After a record setting home streak and a stretch of solid play that lasted for much of the season, the Kelowna Rockets have hit a few bumps in the road, with just a month left in the Western Hockey League season.
The Rockets dropped a pair of games to rival Kamloops on the weekend as the Blazers clawed to within three points of Kelowna in the race for the WHL BC Division title.
And on Monday and the Rockets announced that players Carter Rigby and Mitchell Wheaton will be out for the rest of the WHL season after suffering shoulder injuries. Both players will require shoulder surgery and will be out four to five months for recovery.
“Injuries happen and our plan now with both Carter and Mitchell is to get them into surgery and started on their rehabilitation as soon as we can,” said Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton, noting that the two players are key members of the future for the Rockets.
In 34 games this season, his second with the Rockets, Rigby had 12 goals, including back to back hat tricks just before he was injured. A rookie defenceman, the 6-foot-5 Wheaton was plus-20 with eight points in 39 games played before going down with the injury.
Kelowna coach Ryan Huska said losing the two players leaves a big hole to fill, as well as an opportunity for other players to step up.
“Without a doubt, this challenges our depth,” said Huska. “We’re looking at a key member of our back-end and probably one of our more physical forwards.Their absence will create an opportunity for other guys to look forward to increased playing time.”
One of those players is Colton Heffley, a forward who has been filling in on defense since Wheaton was injured.
“Colton is going to have to go back and forth from D to forward,” said Huska. “He’s a good teammate and more than willing to do anything we ask of him.”
In the past two weekends the Rockets have dropped two games to Portland and two more to Kamloops as the team met two of the top teams in the WHL during its busiest part of the WHL schedule.
Against the Blazers, Kelowna just couldn’t muster the type of offense and jump it had during a record 23 game home winning streak and for much of the season.
“We’ve come through a challenging stretch of the games in a short period of time and it’s a mental challenge now for the players,” he said. “I think the experience they’ve come through will make them better and our team better in the long run,.”
Kelowna heads to Victoria for a pair of games this weekend before returning to Prospera Place on Feb. 28 to meet Seattle.