In Travis Crickard’s first two years as an assistant coach, the Kelowna Rockets more or less owned the Kamloops Blazers.
The Rockets ran roughshod over their B.C. Division rivals, winning 16 of 20 regular season WHL meetings prior to last spring’s seven-game playoff series between the teams.
Crickard said the days of foregone conclusions against Kamloops are no more.
“In my time here, up until the end of last year, we almost never lost to Kamloops, it was almost like the guys knew they were going to beat them,” said Crickard.
“You can’t make those assumptions any more. (The Blazers) are a very good team, with two good goaltenders and an experienced head coach (Don Hay).
“They’re a challenge to play against and when both teams are adequate, that makes for some pretty good hockey.”
With the teams embroiled in a battle for second spot in the B.C. Division, the long-time rivalry has taken on added meaning this season.
The Rockets (27-17-4-0) are three points back of the Blazers (29-17-1-2) with one game in hand.
“They’re very important,” Crickard said of head-to-head match-ups between the teams.
“Whether it’s Kamloops, Prince George or Victoria, those divisional games are huge now. Each one is a four-point game.
“We’re chasing (the Blazers) right now, so we need to find ways to have success against them, move up in the standings and gain some confidence at the same time.”
The Rockets expect three key forwards back in their lineup for tonight’s game—Reid Gardiner (upper body), Dillon Dube (strep throat) and Nolan Foote (illness).
Kelowna is home again on Saturday night when the Portland Winterhawks visit Prospera Place. Face-off is 7:05 p.m.