The Kelowna Rockets have chosen a rather opportune time to be playing their best hockey of the season.
The defending WHL champs will see two of the Western Conference’s other elite teams this week—the Seattle Thunderbirds will stop at Prospera Place on Wednesday night, before the Rockets head west to Victoria this weekend for a twin bill with the Royals.
With eight wins in the last nine games, Kelowna (17-5-1-0) has moved into top spot in the WHL’s overall standings.
The Rockets were particularly dominant in their last two games at home, beating Edmonton 6-1 on Friday and Vancouver 5-2 on Saturday.
And Kelowna has been getting it done without the services of three key forwards—Rourke Chartier, Dillon Dube and Riley Stadel—as well as defenceman Lucas Johansen.
“What you’ve been seeing is a team effort,” said Rockets head coach Brad Ralph. “To a man everyone has brought their best the last few games, they’re playing for each other and the result is very good team game.
“You see it not only in the results,” added Ralph, “but in the way we’re attacking the net together, our team toughness and how when there are mistakes, the guys are picking each other up. This is as consistent as our team has played this season.”
In the Thunderbirds, the Rockets will face a team on a six-game winning streak with the league’s third best overall record (15-6-1-1, .705).
The ‘Birds are led by NHL first round pick Matthew Barzal (34 points) and skilled blue liner Ethan Bear (24 points).
“They played the Rockets hard last season and they’re off to a great start this season,” Ralph said of Seattle. “They have some elite players and they’re on a bit of a roll right now, so it should be a great hockey game.”
The Rockets will be in Victoria for games on Friday and Saturday nights. The Royals (16-7-1-1) are a point back of the Rockets for top spot in the Western Conference, with Kelowna holding games in hand.
Rockets’ forward Tyson Baillie is the Western Hockey League’s player of the week.
The 20-year-old Fort Saskatchewan, AB native had three goals and seven points in three Rockets victories during the week.
Baillie currently sits second in the WHL scoring race with 16 goals and 41 points.
Head coach Brad Ralph said Baillie has pushed his game to another level.
“I’m really impressed with the work ethic and drive Tyson has brought to the table,” Ralph said. “When he does that, everyone seems to rally around him and the team benefits from that. I’m happy he was rewarded and that’s a good message for him, that when he plays like he can, he’s recognized for that.”
With injuries to key players, Baillie has been working on a line with Justin Kirkland and Tomas Soustal. The threesome has 18 points in the last three games.