Rockets to give Euros time

Norwegian Andreas Stene (left) and Slovenian Gal Koren will look to fill two import spots on the Kelowna Rockets this season.   - Fred Schaad/Contributor
Norwegian Andreas Stene (left) and Slovenian Gal Koren will look to fill two import spots on the Kelowna Rockets this season.
— image credit: Fred Schaad/Contributor

Norway and Slovenia aren't exactly the hotbeds of European hockey.

Andreas Stene and Gal Koren would like nothing more than to put their respective countries on the map as members of the Kelowna Rockets.

Stene, a 6-foot-3 200 pound centre from Oslo, Norway, was the Western Hockey League club's first pick, 25th overall in this summer's the CHL Import draft.

The Rockets took Koren—a 6-foot-1 forward out of Ljubljana, Slovenia—in the second round, 64th overall.

The European duo, both of whom are fluent in English, arrived in Kelowna last week, several days ahead of main training camp to get acclimatized to their new team and new surroundings.

The Rockets hope the additions of Stene and Koren will address at least one of the team's biggest deficiencies from last season—a lack of size up front.

But because both players are largely unfamiliar with both Canada and the WHL, the Rockets plan to exercise a considerable degree of patience.

"I think with the commitment they both made to come over here, we have to give them a fair chance to make our hockey club," said Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton. "They haven't played at this level, they don't know our league and they're not used to playing the number of games we play here. There's going to be an adjustment period and there's no big hurry on our part."

Hamilton cited the 2005-06 season as a classic example of the unpredictability of whether or not European players develop into bona fide major junior players.

"That year we had Thomas Raffl who was a world-beater at training camp, then kind of sputtered after that," he said. "We also had Alex Edler who really took a lot of time to find his way, but once he learned the game and got his confidence, he was one of our better players. Some get out of the gate fast and some don't."

While neither Stene or Koren had much prior knowledge of the Rockets or the WHL, both have long dreamed of the chance to play in North America and to eventually pursue a pro career.

"In Norway, hockey is not a big sport but everybody knows how big it is in Canada," said Stene, 19, who played in the Norwegian men's league last season with Vaalerenga. "I hoped to get drafted, but you never know what will happen. I heard it was a good team in Kelowna, so I'm happy they picked me."

Stene grew up idolizing fellow Europeans Pavel Bure and Peter Forsberg.

Koren—and all other aspiring young Slovenian players of today—closely follow the exploits of Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar.

Like so many European players before him, Koren will need to make some adjustments to life in North America. But he doesn't anticipate homesickness being one of the issues.

"I played in Germany for the last two or three years, so I've been away from home a lot," said Koren, 18. "I don't think it will be a problem."

Unlike Koren, Stene has some experience on this side of the Atlantic having attended the Chicago Blackhawks' prospects camp last year. He also played for Norway at the U18 world championship in 2009 in Minnesota.

If Stene and Koren both make the Rockets' regular season roster, there's no guarantee both will remain with the club the entire year.

Kelowna's top pick from the 2009 import draft, Teemu Pulkkinen, will start this season in the elite men's league in Finland, but could still end up with the Rockets. WHL teams are each allowed a maximum of two imports.

The Detroit Red Wings, who drafted Pulkkinen in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL draft, will decide where to send him following the 2011 world junior hockey championship in Buffalo and Kelowna is a possible destination.

Rocket Shots…Rockets main training camp continues today (Wednesday) with on-ice sessions at 9 and 11 a.m., and 5 and 7 p.m. at the Capital News Centre…Defenceman Madison Bowey, 15, is expected to arrive at main camp today after missing rookie camp while he was a member of Team Manitoba at the Canadian bantam baseball championship in Ontario. Bowey was Kelowna's second pick in the 2010 bantam draft…The Rockets will battle the Vancouver in a home-and-home exhibition set this weekend—Friday night in Ladner, and Saturday, 7 p.m. at Prospera Place.

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