Almost a week off between games was just what the doctor ordered for the Kelowna Rockets.
The WHL club will have close to a clean bill of health in time for Friday’s matchup against the B.C. Division rival Kamloops Blazers. Face-off at Prospera Place is 7:05 p.m.
Forwards Reid Gardiner, Dillon Dube and Nolan Foote are all expected back in the lineup after dealing with various ailments.
“It’s been good to have the time off,” said Rockets’ general manager Bruce Hamilton. “Having those guys back gets us back close to full strength at an important time of the season.”
Gardiner, who the Rockets acquired prior to the trade deadline from the Prince Albert Raiders, suffered an upper body injury after colliding with teammate Calvin Thurkauf on Jan. 16 in Everett and sat out the last three games.
Dube missed the team’s last two games with strep-throat and has been home recovering with his family in Calgary.
Foote, 16, has been out since Jan. 4, a span of eight games, with an illness.
“(Nolan) had mono early in the season, so his system was compromised and he’s had trouble kicking this last bug,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been very careful with him and are making sure he’s ready before bringing him back.”
With a third of the regular season remaining, the Rockets (27-17-4-0) are just three points back of the rival Blazers (29-16-1-2) for second spot, and technically still within striking distance of the B.C. Division-leading Prince George Cougars (34-13-3-0).
While Hamilton would like his team to be better-positioned at this stage of the season, he said there’s still time to make up some key ground within both the division and conference.
“I think we’ve let some games get away from us and that’s been frustrating,” said Hamilton. “But once we have everybody back and playing we’ll get a better understanding of how prepared our players are to step up to the wall and get it done.
“We also have a rookie coach who is learning his way, so we have to make sure everybody is pulling in the same direction.”
The Rockets will host the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday night.