The Portland Winterhawks’ offense can run-and-gun with the best in the Western Hockey League.
The Kelowna Rockets are also well-known for their proclivity to light up opposing team’s netminders.
On Friday night, the top two scoring teams in the Western Conference will go head to head to open up the second round of the WHL post season.
Led by the likes of Cody Glass, Skyler McKenzie and Keegan Iverson, the Winterhawks (278) were second only to Kelowna (283) for goals scored during the regular season.
While the Rockets are well-equipped to trade offensive blows with pretty much any opponent, captain Rodney Southam said his club has no intention of allowing the series to become a track meet.
“It won’t be easy, they’re fast, high powered offensively and they like to run-and-gun,” Southam said of the Winterhawks. “We need to stay away from that and play our game, make sure we’re responsible two ways.
“We like our depth and we feel our top lines match pretty well against theirs. We feel like when we’re on our game and playing our systems, we can play with any team in the league.”
The Winterhawks, who upset the Prince George Cougars in six games in the opening round, come in as the underdogs and fully expect to have their plate full with the surging Rockets.
Kelowna won nine of its last 10 regular season games, then took out the Kamloops Blazers in six games in the first round of the postseason.
‘Hawks head coach and GM Mike Johnston said while the Rockets’ flaws are few, his team will needs to find those weaknesses and do its utmost to expose them.
“We recognize that they have high-end players, they have good speed, they’re well-balanced and are very good defensively,” said Johnston, who returned to the Winterhawks’ helm this season after two years in the NHL.
“Their top three or four players are as dangerous as any in the league, they don’t have many holes, so our job is to find those holes and take advantage of those the best we can.”
The clubs met four times during the regular season—the last coming back on Jan. 28 in Kelowna—with the Rockets winning three of those.
Both teams have made considerable strides since that last encounter, so Johnston isn’t putting too much stock into regular season outcomes.
“The key thing for us in this series is to establish our game right way,” said Johnston. “We played them pretty well the last two games there (in January) and won one of them, so that’s positive for us.
“At the same time, both teams were missing players, both teams have made progress since then, so I don’t think the season series shows us much.”
Had the Winterhawks not upset Prince George in first round, the Rockets would have been on the road to start the best-of-seven conference semifinal.
Forward Dillon Dube said kicking off round two at Prospera Place presents a big opportunity to the Rockets.
“That’s huge for us, nice to start the series at home and get a chance to put them on their heels,” said Dube. “We know it’s a tough place to play down there (in Portland), so it’s important for us to get off to a good start and get the jump on them.”
The Rockets and Winterhawks are meeting in the playoffs for the fifth time in the last seven seasons. The last time the clubs met, in 2015, the Rockets won in six games on the way to capturing the WHL title.
— Kelowna Rockets (@Kelowna_Rockets) April 4, 2017
WHL Western Conference semifinal
Kelowna Rockets vs Portland Winterhawks
Friday, April 7 —Portland @ Kelowna 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, April 8—Portland @ Kelowna 7:05 p.m.
Tuesday, April 11—Kelowna @ Portland 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 12—Kelowna @ Portland 7:00 p.m.
Friday, April 14—Portland @ Kelowna 7:05 p.m. *
Sunday, April 16—Kelowna @ Portland 7:00 p.m. *
Tuesday, April 18—Portland @ Kelowna 7:05 p.m. *
* If necessary