It’s a universal theme in the WHL: Teams want to be playing their best hockey as they head into the post-season.
With nine wins in their last 10 games, the Kelowna Rockets are looking an awful lot like a club that is playoff-ready.
“Over the last 10 games we’ve been playing much more as a team and less and less as individuals and, as coach, that’s what you want to see,” said Huska. “A lot of times, if you do that and play as a team you can beat those teams that have more skill. We still have things to work on, but our players are really buying in so hopefully that continues this week and into the playoffs.”
The B.C. Division champs will close out the regular season with three games this week.
The Rockets (42-26-0-1) will host Seattle Wednesday, then will finish up with a home-and-home set Friday and Saturday against the Vancouver Giants.
With top spot already in the bag—Kelowna clinched Friday night with a 5-1 win in Kamloops—Huska said his club can concentrate on fine tuning for the playoffs rather than having to battle tooth-and-nail for a division pennant.
“It’s nice to have it wrapped up a week early and not to have it all come down to those final games,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to get everybody ice time, not to overuse some guys and make sure they’re rested for playoffs.
“It also allows us to focus more attention on those areas that are so crucial in the playoffs, like special teams.”
And while the playoffs will quickly become the focus for the Rockets, Huska said it doesn’t mean the novelty of the club’s first B.C. crown in seven years has worn off.
“Vancouver had won it five years in a row, so for our guys to take it away from them is a great achievement,” said Huska. “Winning a division title isn’t easy so the guys should be proud of what they’ve done.
“It also gives us that second seed for the playoffs and that’s important,” said Huska.
The Rockets also remain in the running for third overall in the conference as they trail Tri-City by just one point. The Americans have one game in hand.
“We might need some help, but we’re in a position where we still have a shot at third, so we’ll see what happens.”
A potentially good omen for the Rockets on the eve of the playoffs is the gradually improving state of the team’s health.
Forward Brett Bulmer returns to the lineup Wednesday against Seattle after missing 14 games with a leg injury.
“It was a pretty frustrating time being off, but now that I’m back and pretty excited about it,” said Bulmer who has 47 points in 54 games this season. “The guys are playing well right now, playoffs are going to be huge for us and I think this is the year the franchise can go a long way.”
The Rockets will open the playoffs at home on Friday, March 25. Based on the current standings, their most likely opponent in the opening round is the Everett Silvertips, while Prince George and Kamloops are both still in the running for seventh spot.
Rocket Shots…Rockets’ stopper Adam Brown has been named the Canadian Hockey League’s goaltender of the week. The 19-year-old California native posted a 3-0-0 record, a goals against average of 0.65 and a save percentage of .979 in a pair of wins over Kamloops and one against Tri-City.