Tomas Soutsal and the Kelowna Rockets are home this week for Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Championship. -Image credit: Brian Liesse

Tomas Soutsal and the Kelowna Rockets are home this week for Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Championship. -Image credit: Brian Liesse

Rockets look for upper hand on T’Birds

Tied 1-1, Kelowna is home this week for Games 3 and 4 of Western Conference final

The Kelowna Rockets will be looking to home ice this week to try gain the upper hand in WHL’s Western Conference Championship.

Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven series against the Seattle Thunderbirds are set for tonight and Wednesday at Propsera Place.

Face off both nights is 7:05 p.m.

The Rockets return to Kelowna after splitting the first two games in Kent, Washington with the T-Birds. On Friday the Rockets lost 5-4 after allowing a power play goal with 12 seconds remaining to help the Thunderbirds edge the Rockets. Then on Saturday, boosted by Reid Gardiner’s overtime goal, the Rockets responded with a 4-3 victory to even the series.

Head coach Jason Smith says the results and how evenly matched the two clubs have been through the first two games isn’t a surprise.

“I think they were both good hockey games. There were some momentum swings both ways where both teams had generated opportunities to score and I think both teams competed extremely hard,” said Smith.

After suffering a loss from a late goal in game one, Smith says the response from his team was excellent.

“The way the first game ended was obviously the way you don’t want a game to end,” Smith said. “You never want to give up a goal late in a period or late in the game. I thought our group did a great job bouncing back. We started game two really well… we played with focus, we played with poise, and we played with a high compete level.”

Speaking of a high compete level, Rockets forward Reid Gardiner is still red hot, scoring a goal and adding two assists in game one, and scoring another two goals in game two, including the overtime winner.

The two goals on Saturday in game two set a new Rockets franchise record for goals in a single playoff season when Gardiner notched his 14th and 15th surpassing the record previously held by NHL superstar and former Kelowna Rockets forward Jamie Benn who posted 13 goals for Kelowna in the 2009 post season.

Gardiner, named the WHL’s player of the week for the second time in a row, currently leads all playoff scoring with 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points in just 13 games.

Calvin Thurkauf has also turned up the heat. After recording no goals and only two assists in the first round that lasted six games against the Kamloops Blazers, Thurkauf has since recorded six goals and 10 assists for 16 points in the following seven games (five games against the Portland Winterhawks, and two so far against the Seattle Thunderbirds).

Thurkauf had four primary assists in Game 2 when the Rockets won 4-3 in overtime over the Thunderbirds.

Game 5 of the series will go Friday in Kent.

Kelowna Rockets