At the end of January, the Kelowna Rockets’ prospects of a B.C. Division title looked grim, at best.
A month later, Jason Smith’s club is breathing down the necks of both the Prince George Cougars and Kamloops Blazers.
With 11 wins in its last 14 games—and eight games remaining—Kelowna (38-21-5-0) now sits just four points back of the first-place Cougars and one back of second-place Kamloops. The Rockets hold a game in hand on both clubs.
Smith said his team’s recent surge in the standings should make for an interesting final two weeks of the regular season.
“It’s close, it’s a competitive division,” said Smith, the Rockets’ first-year head coach. “Every game has got meaning from now until the end of the year.
“We’ll see where it all falls when we’re done eight games from now, but the guys in the room are excited about the way we’re playing and the way we’re competing.”
As much progress as the Rockets have made over the last several weeks, goaltender Michael Herringer said the team needs to resist the urge to look too far ahead—both at the potential of a division title and the start of the postseason.
The most immediate task, said Herringer, is the Rockets’ visit to Everett tonight to take on the U.S. Division-leading Silvertips.
“That’s obviously our goal, we want to win out the rest of our games, but I think our focus right now is to win on Friday in Everett,” said Herringer, who made 26 stops Wednesday to lead the Rockets to a 5-1 win over the Cougars at Prospera Place.
“It’s the best time of the year and we’re all really excited about it but at the same time it’s the next game that’s most important.”
Working in the Rockets’ favour over the last several weeks has been a mostly full and healthy lineup, a rarity for WHL teams this late in the season.
“It’s been good,” Smith said of his team’s recent good health. “Anytime you have depth in your lineup from your first line to your fourth and you have six D that are playing, it gives you an opportunity to put guys out in different situations.”
The Rockets, who will play seven of their last nine games at home, will host the Tri-City Americans on Saturday. Face-off at Prospera Place is 7:05 p.m.
Johansen signs with Caps…
Rockets defenceman Lucas Johansen this week signed a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
Johansen, 19, was a first-round pick of the Caps, 28th overall, in the 2016 entry draft.
In 194 career games, the Port Moody product has 17 goals, 93 points and a +47 rating.