Kelowna's Lucas Johansen (left) and Michael Herringer will continue their WHL homestand Friday against the Tri-City Americans.

Rockets settling in for lengthy homestand

Kelowna plays second of five straight games at Prospera Place Friday against Tri-City

The Kelowna Rockets are already well-acquainted with Prospera Place.

The defending WHL champs will know it even better over the next 2 1/2 weeks, with nine of 10 games being played on home ice.

On Friday night, the Rockets will take on the Tri-City Americans in the second game of a current five-game homestand.

After playing 25 of their first 44 games on the road, head coach Brad Ralph said the spate of home games comes at a key time in the schedule.

“This is an important time of year, you see everyone playing tight hockey and jockeying for position in the standings,” said Ralph. “This is an opportunity for us to take advantage of the situation, and it’s important for us to make the most of it.”

The Rockets (31-11-3-0) opened the homestand Tuesday with a 7-4 win over Prince George, maintaining their lead atop the Western Conference.

But with teams like the Everett Silvertips and Victoria Royals in hot pursuit, forward Nick Merkley piling up points during the home stretch is even more crucial to the Rockets.

“You want to get those wins at home as much as you can, and you want to make it a hard place to play,” said Merkley, who had two goals and two assists in Tuesday’s win over the Cougars, “so we’re going to try and do that this coming month.”

Michael Herringer, who has played seven consecutive games, remains the starter in goal for the Rockets as Jackson Whistle remains sidelined on a week-to-week basis with ailing hips.

Forward Rodney Southam, who has been sidelined since Dec. 16 with a lower body injury, could be ready to return for a return to the lineup this weekend.

The Rockets will host the Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday.

Midterm rankings…

Three Rockets were cited in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings of North American skaters, released this week.

Forward Dillon Dube is rated 35th, defenceman Lucas Johansen is 38th, while Czech-born winger Tomas Soustal is ranked 152nd among players eligible for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.