With an abbreviated roster and a dose of winter maladies taking their toll, the Kelowna Rockets will happily welcome some time off over the Christmas break.
But the Western Hockey League’s overall leaders still have some work to do on their Prairie swing before they can relax.
Following tonight’s meeting with the Raiders in Prince Albert, the Rockets will close out their six-game eastern road trip Saturday night in Saskatoon.
With four key players out of the lineup due to world junior camps, and cold and flu bugs making the rounds, Rockets’ head coach Brad Ralph said his club is on survival mode.
“There are only a few days left here and it’s been a grind,” Ralph said. “We’ve been short some players and a lot of the guys are sick, so we’re just hanging on right now. The guys have done a good job the last couple of games, so hopefully we can carry that through to the end here.”
Despite a slow start to the trip—including a 5-1 loss Saturday in Brandon—the Rockets have rebounded with strong back-to-back efforts.
A 6-3 win on Tuesday in Swift Current was followed up by a 1-0 shutout of the Warriors on Wednesday in Moose Jaw, as Jackson Whistle stopped 27 shots.
“We didn’t play the away we can in the first two games, but we certainly picked it up the last two games,” said Ralph. “I thought (in Moose Jaw) we executed the game plan well and we worked hard. We were good defensively and we were good on special teams. I was happy with the effort. Overall, I’m happy to be 3-1 on this trip.”
Adding to the challenge over the last two games will be the likely absence of 19-year-old forward Rodney Southam who was injured after blocking a shot on Wednesday night.
The Rockets are already without forwards Rourke Chartier (Canada), Nick Merkley (Canada), Tomas Soustal (Czech Republic) and Clavin Thurkauf (Switzerland) who are in Europe with their respective national junior teams.
The Rockets next home action is Monday, Dec. 28 against the Kamloops Broncos.