As far back as the opening face off of the 2014-15 WHL season, there was a strong sense that supremacy in the B.C. Division would come down to two particular teams.
Six months later, as most expected, the Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals are facing off for a berth in the Western Conference final.
The best-of-seven second-round series between the hardened rivals opens Friday night at Prospera Place.
The Rockets won five of eight meetings during the regular season and outscored the Royals 29-24 in the process.
Kelowna head coach Dan Lambert isn’t the least bit surprised to see Victoria in round 2 and believes the teams are as well-matched as the numbers would suggest.
“To be honest, when you look at our records against each other, we’re pretty evenly matched,” said Lambert. “It seems like when we played them and we were tired, they had their way with us…and vice-versa.
“It is a real good match up, they’re very well coached and it should be a very good series.”
There was no love lost between the Rockets and Royals during the regular season as the clubs combined for an average of more than 50 minutes in penalties per game.
While Kelowna captain Madison Bowey expects both teams to show more discipline in the playoffs, he said the intensity level should be even higher with all that’s at stake.
“It is a good rivalry, we really don’t like each other, we have a few friends off the ice, but when it gets down to it, we’re two teams that really want to win,” Bowey said. “We won’t stop at anything to do such a thing…so I think it’s going to be a fun series, high-tempo, competitive and exciting.
“There’s bad blood so I would expect it to be a battle to the end.”
Whatever the Royals throw at the Rockets in the second round, Lambert said his club will need to be prepared to respond in the right way.
“We know that they’re going to come at us hard and that’s probably the biggest thing, they do like to compete hard and try get you off your game,” said Lambert. “That’s what we expect from them and we have to play a certain way as well if we want to have success and move on.”
Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference semifinal go Friday and Saturday nights at Prospera Place. Face off is 7:05 p.m.