With a dozen games still remaining in the WHL’s regular season, it may be premature to call Friday’s game in Kamloops a must-win for the Kelowna Rockets.
Still, the two points loom large if the Rockets plan on chasing down both the Blazers and Prince George Cougars in the B.C. Division.
The Rockets (35-20-5-0) trail the first-place Cougars by six points and second-place Kamloops by five points, with Kelowna holding two games in hand on both rivals.
The Rockets have yet to win at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops this season (0-4-0), a trend captain Rodney Southam said his club needs to remedy on Friday.
“We haven’t performed in Kamloops yet, so we have to prove to ourselves we can win in that place,” said Southam. “I think it’s big to get the first goal in that rink, it’s always difficult to come back, they have a great goaltender as well.
“We’ve got to play with the lead and we’ve got to push everything, all four lines need to be going against that team.”
Few teams have given the Rockets as much consternation this season as the Blazers who, led often by goaltender Connor Ingram, have taken six of nine meetings this season from Kelowna.
While head coach Jason Smith agrees scoring first would be advantageous for the Rockets, even more important is remaining composed and focused, regardless of the situation.
“Scoring the first goal might be key but the big thing is we just have to stick with our game plan,” said Smith. “We can’t get off the beaten path if we generate some chances and don’t score. You can’t do what we call ‘cheat the game’ if you don’t score, you can’t make fancy plays and get out of the structure.
“If we stick with our game plan and play as a team and a group, I think we’ll give ourselves a real good opportunity to win the game.”
It’s the last of 10 regular season games against the Blazers and the first of a challenging three-game in three-day weekend road trip for Kelowna.
The Rockets will be in Kent, WA on Saturday to face the Seattle Thunderbirds, followed by a visit to the Spokane Chiefs on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a busy weekend, a lot of travel, we have to get our sleep, but hopefully we’ll grab two out of three of those,” Southam added.
“Each game is huge, it’s so tight in the Western Conference, every game matters, every points matters. We gotta start pushing towards playoffs and be thinking about it every day.”
Southam scored his second career hat-trick on Wednesday night in the Rockets’ 10-1 drubbing of the Edmonton Oil Kings. Kelowna, which has won eight of its last 10 games, set new season highs for goals scored in a game and third-period goals, with six.
The Rockets next home action is next Wednesday, March 4 against the Prince George Cougars.