A combined 109 regular season wins over the previous two years didn’t translate into satisfying playoff results for the Kelowna Rockets.
And as much as a third straight 50-plus victory campaign merits acknowledgement, the Rockets’ president and GM said it will mean little if the Western Hockey League team doesn’t achieve a higher degree of post-season prosperity in 2015.
In acquiring the likes of Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey midseason, Bruce Hamilton and Co. left little doubt about the Rockets’ intentions and expectations this spring.
“Talk is cheap, actions speak a lot louder,” said Hamilton, whose Rockets went 53-13-5-1 this season to finish atop the Western Conference. “For two years we talked about how great we were with the 50 wins. It doesn’t mean much when you go out in the third round. We’ve gotta play longer and we have to be a team that’s considered a championship team that can win.
“That’s why we made the moves we did, that’s what we’re here for,” he added. “Now we have to go out and make it happen.”
The Rockets will kick off their highly-anticipated playoff run on Friday night at Prospera Place against the Tri-City Americans. Game 2 in the best-of-seven Western Conference first round series goes Saturday in Kelowna.
For at least six current Rockets, this will mark their last crack at winning a WHL championship. Among them is 21-year-old forward Tyrell Goulbourne, one of three over-age players on the club. The Edmonton native expects experience and past disappointments to work in the Rockets’ favour in the spring of 2015.
“I think the previous two years everybody had high expectations and thought it maybe it was going to be a little easier than it was,” Goulbourne said. “I don’t think that’s the case this year, everybody knows what it takes to win and everybody knows what it takes to lose, too.
“We’re going to have to be working as hard as we can,” Goulbourne continued, “taking advantage of the opportunity we have because this really is the best chance we’ve had the past three years.”
Goulbourne is also among a group of key leaders that will be depended on if the Rockets are to have long-term success in the playoffs.
At the forefront of the leadership core is second-year captain Madison Bowey.
“It’s all of our older guys’ last kick at the can and we don’t want this to end too soon,” said Bowey, 19. “It’s up to us, the older guys like Leon (Draisaitl) and me to lead the way. We have to be prepared for every game and every shift and lead this team to good things.”
With the week off between the end of the regular season and playoffs, Kelowna is rested and gradually returning to health.
The Rockets were uncertain Thursday whether forward Justin Kirkland (lower body) would be ready to go this weekend and his status remains day-to-day.
Defenceman Josh Morrissey is still two to three weeks away from a return due to a lower body injury.