Bruce Hamilton applauded his team and gave credit where credit was due—but the celebration was short-lived.
Hamilton’s Kelowna Rockets established two new franchise records on Wednesday night with a 3-1 Western Hockey League win over the visiting Spokane Chiefs at Prospera Place.
It was the Rockets’ 53rd victory of 2013-14, breaking the single-season record for wins set just one year ago. Kelowna (53-10-0-4) also pushed its point total to 110, surpassing the former club record of 109 set during the 2002-03 season.
The Rockets’ general manager said the records are worthy of praise and recognition, but are simply a step towards the team’s ultimate goal.
“It’s a testament to the kids, they’ve played hard all year, and our coaches have done a wonderful job with them,” Hamilton said. “But we’re not hung up on those kind of things around here, the numbers, we’re more interested in winning the league and playing in May, that’s what this plan’s all about. It’s just another win to be quite honest…the kids’ll enjoy it, I’m real proud of their effort this year.”
With five games remaining in the regular season, Hamilton said the Rockets are focused on a strong finish, locking up the WHL’s overall title, and being healthy and rested for the post-season.
Kelowna has the inside track on the Portland Winterhawks who are nine points back of the Rockets, with six games left. Any combination of Rockets wins and Portland losses totalling two, and Kelowna would clinch top spot in the WHL and their first Scotty Munro Trophy since 2004.
“We certainly want to clinch the title, it’s unique any time you get a chance to do that,” he said. “But getting through to the end and being healthy is going to be real important. It’d be nice to be able to give some of these guys some time off, but the way Portland has played we’ve never been allowed to do that. We’ve just got to keep going here and work hard to win.”
On Wednesday night, rookie Nick Merkley scored twice, his 21st and 22nd of the season, to lead the Rockets past the Chiefs. Goaltender Jordon Cooke made 29 saves—many of the spectacular variety—to notch his 37th win of the season, tying his career-high set last year.
The Rockets return to action Saturday night when they host the Tri-City Americans, 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, the B.C. Division-rival Victoria Royals will pay a visit to Prospera Place.