Joe Gatenby (left) and the Kelowna Rockets will square off against Matt Needham and the Kamloops Blazers in the opening round of the WHL playoffs beginning Friday night at Prospera Place.

Rockets and Blazers: Experience vs momentum

Best-of-seven WHL first round series features longtime B.C. Division rivals

On the subject of playoff experience, the Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers are a study in contrasts.

In addition to 14 returnees who went to last year’s Memorial Cup championship, the Rockets have veterans such as Tyson Baillie and Cole Linaker who have a combined 90 games of postseason wisdom.

The Blazers are, on the other hand, green in comparison, with 20 players on their roster who have yet to make a playoff appearance.

That will all change tonight when the B.C. Division rivals face off at Prospera Place in Game 1 of the best-of-seven first round series.

Kamloops head coach Don Hay is looking forward to see how his team responds in a high-stakes environment against a playoff-calloused club.

“The (Rockets) do have a lot of experience, they’re the defending league champs and they were able go through the whole grind of the playoffs just last year,” said Hay. “We’re looking forward to going through that, to experience that playoff intensity.

“You’ve got to play games in that environment to really know what it’s like. We’re excited to have the opportunity and see how we do.”

The Blazers may not have much playoff wisdom on their side, but what they do have is some momentum.

Kamloops won its last nine regular season games, including three straight over the Rockets in early March.

“The (Blazers) had a great run down the stretch and we didn’t play our best hockey the last couple of weeks of the season,” said Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton said. “That’s the challenge ahead for our players and our coaching staff, to turn that around.

“There’s 14 guys that played on this team last year that certainly know exactly what we’re getting into.”

In the last three meetings between the clubs, the Rockets had trouble solving both the Blazer defense and the stellar netminding of Connor Ingram.

And while losing three in a row to the Blazers wasn’t the preferred result, Kelowna captain Rodney Southam said it could be a much-needed wake-up call for his team.

“If we had walked over them the last three games, we might have gone (into the playoffs) and got a big surprise,” Southam said.

“But now we know we’ve got a battle on our hands. They have a very good goalie, we have to get on the inside on them and frustrate him for sure. He’s going to be a key factor in this series.”

Game 2 goes Saturday night in Kelowna, while Games 3 and 4 are set for Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Kamloops.















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