital for the first time since 1984.

The WHL announced the move in January and ownership said at the time they believed the team could work, despite the fact the city already has the NHL Jets and American Hockey League Moose.

READ MORE: WHL confirms Kootenay Ice relocation to Winnipeg

The last WHL team to play in Winnipeg was the Warriors between 1980 and 1984, after which they relocated to Moose Jaw, Sask., largely due to attendance woes and poor on-ice performance.

The Brandon Wheat Kings were the the only major junior team in Manitoba before the Ice relocated. The two will be paired in the East Division, opening up a chance for a provincial rivalry.

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Colton Dach follows big brother to Saskatoon

Forward Colton Dach enters his WHL rookie season with the same team that older brother Kirby Dach broke out with before getting drafted third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2019.

Colton, 6-foot-2 and 183 pounds, isn’t the same offensive threat Kirby is, with Blades coach Mitch Love saying the 16-year-old younger brother is more of a bumper and grinder. But he still will have an important role with the team. Colton produced four goals and six points in five pre-season games.

WATCH (September 2019): Colton Dach following big brother to Saskatoon Blades

Colton Dach following big brother to Saskatoon Blades
Colton Dach following big brother to Saskatoon Blades

The brothers have never played together in organized hockey, but it could happen if the 18-year-old Kirby is sent back to junior by the Blackhawks.

Kelowna Rockets gearing up for Memorial Cup run

The Rockets missed the playoffs last season after losing a tiebreaker to the Blazers. But those kind of results won’t be accepted this year with Kelowna being named as 2020 Memorial Cup hosts.

The Rockets last hosted the Memorial Cup in 2004 and went on to win it for the first time in team history despite bowing out of the WHL playoffs. Kelowna has been to the Memorial Cup four other times, all as WHL champion, most recently in 2015 when the Rockets lost in the final against the Oshawa Generals.

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WATCH BELOW (Aired July 3, 2019): Former NHLer Vern Fiddler named assistant coach with Kelowna

Vern Fiddler Kelowna Rockets Assistant Coach
Vern Fiddler Kelowna Rockets Assistant Coach

Head coach Adam Foote enters the season with three NHL prospects that will play a major role in the team’s success – forward Nolan Foote (Tampa Bay Lightning), forward Dillon Hamaliuk (San Jose Sharks) and defenceman Kaedan Korczak (Vegas Golden Knights).

Like any other host team, the Rockets could be busy making moves after the Christmas break.

Waiting on the unknown

One problem every Canadian Hockey League coach faces to begin a season is not knowing who they will and won’t have on their roster because of NHL training camps.

While Love and the Blades wait to find out if Kirby Dach returns from the Blackhawks, other coaches are also planning to open the season without their stars.

No. 4 pick Bowen Byram isn’t expected to be in the Vancouver Giants lineup this weekend, with the defenceman still at camp with the Colorado Avalanche. And the Lethbridge Hurricanes approach the year without No. 7 pick Dylan Cozens, as the forward remains a part of the Buffalo Sabres pre-season roster.

An NHL team can hold onto a junior-eligible player for up to nine games of the regular season before the player’s contract kicks in, forcing a key decision.

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WATCH BELOW (Aired Aug. 30, 2019): Hurricanes’ roster full of new faces as main camp begins

Hurricanes’ roster full of new faces as main camp begins
Hurricanes’ roster full of new faces as main camp begins