Mitchell Callahan (right) and the Kelowna Rockets will look to rub out Brett Connolly in the opening round of the WHL playoffs.

Captain likes Rockets as playoff ‘dark horse’

Rockets open post season against Prince George

The Kelowna Rockets’ magical journey to a Western Hockey League championship in 2009 is still firmly etched in Tyson Barrie’s memory bank.

Now, two seasons later as the team captain,  the 19-year-old defenceman feels his club is well positioned to take another run at the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

Granted, the 2010-11 version of the Rockets doesn’t boast the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Myers or Mikael Backlund, but Barrie believes today’s team has both the work ethic and hunger to challenge for a league crown.

“I think there’s some similiarities, but obviously it’s a little different than the team that won the league a couple of years ago,” said Barrie.

“We don’t necessarily have all the star power in the world, but we work really hard, we pay attention to detail and we follow what the coaches ask of us. So I think that’s something that’s going to make us a bit of a dark horse here. We may not be the most skilled team, but we play as a team and we’re definitely going to want it just as much if not more…I think we’re going to be, as a group, a tough team to beat.”

The B.C. division champs were particularly difficult to beat over the last five months of the regular season, posting a 39-18-0-1 record—that followed a woeful 4-10 start.

On top of finding their identity as a team, Barrie points to the stellar play of goaltender Adam Brown as a key factor in Kelowna’s turnaround.

Barrie expects more of the same from the Yorba Linda, Calif. native between the pipes in the post season.

“I think he’s the scary part of our team,” Barrie said of Brown who won 36 games this season. “It’s tough to get one by him when he’s on. I have no doubt he’ll be going in playoffs and that’s a huge part of our team.

“A good goalie is so key in the playoffs…it’s nice we’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

Barrie, Brown and the Rockets will begin their 2011 playoff journey on Friday night at home to the Prince George Cougars.

The second-seeded Rockets took six of nine meetings from the seventh-place Cougars this season, outscoring them 33-24 in the process.

Still, the Cougars didn’t go quietly winning the last two meetings in Prince George 4-2 and 3-0.

Prince George is led offensively by NHL first-round pick Brett Connolly (46 goals), and Taylor Stefishen (67 points), while Sean Acolatse, Martin Marincin and Cody Carlson anchor a mobile and aggressive defensive corps.

In addition to goaltending, Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton looks for discipline and, in turn, special teams to play a big hand in determining the outcome of the series.

“Discipline is going to be important for us,” said Hamilton. “If the games get so they’re not disciplined then it’s the team whose power play works the best. With Connolly they’ve got a guy who makes it happen, so we have to be very sharp with regards to taking foolish penalties. And then when we get a chance our power play has to get back running the way it was two weeks ago.”

Game 2 between the Rockets and Cougars will go Saturday night at Prospera Place, with Games 3 and 4 set for Tuesday and Wednesday in Prince George.

whenderson@kelownacapnews.com