Better late than never. That seems to be the Kelowna Rockets’ latest catch-phrase in their up-and-down season.
On Friday, the Rockets close out a five-game homestand as they host the Seattle Thunderbirds (17-26-1-1). Game time at Prospera Place is 7 p.m., and the Rockets enter the contest riding some momentum courtesy of a two-game winning streak, both of them shootout victories.
Normally, a shootout win doesn’t carry the same weight as a regulation-time win. In this case, however, Kelowna’s two wins do, as each well-deserved victory against a much higher-seeded team. On Saturday, the Rockets (21-23-2-3) posted a 4-3 win over Vancouver (28-18-1-2), which was followed by Wednesday’s 3-2 decision over Kamloops (34-10-1-3).
With those results now behind them, the question begs: Are these the real Rockets, the ones predicted to have a banner season? Or is this just yet another up-cycle to be followed by a downer?
“The leadership group is really stepping up in the dressing room and is leading by example,” said Rockets left-winger Zach Franko, who scored both shootout winners and is now seven for eight in shootout attempts this season. “Our coaches are doing a great job of preparing us for every game and I think our players are really playing their roles. When you do that, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win every night. I think our forwards can compete with any forwards in the league, our defence can compete with any other defence and our goalies are the best in the league. If we get it going, we’re going to make a push for it this year.”
His teammates are echoing those positive comments.
“We’re playing a lot better as a group,” said goaltender Adam Brown. “Winning these two games is a big confidence booster for us because we now know our hard work is paying off. We just need to keep sticking with it and keep our noses to the grindstone and hopefully get some more wins.”
Brown added that Kelowna was anxiously anticipating the challenge of playing B.C. Division-leading Kamloops on Wednesday, stating “anytime you play a top team, especially one just down the highway, you think of it as a good challenge. Obviously, the rivalry’s been there for a while, so we were really excited for this one.”
Following the game, Blazers head coach Guy Charron, whose team couldn’t hold onto a pair of one-goal leads, gave Kelowna props for winning.
“Our first period was fine,” said Charron. “But we didn’t play that well in the second period, and, fortunately for us, we didn’t have a big deficit. We found a way to get a lead, but we didn’t sustain the effort that we needed to have to be successful. Credit to Kelowna because they did the things that we were hoping to do a little bit more to their defence. They played the puck deep, they worked our defence. Our core group for us did their job tonight. Unfortunately, we had passengers up front, and when you do that and play a team like Kelowna, you’re liable to get yourself in trouble.”
ICE CHIPS: Tonight’s game will the be the first of four meetings this season between Kelowna and Seattle. It’ll also be the first of an extended home-and-home series that concludes Sunday, 5 p.m. in Kent, Wash. . . . Last season, the two split their four-game series at 2--2. . . . The two teams also meet on Wed., Feb. 8 at Prospera Place and Tues., Feb. 14 at Kent. . . . In Western Conference standings, sixth-place Kelowna (47 points) has an 11-point lead over seventh-place Seattle (36), which, in turn, leads eighth-place Victoria (35) by one. . . . Kelowna is 6-4 in its past 10 games, while Seattle is 1-8-1-0 and is riding a four-game losing streak (0-3-1-0). . . . Kelowna is 12-12-0-1 at home, while Seattle is 7-15-1-0 on the road. . . . Special teams — Power play: Kelowna, 12th out of 22 overall at 20.8 per cent (50-240); Seattle, 21st at 15.1 per cent (28-186). Penalty killing: Kelowna, 15th at 76.8 per cent (52-224); Seattle, 17th at 76.3 per cent (50-211). . . . Kelowna is 10-3-0-1 and 13-1-0-3 when leading after the first and second periods, but is 4-11-0-0 and 2-19-0-0 when trailing after the first and second periods. Seattle is 4-2-1-0 and 8-1-1-0 when leading and 4-19-0-1 and 2-24-0-0 when trailing. . . . Leading scorers: Kelowna, RW Shane McColgan (13-35-48), LW Brett Bulmer (20-18-38), RW Colton Sissons (25-11-36), LW Brett Lyon (12-19-31) and rookie LW Carter Rigby (13-13-26). Seattle, RW Burke Gallimore (17-10-27), LW Chance Lund (12-13-35), C Luke Lockhart (9-12-21) and C Justin Hickman (9-8-17).