With a six-point lead and seven games to play, odds are better than even that the Kelowna Rockets will win their first B.C. Division pennant since 2004.
But you won’t catch head coach Ryan Huska taking part in any premature celebrations.
“This is a long way from over and I’ll only feel good about things when it’s all said and done,” said Huska. “We’re going to be challenged here over the last couple of weeks, we’ve got some tough games. It’s an opportunity for us to control where we finish. That’s a position you want to be in.”
The Rockets (38-26-0-1) will spend the final stages of the regular season trying to hold off the second-place Vancouver Giants (33-27-1-4). The teams will meet head on in a home-and-home set March 18 and 19 to close out the 2010-11 campaign.
If the Rockets can clinch the division crown, it would end Vancouver’s five-year reign as B.C. champs.
“Vancouver’s had a great run,” said Huska. “We’ve kind of been that team that usually finishes second. Even when we won the WHL in 2009, Vancouver had a 120 points that year. It would be nice for our guys to finish on top. They’ve got their sights set on that and should be proud of what they’ve done to this point.”
If anything impedes Vancouver’s effort to catch the Rockets, it could well be injuries. Leading scorer Brendan Gallagher (head) and fellow offensive threat Spencer Bennett (hand) were among four players who were knocked from the lineup last weekend.
“Injuries are part of the game, and I’d like to say I feel sorry for them, but after the year we had last year with all of our troubles, I sure don’t,” said Huska.
Regardless of Vancouver’s situation, Huska reiterated his club doesn’t need to rely on other clubs for help and controls its own destiny.
With games remaining against Tri-City, Seattle and Chilliwack, and two each against Kamloops and Vancouver, Huska isn’t expecting any free rides to the division crown.
“I’d say it’s pretty tough, we pretty much either have Vancouver, a team that’s chasing us, or we’ve got some desperate teams fighting for their playoff lives. We’ll have to be on top of our game for every team we play.”
The Rockets will host the Tri-City Americans Wednesday, before meeting the Blazers in a home-and-home set, Friday in Kamloops and Saturday at Prospera Place.