The first two games of the Western Hockey League playoffs on home ice went pretty much according to plan for the Kelowna Rockets.
Now the Canadian Hockey League’s No. 1 team will look to carry that momentum into hostile territory on Tuesday night, as the Rockets head south for Games 3 and 4 this week against the Tri-City Americans.
With an always vocal and emotional crowd behind the Ams at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash., Rockets coach Ryan Huska said a good start for his club is imperative.
“The first 10 minutes will be critical for us,” Huska said. “They always come out very hard in that building. The energy level in there, the noise in there, they feed off that, they’re a momentum team, so I think they’re going to come out very hard on Tuesday. We have to be willing to match that and try to keep it up for 60 minutes.”
Leading up to the Western Conference quarterfinal the Rockets, to a man, pointed at Americans’ goalie Eric Comrie, as the key to the outcome of the series.
And while Comrie lived up to his billing as one of the league’s best with 77 saves over two games at Prospera Place, the Rockets found enough cracks in his armour for a pair of 3-1 wins.
Kelowna forward Ryan Olsen, who scored the game winner Sunday night, said the Rockets need to continue to put pressure on the Ams’ stopper to be successful this week in Washington.
“We want to get pucks on this guy, he’s not going to give us too many opportunities, that’s been our game plan, to just keep shooting the puck,” Olsen said. “They’re going to come out hard, so we just need to stick to our game plan and good things will happen.”
Sunday’s win featured the first Western Hockey League goal for Rockets’ rookie Joe Gatenby, an insurance marker on a shot from the point in the second period.
Previously, the 16-year-old blueliner had no goals and six assists in 45 career games.
“When it went in it felt pretty nice,” Gatenby said. “I went the whole season without getting one, so it felt pretty good to get it out of the way. To finally chip in and get a goal is nice, especially in a game so important.”
Unlike last season’s poor playoff start against Seattle when they slipped into a 3-0 deficit, the Rockets are in a vastly better position with a two-game lead.
Gatenby looks for the Rockets to build on what were a pair of solid efforts on home ice.
“It’s what we wanted starting off with two wins,” Gatenby said. “Playoffs is a different season, we knew that. The guys were down 3-0 last year after a great season, so it’s nice to get the two wins to start, and that’s what we want to do is carry it forward and hopefully finish it off in Tri.”
Game 4 will be played Wednesday in Kennewick, with a fifth game, if needed, Friday night at Prospera Place.