Rockets reload for defending champs

Kelowna hosts Edmonton Oil Kings Wednesday in WHL action

Forward Tyrell Goulbourne and the Kelowna Rockets will host the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings Wednesday at Prospera Place.

The Kelowna Rockets didn’t have to wait long for a chance to return the favour.

Just 10 days after losing to the Oil Kings in Edmonton, the Rockets will get reacquainted with the defending WHL champs when the teams meet for the second and final time this season.

Face off Wednesday at Prospera Place is 7 p.m.

Since that 5-3 setback in Edmonton, the Rockets have won three straight, including an impressive 3-0 shutout of the Canadian Hockey League’s No. 1 team last Thursday.

Veteran forward Zach Franko said the club’s last defeat is still fresh on the Rockets’ minds.

“It’s what you want, you want a chance to play (the Oil Kings) again as soon as possible and prove you can play with them,” said Franko who has 17 points in 16 games this season. “I think we showed everyone with the way we played Kamloops that we’re up with the top teams. Edmonton is just as good or maybe even better (than Kamloops) so we’re excited to see how we measure up against them.”

Rockets head coach Ryan Huska said his Rockets didn’t play poorly in Edmonton, but will need to be better on Wednesday.

“(Edmonton) carried a lot of tempo and the play in that game, and they capitalized on their chances,” said Huska. “We’ll need to bring our tempo up to a higher level.”

The Rockets (10-6-1-1) are coming off back-to-back shutouts of their opponents for the first time since March 2010.

On Thursday, Kelowna rubbed out the Blazers 3-0 as Jordon Cooke posted his third clean sheet of the season.

On Saturday, Jackson Whistle registered his second career shutout as Kelowna blanked Prince George 5-0.

“Our goaltenders played well in both games, and you don’t get shutouts unless you have team commitment,” said Huska. “You don’t see a lot of individual play, the guys are playing responsible two-way hockey and it’s paying off.”

Meanwhile, forward Tyrell Goulbourne’s first two goals of the season were the game winners against both Kamloops and Prince George.

After a slow start, Huska said the 18-year-old forward’s game is rounding into form.

“Early in the season Tyrell struggled, he was a healthy scratch a few times and he wasn’t moving his feet,” said Huska. “Now he’s working and skating, and he’s feeling good about his game. He’s playing well.”

The Rockets will close out a four-game home stand Friday against the Red Deer Rebels.

Rocket Shots…Centre Nick Merkley, the Rockets first-round pick in the 2012 WHL bantam draft, was named to the tournament all-star team at the Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup in Calgary. Merkley tied for the tournament lead in scoring with a goal and six assists…Rockets’ prospect D Joe Gatenby helped Team B.C. to the gold medal at the U1-6 Challenge Cup. B.C. defeated Alberta 9-3 in the final.


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