You can guess where Roman Basran and Kaedan Korczak were born just by their reactions to the Kelowna Rockets annual early-December road trip through the Prairies.
The Rockets were to leave this morning for Prince Albert, Sask., and a stretch of six games in nine nights.
Travelling east is a fixture in their schedule.
“It’s very cold,” said Basran, the Rockets’ Vancouver-born goaltender.
“It was the most fun road trip I’ve been on so far,” said Korczak, who calls Yorkton, Sask., home.
The Rockets are to play the Raiders, Saskatoon Blades, Brandon Wheat Kings, Winnipeg Ice, Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors beginning Friday and ending Dec. 14.
It’s almost like the Rockets are following the path of a Stompin’ Tom concert tour, but that’s not why it’s music to the ears for someone like Korczak.
“Being from Saskatchewan, it was a pretty fun trip playing in front of lots of family and friends that can’t come out too often,” Korczak added. “It’s definitely a special road trip for me.”
He estimated his parents only get to watch him play twice per season. But Yorkton is virtually the epicenter of this trip, meaning the Rockets could probably stay at the Korczaks and skip the hotels.
Unfortunately, as much as accommodating unexpected friends before Christmas is “The Saskatchewan Way,” the Rockets have some serious business to attend to.
Kelowna needs to keep pace with the B.C. Division-leading Kamloops Blazers. The Rockets (14-8-1-2) trail Kamloops (17-9-0-1) by four points heading into the weekend.
The Blazers are also making the trek east, and they’re playing the same teams — just in reverse order.
Kamloops starts Friday in Brandon.
Basran said it’s vital the Rockets take care of themselves on the road.
“When you play that many games in two weeks or a week and a half, you just really have to be ready, be on the ball at the start of every game, take advantage of the pregame warmup and pregame skates,” Basran said.
“We’ve just got to keep playing the same way, just keep playing consistent.”
“It’s going to mentally draining and physically, too,” Korczak added.
Getting on the road may be a pleasant distraction for Korczak. He’s inside the Team Canada pipeline, representing his country at the under-17, under-18 championships and Team WHL for the Canada-Russia series this season.
But he wasn’t invited to Hockey Canada’s World Junior tryout camp on Monday.
“I knew it was kind of close,” said Korczak, a Vegas Golden Knights’ draft pick. “Obviously I was a little bit upset. It’s everyone’s dream to play for the Canadian team and play for pride, but I always have next year.
“I’ve just got to keep working.”
Korczak said he’s taking some comfort knowing his Rockets teammate, Nolan Foote, wasn’t invited last season. This year, Foote is playing like a man possessed with 13 goals and 30 points in 23 games. If Hockey Canada doesn’t select him, you can expect a wave of Okanagan alienation directed toward the coaching staff in Ontario.
“I’m kind of in the same boat as him,” said Korczak, 18. “And look at him this year.”
Kelowna Rockets general manager Bruce Hamilton said he reminded Korczak the World Juniors are very much a tournament for 19-year-old players.
Whenever Canada leans too much toward younger players, it struggles to win internationally.
There’s also a skilled group of 19-year-old defencemen who may have squeezed Korczak from the tryout, Hamilton said.
“It’s a tough group of guys,” said the GM.
To be honest, the Rockets are probably breathing a small sigh of relief.
Kelowna’s rookie phenomenon Pavel Novak remains suspended for another two games while Kyle Topping (lower body, 8-15 weeks) and Liam Kindree (upper body, 3-5 weeks) leave Kelowna without veteran scoring and leadership among the forwards.
Cayde Augustine, the Rockets seventh defenceman, asked for a trade and was shipped to Moose Jaw this week.
The Rockets did add centre Jadon Joseph from the Moose Jaw Warriors, but gave up depth forwards Kyle Crosbie and Kobe Mohr in return.
To pad out the roster, Kelowna recalled forward Deegan Mofford from the West Kelowna Warriors and defenceman Jackson DeSouza from the Okanagan Rockets.
The Rockets will likely give rookie Nolan Flamand, their first pick in this spring’s bantam draft, some playing time in the Prairies.
“It’s going to be a young crew,” Hamilton said.
Basran the man
After twice earning WHL goalie of the week awards, Basran was again recognized for his play between the pipes.
On Tuesday, the Canadian Hockey League placed Basran on its “Team of the Week.”
According to the CHL, Basran was “superb across two showings and 125 minutes of action as he turned aside a combined 46 shots to finish the week unbeaten in regulation with a 1-0-0-1 showing.” Basran stopped 27 shots in regulation and overtime in a 1-0 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings last Tuesday. He was named second star in recording his fourth career WHL shutout.
In all, Basran wrapped up the week with a 0.96 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage.
Team of the Week forwards were Ottawa 67’s Marco Rossi (6G, 5A in 3 games) and Austen Keating (4G, 7A, 3 GP), and Brandon Wheat Kings’ Cole Reinhardt (4G, 4A, 2 GP).
Ottawa’s Noel Hoefenmayer (3G, 3A, 3 GP) and Chicoutimi Sagueneens’ Artemi Kniazev (1G, 5A, 3GP) were the defencemen.
Dave Trifunov spent his youth travelling the roads of Saskatchewan in his family’s old Toyota, listening to Stompin’ Tom. Email: email@example.com.