Jack Cowell and the Kelowna Rockets will visit Nick Chyzowski and BC rival Kamloops Blazers Friday in WHL action. -Image: Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze

Home stretch of season to test Rockets

Kelowna to play 15 games in next 29 days to close out the WHL’s regular season.

The Kelowna Rockets are smack dab in the middle of the most demanding stretch of their Western Hockey League season.

With 17 games in a 33-day span—from Jan. 30 to March 3—assistant coach Kris Mallette said how the club manages and maintains the players’ health and energy will determine how the Rockets’ come out on the other side.

“You’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse of how the guys are feeling, cater your practises to that and make sure they have the maximum amount of energy to play the games,” said Mallette. “The way it’s been lately, we’ve had a mid-week game and another two or three games on the weekend, so it’s been a busy and challenging stretch.

“It’s really about making sure the guys are getting the proper rest and nutrition.”

The Rockets, who are coming off five games in eight days, will go back to work Friday night in Kamloops again, before returning home Saturday to host Edmonton.

With a spate of injuries to key players, keeping the Rockets fresh and ready to play hasn’t been easy. Forwards Kole Lind (upper body), Liam Kindree, Nolan Foote and defenceman James Hilsendager are all on the sidelines, with Kindree believed to be close to a return. In addition, the club has also used four different goaltenders this season.

Factor in the absence of Dillon Dube and Cal Foote for a month due to world juniors and a steady flow of players on and off the injury list, and the Rockets have only played a handful of games this season with a full lineup.

Still, Kelowna has found a way to win games and stay at the top of the B.C. Division.

“You talk to other coaches and scouts and they wonder how we’ve been doing it, how we’ve been finding ways to win,” said Mallette. “I think it’s a testament to all our guys, the leadership we’re getting from our third- and fourth-year players. As a staff, some nights it doesn’t look good, we’re pulling our hair out but somehow the guys find a way, more often than not.”

The Rockets (34-18-4-1), who lost 4-1 Wednesday to the Red Deer Rebels, share top spot in the B.C. Division with the Victoria Royals, while the Vancouver Giants sit five points back.

Mallette and the Rockets expect a battle right down to the final week of the regular season.

“In a perfect world, you want to be peaking for the playoffs, but in reality the home stretch of the season is the toughest for all the teams,” Mallette said. “Our position is not locked down, so by no means do we want to let our foot off the gas, leave a lot in the tank and get into bad habits. On the other hand, you do want to be healthy going into the playoffs, so it’s an interesting balance.”

Face off Saturday at Prospera Place between the Rockets and Oil Kings is 7:05 p.m.

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