With 125 minutes in penalties doled out in their first meeting this season, it was clear there was no love lost between the Calgary Hitmen and Kelowna Rockets.
Still, it was hardly a surprise considering the burgeoning rivals had battled tooth-and-nail for WHL supremacy the previous spring.
And the Hitmen and Rockets will renew acquaintances this Friday night at Prospera Place with plenty on the line.
But unlike their first encounter—a 4-1 Rockets win on Oct. 23—Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska anticipates a more rational approach from both teams.
“I’d expect to see a lot less emotion than in that first game,” said Huska. “There was obviously some carry over from the final last season, it was the first time we had played since then, and emotions were running high. There was a lot of undisciplined play and penalties.
“I wouldn’t expect this game to be as intense in that way,” he added. “It’s a big game, we’re both in need of points in the races we’re in, so I’m looking for things to be more controlled.”
As was the case last season, the Hitmen (40-17-1-1) have established themselves as one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Led by the the likes of veteran goalie Martin Jones, D Michael Stone and forwards Brandon Kozun and Joel Broda, Huska said Calgary is a well-rounded club.
“They’re just as dangerous as they were last year,” said Huska. “They have good defense and goaltending and some skilled guys up front. I think they’ll be one of the more difficult teams to play against coming out of the east.”
The Rockets (29-26-2-3), meanwhile, will be looking to bolster their grasp on sixth place in the Western Conference. Kelowna has a three-point lead over Kamloops heading into Wednesday’s action as the seventh-place Blazers host Spokane .
Immediately following Friday’s meeting with Calgary, the Rockets board the bus and make the long journey south to Portland where they’ll play the Winterhawks on Saturday.
It’s the first of five straight road games for Kelowna.
“The Portland trip won’t an easy one and it’s a good challenge for our guys,” Huska said.
“But sometimes those are the ones where the guys will come through and play a good, strong game. You can never be sure what to expect from those tough trips.”
The Rockets will visit Seattle on Sunday, then will head to Alberta for a three-game trip beginning Wednesday, Feb. 24 in Lethbridge.
Kelowna D Dallas Jackson could return to the lineup this weekend after missing the last five games with a leg injury.