In the 23-season history of the franchise, it’s hard to imagine the Kelowna Rockets heading into Christmas in a more festive mood than in 2013.
As Ryan Huska’s squad breaks for the holidays, the Rockets sit atop the Western Hockey League standings with the best record in major junior hockey at 28-3-0-2.
Factor in a six-game sweep of Prairies teams, a 12-game winning streak overall and a club-record 13-game winning streak on the road, and there isn’t much more the coaching staff could have asked of their club over the first half of the WHL campaign.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Huska, who is in his seventh season as the club’s head coach. “We’ve had some good, long stretches this season where our team has played very well. We’ve run into some challenges along the way, but for the most part the guys have responded well.
“Different pieces of our team keep stepping up,” he added. “Earlier on, it was our goaltending on a lot of nights. But lately, on this (Eastern Division) trip it really was a team effort. We’re excited about the way the guys have played to this point.”
After winning the first five games of their Prairie tour, there was no letdown from the Rockets who put an emphatic end to the trip Tuesday night with a convincing 7-1 win over the Saskatoon Blades.
“We challenged them to make sure they finished off the trip the right way,” Huska said. “It would have been easy for them to look at the standings and just go through the motions. But they didn’t. They sent each other a pretty good message about how they take pride in their game and the way they compete.”
Still, as much momentum as the Rockets have built up, Huska said the break is welcome and will give everyone on the team a chance to recharge for the second half.
“It’s going to be nice to get away from the rink for both the staff and players,” Huska said. “We’ve pushed the boys pretty hard at times with a lot of different things, so now they cane take their mind off it for a few days. They can just stay loose with running or biking, then come back after the break, refreshed and ready to go.”
Huska said the Rockets will face some challenges after Christmas with a lot of hockey in a short time span, including 10 of the next 12 games on the road.
And with defenceman Damon Severson’s potentially away for the world junior championship, and assistant coach Dan Lambert, forward Nick Merkley and defenceman Joe Gatenby all away at the World Under 17 Challenge until the New Year, the Rockets will have to cope without a few reliable bodies.
“After Christmas, we’re going to be without Dan (Lambert) and a few key players,” said Huska. “We’ll have to make some adjustments with our lines among other things, so it’ll be a test for us.”
The Rockets return to action Friday, December 27 at home to the Kamloops Blazers.