Twice the Kelowna Rockets have stared down elimination from the 2012-13 Western Hockey League post-season.
On Tuesday night in Kent, Wash., Ryan Huska’s club will try to perform the feat a third straight time against the Seattle Thunderbirds to force a seventh and deciding game in the Western Conference quarterfinal series.
“Obviously every game now for us is critical, we don’t have that cushion to falter so we have to play desperate hockey,” said Huska, the Rockets head coach. “We’re headed into a big challenge down there, it’s like a Game 7 situation with the season on the line. We have to have the same approach we’ve had the last two games, play hard as a team and try bring it back to Kelowna.”
After stunning losses in each of the first three games overtime, the injury-plagued Rockets have delivered back-to-back victories to stay afloat, the latest a 4-3 verdict on Saturday night at Prospera Place.
With six players out of the lineup—including captain Colton Sissons for the remainder of the WHL playoffs—the Rockets have had to lean on their depth, a key to the team’s success throughout a record-setting 52-win season.
Huska and his staff have had to call on the team’s younger players, such as Cole Linaker, Austin Glover and Justin Kirkland, to fill the void and keep four lines rolling.
“We’re not going to change that (four lines), we’ve done that all year, so going to 2 1/2 or three lines doesn’t make sense at this time of year,” Huska said. “Seattle’s going to continue to push and come at us, so we need to use our depth like we have been.”
Only one team in WHL history, the 1996 Spokane Chiefs, has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
The Rockets are, not surprisingly, hoping to become the second.
“We still feel confident, we know the way we need to play and when we do put in the effort we know we’re tough to beat,” said 20-year-old forward Dylen McKinlay. “We think it’s (Seattle’s) Game 7 down there and we know they don’t want to come back to Kelowna.”
Above all, Huska said his players still have faith that coming back all the way is attainable.
“The belief is still there, the guys have hung on to that all along,” Huska said. “When things don’t go your way, you have to keep your spirit and the players have done a good job of that.”
If the Rockets win Tuesday night, a seventh and deciding game would be played Wednesday at Prospera Place.