Bruce Hamilton admits he wasn’t expecting to cross paths with the Portland Winterhawks again this season.
But after an opening round upset of the Prince George Cougars in six games, the ‘Hawks will provide the opposition for Hamilton’s Kelowna Rockets in the WHL’s Western Conference semifinal.
The best-of-seven series opens Friday night at Prospera Place.
“They obviously played a great series, they beat a pretty good team, the top team in our division all year long, so it is a bit of a surprise,” the Rockets’ GM said of the Winterhawks win over P.G.
“Saying that, the (Winterhawks) have been real good since Christmas, they’re a fast team and it’ll be a good challenge for our players.”
Seeing Portland in the spring is old hat to the Rockets franchise, which has met the Winterhawks in the playoffs five times in the last seven seasons.
The last meeting, in 2015, saw the Rockets prevail in six games over Portland, en route to a WHL championship and trip to the Memorial Cup in Quebec City.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Hamilton said of renewing the rivalry. “They have a solid fan base and it’s good atmosphere playing down there.
“I’m just happy we’re starting at home in front of our fans,” he added. “Our players are going to be excited to play them.”
After two seasons coaching in the NHL, Mike Johnston returned this season as head coach and GM of the Hawks, a club he led to three WHL finals in a four-year span between 2011 and 2014.
“He’s a very good coach with a lot of experience and he’ll have them well prepared,” Hamilton said of Johnston.
“It’ll be a good challenge for our young coaches to match up against him and get our players ready.”
The Rockets advanced to the second round after disposing of the Kamloops Blazers in six games.
Reid Gardiner scored a hat-trick in the series clincher, a 4-2 win Sunday at the Sandman Centre.
Kelowna Rockets vs. Portland Winterhawks
Friday, April 7 —Portland @ Kelowna 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, April 8—Portland @ Kelowna 7:05 p.m.
Tuesday, April 11—Kelowna @ Portland 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 12—Kelowna @ Portland 7:00 p.m.
Friday, April 14—Portland @ Kelowna 7:05 p.m. *
Sunday, April 16—Kelowna @ Portland 7:00 p.m. *
Tuesday, April 18—Portland @ Kelowna 7:05 p.m. *
* If necessary
— Kelowna Rockets (@Kelowna_Rockets) April 4, 2017
Herringer goalie of month…
Thanks to his stellar play in March, Rockets’ netminder Michael Herringer has been named the Vaughn WHL Goaltender of the Month.
Herringer, a 21-year-old product of Comox, chalked up a record of 10-3-0-0 during the month of March, with an outstanding 1.89 goals-against average, .934 save percentage, three shutouts and 337 saves.
The Rockets’ goaltender logged one shutout during regular-season action, making 21 saves on Friday March 17, in a 7-0 win versus Vancouver. He then posted two shutouts during Kelowna’s six-game triumph over the Kamloops Blazers to open the 2017 WHL Playoffs.
He made 15 saves on Friday, March 24, in a 4-0 win versus Kamloops before then registering another 24 saves on Wednesday, March 29, in a 1-0 win at Kamloops.
In 13 appearances during the month of March, Herringer surrendered two goals or fewer on eight occasions, earning first-star honours once and second-star recognition twice.
Herringer was recognized as WHL Goaltender of the Week twice during the month of March and three times over the course of the entire 2016-17 regular season.
In the playoffs, He is 4-2 with a 2.00 GAA, .928 save percentage and two shutouts through six appearances.