Cheer for Calgary or Edmonton?
For hockey fans in the Okanagan, it’s a perplexing question, given that the latest chapter of the Battle of Alberta between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames features no fewer than a half-dozen former Kelowna Rockets.
“It’s great as far as I’m concerned,” said Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton, who’s remaining neutral when it comes to picking a side. “It’s an opportunity for them to play on a bigger stage.”
So, who are the six?
Former Rockets currently playing for Calgary are forwards Mikael Backlund and Dillon Dube. Also a member of the Flames: assistant coach Ryan Huska, who was a member of Kelowna’s coaching staff for 12 seasons, including seven as head coach.
Former Rockets currently playing for Edmonton are defencemen Duncan Keith and Tyson Barrie, plus forward Leon Draisaitl.
Of the six, only Keith has hoisted the Stanley Cup — three times with the Chicago Blackhawks last decade (2010, 2013 and 2015).
Hamilton also singled out Huska, who joined Calgary as an assistant coach in 2018 after guiding the Flames’ AHL affiliate team for four seasons.
“I’m really happy for Ryan. He served his time, obviously here, and in the minors,” said Hamilton. “It’s great for him.”
This Western Conference semifinal is also chock-full of former WHLers, with many having played against each other during their junior days.
- Mikael Backlund (Kelowna, 2009)
- Dillon Dube (Kelowna, 2014-18)
- Milan Lucic (Vancouver Giants, 2005-07)
- Michael Stone (Calgary Hitmen, 2006-10)
- Juuso Valimaki (Tri-City Americans, 2015-18)
- Tyson Barrie (Kelowna, 2007-11)
- Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert, Kelowna, 2012-15)
- Evander Kane (Vancouver, 2006-09)
- Duncan Keith (Kelowna, 2002-03)
- Brett Kulak (Vancouver, 2011-14)
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer, 2009-11)
- Kris Russell (Medicine Hat, 2003-07)
- Derek Ryan (Spokane, 2004-07)
- Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane, 2014-18)
At the start of the NHL’s playoffs, the WHL said there were 54 alumni playing in the post-season.
Edmonton had the most with eight players. The Minnesota Wild, who lost to St. Louis, were next with six. Calgary and the New York Rangers both had five.
In other junior hockey news, the WHL held its annual prospects draft on Thursday.
Formerly known as the bantam draft, the Medicine Hat Tigers went first and selected five-foot-10 forward Gavin McKenna of Whitehorse. McKenna played for Rick Hockey Academy in Kelowna, tallying 23 goals and 65 points in 35 games.
Players eligible for the draft were born in 2007 and reside either in western or northern Canada, or in the western U.S.
For a complete list of this year’s draft selections, visit the Western Hockey League website.
The draft also saw the WHL select its first female player, Chloe Primerano of North Vancouver. She was taken in the 13th round, 268th overall by the Vancouver Giants.
In 30 games with the Burnaby Winter Club, Primerano, who plays defence, had two goals and 17 assists for 19 points.
“Chloe’s play this season in the top U15 league in Canada made her fully deserving of this selection today,” Giants general manager Barclay Parneta said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Also this week, the WHL held its annual U.S. priority draft. Selecting first overall were the Edmonton Oil Kings, who took Blake Fiddler, a six-foot-two defenceman from Frisco, Texas.
Fiddler is the son of former NHLer Vern Fiddler, who played 14 seasons in the show. He also played four seasons in the WHL (1997-2001), three with Kelowna and one with Medicine Hat.
Vern Fiddler, who had 261 points in 877 NHL games, also coached two seasons in Kelowna.
“It’s a huge honour and a dream come true,” Blake Fiddler told the Oil Kings. “I’ve always wanted to play in this league and to be drafted by such a great organization is awesome. I’m just really excited for what the future holds.”
In all, 44 players were taken, with California having the most selected at 13. Minnesota was next at nine, with Texas third at five.
More about the U.S. Priority Draft can be found on the WHL’s website.