Dillon Dube is excited to be making a return to the Kelowna Rockets’ lineup this week. For the Western Hockey League team, the feeling is mutual.
The 19-year-old forward, who hasn’t played with the Rockets since Dec. 9 when he joined Canada’s national junior team, will suit up for Kelowna Wednesday night at Prospera Place against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“I’m excited to be back,” Dube said following team practise on Tuesday. “It’s going to be good to get back home for that first game, Footer (Cal Foote) and I are both back, as a team we’re battling a couple of injuries but we’re closer to a full team than we’ve been for a while. I’m excited and happy to be back.”
Much has happened for Dube since his last game in Rockets’ colours. After being named captain of Team Canada, the Cochrane, AB native helped lead his country to a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
Along with Foote, a fellow gold-medal winner, Dube was to have re-joined the Rockets for last week’s game against Spokane, but was sidelined by a virus he actually contracted midway through the world junior hockey championship.
It’s only this week that the Rockets’ veteran has started to feel more like himself.
“I was playing sick (at world juniors) and my immune system got pretty run down after that,” said Dube who returned to Kelowna Sunday. “Ten days was maybe too long to be off the ice, but in the end probably good for me to have the time off and a nice break.
“I felt pretty good at practise (Tuesday) and feel ready to go.”
Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton said Dube’s return will pay dividends for his club, on and off ice.
“It’ll be great having him back, he’ll bring energy to our team just by the way he plays,” Hamilton said. “He’ll help get some of our other guys going who have maybe been spinning their wheels a bit.”
While the initial thrill of winning the world junior championship earlier this month has abated somewhat, Dube said striking gold with Canada is a moment in time he’ll never forget.
“Getting back to Kelowna, I kind of forgot about it a little, but I know those memories will be with me for a long time,” he said. “Being able to achieve one of the biggest goals there is in junior hockey is an unbelievable feeling.”
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During his absence, the Rockets hardly missed a beat, going 9-2-0-0 over the last 11 games and in the process moving into top spot in the B.C. Division.
“I’m so proud of them,” he said. “They’ve been unbelievable, guys have been getting it done and have propelled us into first place. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
The Rockets will honour both Dube and Foote for their world junior victory prior to Wednesday’s game. Face off is 7:05 p.m.