Spokane Chiefs at Kelowna Rockets

Kelowna Rockets forward Matthew Wedman and Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs collide at Prospera Place on Jan. 31. Wedman was injured and missed three games.

Nolan Foote was taking notes.

While the 19-year-old Rockets centre was injured, he was watching as teams took advantage of a depleted Kelowna lineup.

Now that he’s on the verge of his return, it’s time to engineer some payback.

“I didn’t even get to play a game against Portland this year,” Foote said Tuesday. “I wanted to play them. They’re a good team. We definitely want to try and start snagging some points back against some good teams. It’ll be a challenge, but we’re starting to get our players back.”

Slowly, but surely, starting tonight at home against the Tri-City Americans.

Kelowna is hoping to have Matthew Wedman and defenceman Devin Steffler back in the lineup. Foote is hoping to play Saturday against the Red Deer Rebels.

In all, Kelowna has lost 113 man games to injuries this season. Forward Michael Farren could also return Saturday.

Defenceman Sean Comrie and forward Liam Kindree have longer recoveries ahead of them. Injuries have taken a toll.

The Rockets (23-25-1-2) have lost five straight, eight of 10 and are fourth in the B.C. Division. There are 17 games to play.

Foote has missed 23 of the last 24 games due to injury or Team Canada commitments. The recovery was taking longer than expected, so he flew to Tampa Bay, Florida, over the weekend to meet with the Lightning’s medical staff.

Tampa chose Foote in the first round of last spring’s NHL draft.

“They definitely helped,” said Foote. “Their trainers are top notch, real high quality. It definitely helped, but they just wanted to take a look at it because it wasn’t progressing or getting better since the (World Junior) tournament. It’s finally to where we wanted it to be.”

The WHL does not release specifics on injuries. Foote was out with a lower-body injury. After he left the Rockets on Dec. 7 to help Team Canada win gold, he returned Jan. 10 only to get injured in a 4-1 loss to the Kamloops Blazers.

“It’s definitely hard, especially with what our team’s going through right now,” Foote said. “But it happens to every team. It’s good to face adversity, I think.”

The Rockets certainly saw their share of that. To put it in perspective, when Foote left, he led Rockets scoring with 15 goals and 18 assists in 25 games.

Today, he’s still fourth in team scoring.

“The injury feels strong. It feels good, and I’m ready to get back, skate this week and hopefully play Saturday.”

The silver lining was another trip to Tampa to hang out with the Lightning.

“They’re all good to me. (Steven) Stamkos and those guys talked to me about World Juniors, and that, saying ‘Congrats.’ It was a really cool experience.”

One of the players who helped make up for Foote’s absence was Wedman. The six-foot-three, 209-pound Florida Panthers prospect had three goals and eight assists in 11 games before getting hurt.

Wedman was injured Jan. 31 in a 7-3 loss to the Spokane Chiefs.

A hit came from his blind spot, and he collapsed into the boards with the Chiefs’ Ty Smith.

After the game, Rockets coach Adam Foote said he thought it was a slew-foot, but there was no penalty on the play and no supplementary discipline.

Wedman said he has a long memory. “It’s in the back of my mind, for sure.

“I was never really seriously worried, but any time you get injured, it’s always in the back of your head,” he added. “I just hoped it wasn’t serious and that I could get back playing as soon as I could.”

It’s fortunate he only missed three games, because it appears now Kelowna is finally turned a corner with personnel.

“We’re starting to build a team,” Wedman said. “We need to get that glue together and start getting chemistry. I think that’s got to come with these guys coming back, getting those line combinations going. I think we’re looking ahead for the long stretch of the season.”

Assistant coach Vern Fiddler said he’s taking positives from Kelowna’s extended injury woes. While the losses mounted, the younger players pressed into more difficult situations gained valuable experience.

It was how he broke into the NHL, himself, with the Nashville Predators in 2002.

“With the young guys getting all this extra ice time, I think for our playoff push they’re going to be that much better for their time on the ice,” he said.

“These young guys have done a really good job making the decisions tough for us when we do get our full lineup, as who’s going to come out and who’s going to stay in. That’s all you can ask as a coach.”

Email: dave.trifunov@ok.bc.ca