Rapid climb to top for red-hot Rockets
Once 18 points in arrears of the B.C. Division lead, the Kelowna Rockets have successfully reeled in the Kamloops Blazers.
Could the Portland Winterhawks be next ?
Now tied for top spot in the division with Kamloops and second overall in the Western Conference—seven points back of Portland—no WHL team has been hotter over the last month than the Rockets (29-10-1-1) who have won six in a row and 12 of their last 13 games.
On Wednesday night at Prospera Place, the Rockets will look to extend their home-ice winning streak to 16 when they take on the Victoria Royals.
It's a run of prosperity the Rockets' franchise hasn't experienced since the 2002-03 season when they won 18 straight at home and finished the season with a club-record 51 victories.
So what is making the 2012-13 edition of the Rockets tick ?
After a couple of seasons spent re-tooling the roster and the continued maturation of the club's younger players, president and GM Bruce Hamilton said the Rockets have assembled an unselfish and committed group of players.
"The most important thing is that we've got a real good group of guys in our dressing room, we don't have anybody who is on their own agenda," said Hamilton. "Everybody is pulling the same rope and that's something we lacked last year. The face of this team is that we don't have a superstar, we have a whole group playing together.
"It maybe sounds a little corny," added Hamilton, "but it's nice when you get everybody believing in the same thing, and that's what's happening."
In addition to embracing the team concept, much of the Rockets success stems from their depth, particularly up front. The ability to roll four forward lines without hesitation has been a boon for Ryan Huska and the coaching staff as the Rockets (176) currently rank second only to Portland (177) in goals scored this season in the WHL.
Still, even with all the club's success to date, Hamilton said maintaining the same level of play over the final two months of the regular season is the challenge facing the Rockets.
Included on schedule is a much-anticipated two-game set against the Winterhawks, Feb 8 and 9 at Prospera Place.
"We've got some tough games coming up, so we'll see where we're at," said Hamilton. "We've got Victoria and Tri-City this week, both good teams, and a couple of games next week against Spokane and those will all be good tests. You throw in another five or six games against Kamloops, and two against Portland and it's going to get real exciting. We'll see how it all shakes down."
The Rockets are fresh off a sweep of the Cougars last weekend in Prince George, posting 4-2 and 8-4 wins.
Goaltender Jordon Cooke was between the Rockets' pipes for both games, extending his winning streak to 13.
Also of note, Rockets forward Justin Kirkland, 17, connected for his first career WHL goal in Saturday's victory.
Meanwhile, the Rockets welcomed three of their youngest players back this week. Forwards Rourke Chartier and Austin Glover (Team West) and defenceman Riley Stadel (Team Pacific) all recently returned from the World Under-17 Challenge in Quebec.
With the WHL's trade deadline set to arrive on Thursday, Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton is open to making a deal but, as always, only if the price is right.
With 20-year-old defenceman Mitchell Chapman sidelined and just one 19-year-old blue liner (MacKenzie Johnston) on the roster, Hamilton wouldn't mind adding a veteran player to the back end.
"When you look at Kamloops and Portland, they both have an older defence, and that's where we're a little young right now," he said. "But we have a real good group of kids for the next three or four years, so I'm not going to jeopardize that just for the sake of a trade. We're shopping, but it has to be the right deal."