As both a close friend and teammate, Zach Franko felt a jolt of regret when he found out Colton Sissons would be sidelined for the WHL playoffs.
Still, as one of the veterans who will be counted on by his Kelowna Rockets throughout the 2012-13 post-season, the Winnipeg native said there’s no time or need to dwell on the loss of their captain.
“Colton’s a huge part of this team, he’s a great captain and it’s always tough to see a guy go down like that,” said Franko, 19, one of three assistant captains with the Rockets. “But that’s some adversity right there and our team has done really well with that this year. We’re going to keep fighting right to the end and I think we’ve got a real good opportunity here. A lot of us older guys are going to have to step up and I believe we will.”
The Rockets, seeded second in the Western Conference, will open the playoffs Friday night at home to the No. 7 Seattle Thunderbirds. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series will go Saturday at Prospera Place.
After colliding with Giants’ defenceman Mason Geertsen last Friday night in Vancouver, the Rockets found out Monday Sissons would be sidelined eight to 12 weeks with an upper body injury.
If there is any consolation in the loss of their captain and MVP, it’s fact that the Rockets survived, and even thrived, without Sissons in the lineup this season, winning nine of 11 games.
As a team that won 52 regular season games with no so-called “superstars” and features plenty of depth up front, head coach Ryan Huska expects his Rockets will find ample ways to compensate again in the playoffs.
“The one positive is that we’ve been a four-line team all year, a six-defenceman team and we’ve used everybody in every situation,” said Huska. “Somebody is going to rise up, we can’t be expecting one guy in particular to do it. I think it has to be a group of 20 players in our dressing room that are all committed to playing a little bit harder.”
While his leadership qualities will undoubtedly be missed on the ice, Huska said what Sissons has passed on to the rest of the team’s veterans will be invaluable as the post-season progresses.
“Colton did a good job this year of getting his assistant captains on board,” Huska said. “With that, other older guys came on board, too, so I think we’ve got ourselves in a good position where we now have lot of leaders in our dressing room. Guys will rise to the challenge, I know that and everybody will add a little bit extra.”
One player chomping at the bit to get the playoffs started is veteran defenceman Damon Severson who, even in the face of a key injury, likes his team’s chances this spring.
“It’s the start of a new season and the boys are fired up,” said Severson, the club’s top defenceman who had 52 points this season. “If we stick to our game plan and play like we know we can, we think we can compete with anyone. We want to go far in the playoffs and hopefully bring home a cup.”
The Rockets won three of four regular season meetings against the Thunderbirds this season, outscoring Seattle 18-8 in the process.
Games 3 and 4 will be played Tuesday and Wednesday in Seattle. A fifth game, if needed, will be played Saturday, March 30 in Kelowna.