Joe Gatenby (left) and the Kelowna Rockets will battle Matt Needham and the Kamloops Blazers this weekend in a home-and-home set.

Rockets push towards WHL season title

Kelowna in first-place battle with Victoria as Rockets play two weekend games against Kamloops

With the end of the regular season in clear view, the Kelowna Rockets continue their push this weekend towards a first-place overall finish in the Western Hockey League.

The Rockets (44-16-3-0) are a point back of the league-leading Victoria Royals (43-16-3-3) but Kelowna holds two games in hand.

With nine games remaining, the Rockets are also just six victories away from a CHL-record fourth consecutive 50-win season.

The B.C. Division-rival Kamloops Blazers will provide the opposition this weekend in a home-and-home set. The clubs will face off Friday in Kamloops, before meeting for a rematch Saturday, 7:05 p.m., at Prospera Place.

“It’s an exciting time of year,” said Rockets head coach Brad Ralph. “There’s a lot to play for over the course of these nine games, and that’s why you play sports, to get into these situations and challenge yourself.

“You play all year for the playoffs, so it’s important to be playing close to your best hockey    heading in.”

And the Rockets have been in playoff-like form of late, winning seven of their last eight games.

Success has come despite the absences of two of the team’s top players, forward Nick Merkley and goaltender Jackson Whistle, who are both through for the season due to injury.

“Unfortunately for us and them, those are two key guys who have both have both had surgery and are done,” Ralph said. “This is the team we’ve got, we still have good depth and we’re looking forward to making a good run with this group.”

Defenceman Gordie Ballhorn remains day-to-day with an upper body injury and is questionable for this weekend.

The Wetaskiwin, AB native has missed the last five games after being hurt Feb. 16 against Red Deer.

Ex-Rockets named for World Cup…

Four former members of the Rockets have been named to their country’s respective rosters for the 2016 World Cup in Toronto.

Defencemen Shea Weber and Duncan Keith, and forward Jamie Benn have been included on Canada’s preliminary 16-man roster.

Forward Leon Draisaitl will play for Team Germany.

The World Cup begins Sept. 16 at the Air Canada Centre.

 

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