On the heels of a record-setting 52-win regular season, it’s not a position the Kelowna Rockets wanted or expected to be in early in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Due to a pair of unlikely home-ice losses in overtime, the Rockets find themselves chasing the underdog and seventh-seeded Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Games 3 and 4 go Tuesday and Wednesday at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash.
The T’Birds, employing a grinding, workmanlike approach, used extra time in Games 1 and 2 to escape Kelowna with a pair of wins—5-4 on Friday and 2-1 on Saturday at Prospera Place.
The Rockets, on the other hand, didn’t look a whole lot like the deep and efficient club that went 31-5 at Prospera during the regular season.
Head coach Ryan Huska time is short for his team to get back to playing the style that led to a B.C. Division championship.
“We’ve put ourselves in a situation we didn’t want to be in and now we have to respond,” said Huska. “Seattle played very well in the first two games and we didn’t seem to have the jump or the game that we’re used to seeing from our team. We have to be determined and be the harder working team.”
With the loss of captain Colton Sissons to injury for eight to 12 weeks, the Rockets are missing their emotional leader and team MVP.
In Sissons’ absence, Huska said many Rockets need to be better in both the leadership and work ethic departments.
“As we talked earlier, he’s a guy you’re going to miss, without a doubt,” Huska said of Sissons’ absence. “But you have to look at it as an opportunity for other guys to step up, and to provide leadership and energy. The guys aren’t happy with the way they played in the first two games, so now we need to go down there, get Game 3 and build from there.”
Game 5, if necessary, will be played Saturday night at Prospera Place.
Rocket Shots…The Rockets have added affiliate players F Nick Merkley and D Joe Gatenby to the roster for the remainder of the WHL playoffs. Merkley (Calgary midget Bisons) was the club’s first-round choice of the 2012 WHL bantam draft, while Gatenby (Okanagan midget Rockets) was selected in the second round. A third AP, Justin Kirkland (Camrose, Alta.) is also with the team.