The Kelowna Rockets open the WHL postseason tonight in Seattle taking on the Thunderbirds.
“By no means are we looking past game one,” said Head Coach Kris Mallette. “It’s going to be a battle, they’ve got home ice so our mentality is to go in there and play our style of game and see where it goes… hopefully we come out on top.”
The Rockets finished the regular season fifth in the Western Conference with a record of 42-20-1-5 (90 points) while the Thunderbirds finished fourth with 94 points (44-18-4-2). The four-game season series was close as the Rockets went 1-2-0-1, allowing 13 goals and scoring 12. Every game was a one-goal game, including one finishing in a shootout. In those four games, forwards Colton Dach, Mark Liwiski, and Garbiel Szturc all collected five points each while Seattle forward Jared Davidson led the T-birds with six points.
This is the fifth time in the last 25 years that these two teams have met in the playoffs. The Rockets have not made the postseason since 2018, while the Thunderbirds lost in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.
While the Rockets scoring prowess is evident, they will have to be aware of Seattle’s outstanding defence. The Thunderbirds allowed just 179 goals throughout the season and finished second in the WHL in penalty kill percentage with 83.4 per cent.
Kelowna last raised the Ed Chynoweth Cup as the winner of the WHL in 2015 when they swept the Brandon Wheat Kings. Seattle last won the league in 2017.
This Rockets team has very little postseason experience as 20-year-old defenseman Jake Lee is the only one to play in the playoffs. He was acquired from Seattle in 2019.
“We’re very excited in the room, this is what we’ve been working for all year and now the time has finally come,” said Lee. “I couldn’t be more excited to play my former team, I like to think of it as payback. They’re a good organization and treated me really well, but I’m more than excited to get to it in the playoffs. We’re both the meat and potatoes teams, we get in deep and bang bodies, that’s how both of us play. It’s going to come down to who wants it more, who wants to sacrifice more and who’s ready to go.”
Going into this series, there are 10 current NHL prospects and five players ranked on the NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Rankings for North American skaters.
Kelowna: forward Pavel Novak (Minnesota), forward Colton Dach (Chicago) and goaltender Talyn Boyko (New York Rangers).
Seattle: Henrik Rybinski (Florida), Lukas Svejkovsky (Pittsburgh), Matthew Rempe (New York Rangers), Conner Roulette (Dallas Stars), Lucas Ciona (Calgary Flames), Tyrel Bauer (Winnipeg Jets) and Samuel Knazko (Columbus Blue Jackets).
With Seattle finishing ahead of Kelowna, they have the home-ice advantage for this first-round series. Games one and two will be taking place in Seattle tonight (April 22) and Saturday night (April 23). The series will come back to Prospera Place for games three and four on Tuesday (April 26) and Wednesday (April 27).
If necessary, games five through seven will alternate between Seattle and Kelowna.
Puck drop for game one tonight is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at accesso ShoWare Center.