The Kelowna Rockets are thankful to be relatively healthy and well-rested as they head into their most demanding stretch of hockey in 2016.
The defending WHL will play three games in as many nights—and four in the next five days— beginning Friday night at home against the Portland Winterhawks.
Having played just five times over the last two weeks, head coach Brad Ralph said his team is as well equipped as can be expected for the impending challenge.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had a 3-in-3 with a full roster, and we’re close to that this weekend,” said Ralph. “We’ve had some nice breaks here over the last while but having said that, it’s never easy playing that much hockey in such a short span.
“By the time you get to that third game, it can get difficult physically,” he added. “It’ll be important to keep our shifts short and play smart.”
The only Rockets’ skater sidelined heading into the weekend is forward Tanner Wishnowski who is considered day-to-day (lower body).
Goaltender Jackson Whistle (hips, day-to-day) was removed from the WHL’s injury list this week and has resumed skating, but Ralph said the club remains uncertain about date of his return.
“We don’t really know,” Ralph said of Whistle’s status as of Thursday. “We’re just taking it day by day.”
Michael Herringer has been carrying the load in goal during Whistle’s absence and, should he get the call again Friday, would be making his 10th consecutive start.
“I think he’s progressing very well,” Ralph said of Herringer, who is 6-2-1-0 since taking over the reins on Jan. 1. “It’s an adjustment when you become the No. 1 guy and he’s handled it well.”
The Rockets (33-11-3-0) are riding a four-game winning streak heading into Friday’s tilt with Portland.
And while perhaps not as formidable as those Winterhawk teams of the recent past, Ralph said Portland is still a very capable hockey club.
“They’ve got a well-balanced team, right from their forwards to the back end,” he said of the ‘Hawks. “One thing they do well is have their defence jump up in the rush, so we’ll need to do a good job of managing pucks.”
Forward Rodney Southam will make his debut as the team’s captain on Friday night.
The 19-year-old from Saskatoon was appointed the Rockets’ official leader on Monday.
The Rockets will wrap up a five-game homestand Saturday against the Victoria Royals.
Due to the live broadcast of the game by Sportsnet, face off has been moved to 7:35 p.m.
On Sunday, Kelowna will travel south to visit the Seattle Thunderbirds, before returning home Tuesday to face the league-leading Lethbridge Hurricanes.