Not that long ago, fans of the Kelowna Rockets and Vancouver Giants were expecting the final weekend of the regular season to feature a dramatic showdown for top spot in the WHL’s B.C. Division.
But a late-season surge by the Rockets combined with a serious March slump by the injury-laden Giants has removed at least some of the intrigue from this weekend’s home-and-home set between the hardened division rivals.
The two clubs will battle Friday at Pacific Coliseum before wrapping up the 2010-11 campaign Saturday night at Prospera Place.
The Rockets (42-27-0-1), who have won nine of their last 11 games, clinched their first division title in seven seasons a week ago in Kamloops.
Vancouver (33-31-1-4), which was just two points out of first place on March 1, has lost seven straight and is now a whopping 14 points in arrears of the Rockets.
Still, even with little on the line where the standings are concerned, Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska expects plenty of intensity to surface between the longtime foes.
In addition, the Giants are expecting the return of their captain and 43-goal scorer Brendan Gallagher who has missed the last five games with a concussion.
“(The Giants) have been in a situation where they’ve had a rash of injuries, they haven’t had a lot of luck, but they’re still a good, hardworking hockey team,” said Huska. “They’re going to want to make sure they’re playing the right way heading into the playoffs, and the same can be said for us…we need to be at our best going into the playoffs. I look for both teams to come out and play hard.”
“As for Gallagher, he’s their best player,” added Huska, “and they’re a much better team with him in the lineup.”
In addition to setting the proper tone for playoffs, the Rockets are looking to rebound from a lackluster effort in a 5-0 loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Wednesday night in Kelowna.
Huska said this is the wrong time of year for his team to be taking nights off.
“Our guys played against Seattle like they just weren’t interested,” he said. “The frustrating part is that they were playing so well as a team up until that game.
It’s not a concern but it is disappointing because you don’t want to see those habits creeping in at this time of year. This is a challenge to our leadership group to get back to the kind of game we know we can play.”
The Rockets—the second seed thanks to finishing first in B.C.— will host the seventh-place finisher in the Western Conference for the opening round of the playoffs.
Everett, Prince George and Seattle are all in the running as possible opponents.
Games 1 and 2 will be played Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26 at Prospera Place.