In their last home game before Christmas, Calvin Thurkauf and the Kelowna Rockets provided the Prospera Place faithful with a rather festive parting gift.
Thurkauf scored his first career hat trick to pace the Rockets to a convincing 6-1 WHL victory Wednesday over the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds.
It was the third win in the last four games for the Rockets, who now hit the road for a seven-game, 11-day road trip beginning Friday night against the Tri-City Americans.
“We had a great team effort tonight,” said the Swiss-born Thurkauf. “I was fortunate to score, but in hindsight everybody came in, clutched in tonight, we played a really good game.
“Props to (goalie) Mike (Herringer), to our D-corps, to our forwards, everybody gave their best.”
Thurkauf ignited the Rockets early with a goal just 66 seconds into the game, then added his second of the night midway through the opening period to make it 2-0, and the Rockets never looked back.
“It’s good to come out and start the game right away,” said head coach Jason Smith. “It’s something we’ve talked about, just make sure we’re ready to play, come out and do things right, right off the start.”
Tomas Soustal, Jake Kryski and Rodney Southam also scored for the Rockets (17-11-1-0) who have won six of their last eight games.
Thurkauf rounded out the scoring with his hat trick goal and 12th of the season on a set up from Nick Merkley at 16:24 of the third period. Merkley finished the night with three assists.
Meanwhile, Merkley and Rockets teammate Dillon Dube will leave Friday for the Canadian junior team’s final selection camp, Dec. 10 to 14 in Blainville, Que.
The Rockets will also be without Thurkauf (Switzerland) and Soustal (Czech Republic) who will depart Monday to join their respective countries in advance of the world junior hockey championship.
With the absences of four of his team’s most productive offensive players for what could be a lengthy stretch of games, Smith isn’t shying away from the challenge the Rockets will be facing over the next several weeks.
“It’ll be exciting, it’s a great opportunity to really grow as a group,” said Smith. “It’ll be a great challenge for our group to step up when we’re losing some players.
“I think there are guys that will expand their roles a little bit,” he added, “you’ll get some new players in the lineup that are looking to prove themselves and have an opportunity to make an impression.”
The Rockets’ next home game is Tuesday, Dec. 27 against the Kamloops Blazers.