Kelowna Rockets riding high atop CHL
Lorne Frey had a pretty good hunch the Kelowna Rockets would be one of the teams to beat during the 2013-14 Western Hockey League campaign.
But even the Rockets' assistant GM admits the team's Canadian Hockey League-best record comes as a most pleasant surprise.
The No. 1 nationally-ranked Rockets, who went unbeaten in December, are currently the runaway leaders in the WHL with a 33-4-0-2 record.
Included among the club's exploits this season is a winning streak of 16 games, as well as a franchise-record 16-game winning streak on the road.
Since Oct. 22, the Rockets have won 26 of 28 games.
"We knew we were going to be competitive this year but to look at our record now, that's a surprise and a pretty impressive performance," said Frey, who is also the Rockets' director of player personnel. "No matter which way you slice it, they've faced some tough travel, the quality of teams they've beaten, the streaks they've been on…it's pretty inspiring."
As for the main ingredients to the Rockets' success this season, Frey points to coaching, team chemistry and depth.
"We've had great coaching from Ryan (Huska) and Danny (Lambert) and the rest of the staff," added Frey. "We've also got really good players, but probably the biggest thing is their closeness, the guys get along great and that shows on the ice.
"We have guys with good character who don't give up and who compete hard. Our overall depth and balance is as good as we've had and we've got 23 players who are all capable of playing."
Coming off a 4-2 win over Vancouver on Saturday, the Rockets will be put to the test this week in Alberta, as Ryan Huska's squad plays four games in five nights starting Wednesday in Edmonton against the Oil Kings.
Kelowna will visit Lethbridge Friday, Medicine Hat Saturday and Calgary Sunday.
By Sunday night, the club will have played 16 of its last 18 games on the road.
Meanwhile, with the WHL's trade deadline approaching this Friday, the Rockets are busy exploring their options, including the possibility of adding a forward for the stretch run.
"In some way you have to think if it isn't broke don't fix it, but on the other hand we're always looking to make our team better," said Frey, who will sit down to discuss the team's needs with GM Bruce Hamilton when he returns from the world junior hockey championship in Sweden. "We want to to put the best team on the ice we possibly can. A lot of teams are in the battle right now and are looking to make upgrades, so that makes it tough, too."
Rockets at U17…
Rockets' centre Nick Merkley and defenseman Joe Gatenby helped Team Pacific to a silver medal at the World Under-17 Challenge in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Team Pacific made it to the final of the 10-team event before losing 4-0 to Team USA. Merkley had two goals and three assists in six games, while Gatenby registered an assist…Rockets' assistant coach Dan Lambert coached Team West at the U-17 tournament.
Baillie player of month…
Rockets centre Tyson Baillie was named last week the WHL player of the month for December. The 18-year-old Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. native had five goals, 15 assists and a +8 rating in 12 games the Rockets went unbeaten during the month.