Discipline: In a word, that’s what Bruce Hamilton says his Kelowna Rockets will need considerably more of if they’re to survive the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
In the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal beginning Thursday at Save on Foods Memorial Centre, the Rockets will face the explosive Victoria Royals who not only finished first overall but led the conference in goal scoring during the 2015-16 regular season.
Kelowna, meanwhile, leads the WHL playoffs in penalty minutes (108), a trend that Hamilton said must change.
“They play with speed, they’ve got some tremendously skilled players and their structure is very good,” Hamilton said of the Royals. “We will not be able to take the foolish penalties like we did against Kamloops and not have them come back and hurt us significantly.
“The cheap ones, slashing, hooking and tripping, that we seemed to get accustomed to taking the last three months of the season, we have to deal with that.”
The Royals got the better of Kelowna during the regular season winning five of eight meetings, outscoring the Rockets 29-18 in the process.
It’s the second straight year the B.C. Division foes have squared off in the post season.
The Rockets disposed of the Royals in five games in the second round last spring en route to winning the Western Hockey League title.
Hamilton said the Rockets will need to build off the lessons learned and experienced gained last season to have another meaningful run this spring.
“There’s 14 guys here that were at the Memorial Cup last year, that’s a pretty good group of guys that should be able push forward,” Hamilton said.
“On top of discipline, there’s some sacrifice attached to this, that means you’re going to have to block some shots, and do some things that you normally don’t like to do. But this time of year, that’s the only way you succeed.”
The Rockets may not have to deal with the Royals’ captain and arguably their best player, Joe Hicketts, at least early in the series.
Hicketts missed the last five games of Victoria’s first-round series with Spokane with an undisclosed injury.
The Rockets, meanwhile, are coming off a long and taxing series with the Blazers, which ended in Game 7 with a 2-1 overtime victory Monday night at Prospera Place.
Goaltender Michael Herringer, who had his struggles in back-to-back games and was twice pulled in the series, saved a solid performance for the deciding game against Kamloops, making 24 saves.
Still, as the playoffs progress, Hamilton said the 19-year-old netminder will need to be more consistent.
“It’s fine to get him to play good for one game, but we have to find a way to get him into the second one,” said Hamilton. “Fortunately, to start this series there’s no back-to-back games.
“It’s a mental thing with him and I believe he’s got to get through it, and if he can’t Brodan Salmond will be playing some games.”
Game 2 goes Saturday night in Victoria. Games 3 and 4 are set for Prospera Place, next Tuesday, April 14 and Thursday, April 16.