Zach Franko closed out a busy weekend for the Kelowna Rockets with a clutch goal on Sunday night. Next weekend, however, will prove even more interesting.
At Prospera Centre, Franko scored late in overtime for Kelowna, as the Rockets beat the Chilliwack Bruins 3-2 and closed out a perfect three-for-three weekend. Sunday’s narrow road win followed a home-and-home sweep of the Kamloops Blazers, 5-1 on Friday, then a 1-0 shootout victory on Saturday night in front of 6,083 pleased home fans at Prospera Place.
The six-point weekend pushed Kelowna (42-26-0-1) to 85 points, and now the Rockets trail the Tri-City Americans (41-23-2-2) by just one point. At one point last week, the gap was seven points. Should Kelowna surpass Tri-City, the Rockets’ recent winning ways could pay dividends, but only if both teams advance to the second round.
In Western Conference standings, with Kelowna having clinched the B.C. Division with Friday’s victory, the Rockets will be seeded No. 2 for the first round, with the U.S. Division winner seeded No. 1. The Portland Winterhawks (97 points) or Spokane Chiefs (96) will either claim No. 1, with the other being seeded No. 3. Both teams have four games left, as does Tri-City, while Kelowna only has three.
With all four teams expected to advance to the second round, what becomes interesting is how the teams will be re-seeded according to points. Kelowna or Tri-City will be seeded third or fourth, with Portland and Spokane earning first and second. Statistically, the Rockets match up better with Spokane (2-2), as opposed to Portland (1-3), so surpassing Tri-City would seem to be in Kelowna’s best interest. Unless, of course, Spokane surpasses Portland, which in turn could create a No. 2 Portland vs. No. 3 Kelowna. Or No. 3 Tri-City.
That Kelowna’s playoff picture is far from clear is what makes this an exciting weekend.
If the playoffs were to start today, Kelowna’s first-round foe would be No. 7 Prince George (66 points), which lost 6-3 to Tri-City on Sunday night. The Rockets could also face either Everett (65 pts.), which has four games left, or Kamloops (63 pts.), though the odds seem to favour Prince George. The Blazers and Cougars both have two games left, and they close out their regular seasons with a home-and-home series against each other. The Cougars are 5-1 against the Blazers this season. Everett, meanwhile, plays Tri-City, Portland, Chilliwack and Vancouver.
At Chilliwack, Cody Chikie, with his 13th goal of the season, and Mitchell Chapman, with his second, also scored for the Rockets, who led 2-1 after two periods. Franko’s game winner came with 7.9 seconds left in overtime. Roman Horak, who opened Sunday’s scoring at 18:17 of the first period, and Robin Soudek, who levelled the score at 7:12 of the third, replied for the sixth-place Bruins (32-30-4-3).
Jordon Cooke made 27 saves for the Rockets, who are 9-1 in their past 10 games, while Braden Gamble turned aside 30 shots for the Bruins, who are 7-1-2-0 in their past 10.
ICE CHIPS: Kelowna’s scratches were RW Colton Sissons (leg), LW Brett Bulmer (leg), LW Jason Siebert (wrist) C Max Adolph (head), D Jessey Lees and C Gal Koren.