Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze Dillon Dube and the Kelowna Rockets will host the Vancouver Giants Friday in the first of eight meetings this season between the division rivals.

Rockets look to ramp up consistency, compete level

Kelowna, second in the B.C. Division, opens home stand Friday against the Vancouver Giants.

As his team hits the quarter mark of the 2017-18 Western Hockey League season, Bruce Hamilton admits the Kelowna Rockets are more or less in the position he expected.

At 8-6-2-1, the Rockets sit second in the B.C. Division, eight points back of first-place Victoria and four ahead of Vancouver.

“I think we’re pretty much where we thought we’d be in this kind of race,” said Hamilton, the Rockets president and GM. “We went through a little four or five-game funk there where we struggled in goal, but it wasn’t just the goalies.

“Our whole team got thinking that maybe they were better than they were,” added Hamilton. “(Goalie) James Porter has really got his game going, that’s helped a lot and I think all in all, we’ve been playing better the last little while here.”

With the departures of offensive weapons Nick Merkley, Calvin Thurkauf, Reid Gardiner and Lucas Johansen from last year’s club, Hamilton said the Rockets—even with Kole Lind and Dillon Dube returning—knew goals would likely be harder to come by this season.

Finding ways to win games 3-2 and 4-3, particularly in a division with a high degree of parity, may become a season-long necessity for the Rockets.

“We’re not going to be a real flashy team, we’re going to have to work hard and play really well defensively, we have young guys in goal and we’ve got to back them up and support them,” Hamilton said.

To continue being better than a middle-of-the-pack type of team, Hamilton said the Rockets will require contributions from up and down the entire lineup.

“We need some miles from our over age players here,” Hamilton said of Carsen Twarynski, Gordie Ballhorn and James Hilsendager. “We need them to have an impact in the outcome of every game.

“And we need to see some development from some of our younger guys in the scoring department.”

As for Jason Smith and his progress as Rockets’ head coach, Hamilton said the second-year bench boss is growing with each game.

“He’s done a real good job,” Hamilton said. “It’s a learning process, the group we had last year and this year are a little different. These guys are more and more his team now, last year’s was more inherited. I think they’re coming along (under Smith).”

While Smith isn’t entirely dissatisfied with his team’s performance at the quarter point of the season, he believes the Rockets have considerably more to offer.

Head coach Jason Smith:

“I think you can always look at where you’re at and we want to be better,” said Smith. “I think we’ve been inconsistent in playing complete games, I think there’s games where we’ve done things really well for stretches, then we’ve taken our foot off the pedal and gotten sloppy.

“We just haven’t competed at the level we need to and that’s what we’re going to work at and strive to be a better team and a more consistent team.”

The Rockets will settle into Prospera Place for a four-game home stand beginning Friday against the Giants. Face off at Prospera Place is 7:05 p.m. The Red Deer Rebels will visit Kelowna on Saturday.

Rockets with Team WHL

Dillon Dube, Kole Lind and Cal Foote returned to the Rockets this week after playing with Team WHL during the Canada-Russia series in Saskatchewan.

As part of Hockey Canada’s evaluation process for the 2018 national junior squad, Dube scored twice and added three assists as the teams split the two-game set in Moose Jaw and Swift Current. Lind had a goal and two assists, while Foote posted a +2 rating.

Team Canada’s final selection camp will be held Dec. 12 to 15 in St. Catharines, ON.

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