Captain Tyson Barrie and the Kelowna Rockets host the Portland Winterhawks Friday and the Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday.

Top teams provide weekend test for Rockets

A respite from the rigours of a junior hockey season couldn’t have come at a much better time for Tyson Barrie.

Back from a four-day break, the rejuvenated Kelowna Rockets captain will lead his club into battle this weekend against two of the Western Hockey League’s top teams.

The Western Conference-leading Portland Winterhawks will stop at Prospera Place on Friday, while the fleet-footed Medicine Hat Tigers will come calling 24 hours later.

“It’s going to be a real good test for us and we’re going to find out where we stand against them,” said Barrie. “Those are two good teams are we gotta be ready for them. I’ve had a nice break and I’m ready to go.”

Barrie played in Saturday’s 8-1 victory over Kamloops, then headed home to Victoria to reload after an intense and busy month of hockey with Team Canada at the world junior championship in Buffalo.

The Rockets had their ups and downs in the Barrie’s absence—and that of head coach Ryan Huska—including a four-game losing streak to start off 2011.

But now that the dust has settled and the team’s full roster is back in place, Barrie feels good about the Rockets’ capabilities over the final 31 games of the regular season.

“We’ve struggled a bit in the New Year, but our last game against Kamloops was big for us, it was a good win,” said Barrie. “This is always a good time of year, the trade deadline has passed, and this is it…this is our team.

“I like our team, we have a real good core group and as long we continue to follow what the coaches have been preaching to us, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

The Rockets and the rest of the Western Conference find themselves in the tightest race anyone in the WHL can ever remember.

A mere five points separate the last seven clubs, with every team still firmly in the playoff race.

In the B.C. Division, only four points divide the first and last-place teams.

The division champion will earn the second overall seed in the conference come the post-season.

“We’ve been saying it for a while how tight our conference is and how big every game is,” said Rockets coach Ryan Huska. “There’s an opportunity to win our division and get that second seed…every team is in it. If you don’t win, you might end up fourth of fifth and get a good American team in the first round.”

Speaking of good American teams, the Winterhawks (27-13-0-3) have slipped somewhat over the last month but are still hanging on top spot the Western Conference standings.

With skilled players like Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter providing leadership, and new acquisitions Craig Cunningham and University of Denver defenceman William Wrenn in the mix, Huska said the ‘Hawks are a talented and well-rounded team.

“They’ve strengthened their group with some of the moves they’ve made,” said Huska. “They’re deep all over the place, up front and on defense. We’ll have to try and take away as much time and space from them as we can.”

As for the Tigers (27-12-2-0), Huska expects his team to be challenged by Medicine Hat’s speed and high-tempo style.

“We’ll learn in a hurry if our team is quick enough to handle them. They’re very fast.”

The Rockets (22-19-0-0) head into the weekend in second in the B.C. Division, one point back of the Prince George Cougars and Vancouver Giants.

Just Posted

Reel Reviews: A cure for anger

We say, “Purge it up, goofballs.”

Kelowna families honour the dead by releasing butterflies

The Nicholson matriarchs release 33 butterflies

Carr’s Landing Art Tour showcases local talent

14th annual tour in Lake Country July 28-29 and Aug. 4-5

The Okanagan Croatian Club all smiles after World Cup loss

They say winning second place brought Croatia to the world stage

East Shuswap Road wildfire’s fire line being controlled

Firefighters saved an eagle’s nest and eaglets while controlling fire lines

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Course veterans seize victory in Peach City Classic

The first place titles in this year’s triathlon belonged to returning competitors.

Vernon writers launch online workshop for teens, young adults

Storymakers’ Raise Your Voice workshop seeks to help women writers uncover and use voice

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns in Lake Ontario

Police say the 35-year-old’s death appears to be a ‘case of misadventure’

Air quality statement warns of smoky air for Kamloops area

Environment ministry says area on north side of Thompson River may be affected by wildfire smoke

Pussy Riot claims on-field protest at World Cup final

Russian protest group claimed responsibility after four people ran onto field in police uniforms

Fans party on Montreal streets after French World Cup win

To city is home to nearly 57,000 French nationals

Your reviews: John Fogerty rocks the South Okanagan

Photos and reviews from fans in Penticton at John Fogerty’s concert in the SOEC

B.C. VIEWS: Making private health care illegal again

Adrian Dix battles to maintain Cuba-style medical monopoly

Most Read