The clubs split four regular season meetings right down the middle, each winning twice, with two of the games ending in overtime. On the scoreboard, the Rockets and Americans were also dead even with 13 goals apiece.
Throw in a season where both teams battled multiple key injuries and still finished third and fifth, respectively, in the Western Conference, and Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton expects a long, hard-fought series.
“I think it’s going to be a real good matchup,” Hamilton said. “They’re a team similar to us, that had a lot of injuries through the regular season and they’re getting healthy now, too.
“I think you’ve got the makings of a long series,” he added. “There’ll probably be a physical side to it, too, I think we’re going to have to play that way. It’s the playoffs, so as usual it will likely come down to who defends the best and whose goaltender has the best series.”
The Ams (38-25-8-1) are led into the series by high-scoring forwards Michael Rasmussen (first-round draft, Detroit), Morgan Geekie (84 points) and Jordan Topping, who are supported by an active and mobile defence, featuring Dylan Coghlan, Juuso Välimäki and Canadian junior team defenceman Jake Bean, who Tri-City acquired prior to the trade deadline from the Calgary Hitmen.
The Rockets (43-22-5-2) counter with their share end of high-end talent, including Kole Lind (95 points), Dillon Dube, Carsen Twarynski (45 goals), and blueline anchor, captain Cal Foote (70 points).
Rockets rookie James Porter and Americans’ 20-year-old Patrick Dea will head into the series as their team’s No. 1 netminders.
“It’s going to be a fun series, I know the (Americans) play a fast game, they strike quick and they have a few weapons we need to watch out for,” said Cal Foote, the Rockets team MVP. “Both teams played pretty well towards the end of the season, so it should be fast, exciting hockey.”
Much like the Americans, who won six of seven down the stretch, the Rockets also closed out the regular season on a high, with five straight victories.
Forward Dillon Dube expects the Americans to present a formidable challenge for the Rockets, not unlike any other playoff team would in the Western Conference.
“We’re going to have to play a team like this at some point, so it’s nice to play them right away and have home ice advantage,” said Dube, the WHL’s player of the week with seven points in two games.
“I think the split for the weekend, Thursday and Saturday games, is good to get the full rest and be 100 per cent for each game. Hopefully we get to where we want to be and we’ve got the team to do it.
“So let’s hope we stay healthy, that’s the thing about playoffs,” Dube added, “you never know what will happen, but I think we’re a pretty resilient team and we can do it.”
Game 1: Tri-City @ Kelowna—Thursday, March 22 7:05
Game 2: Tri-City @ Kelowna—Saturday, March 24 7:05
Game 3: Kelowna @ Tri-City—Wednesday, March 28 7:05
Game 4: Kelowna @ Tri-City—Thursday, March 29 7:05
Game 5 *: Tri-City @ Kelowna—Saturday, March 31 7:05
Game 6 *: Kelowna @ Tri-City—Sunday, April 1 5:05
Game 7 *: Tri-City @ Kelowna—Tuesday, April 3 7:05
* If necessary
Not an overly vocal captain, Cal Foote led more by example for the Kelowna Rockets’ during the 2017-18 WHL season.
On Sunday, the 19-year-old blueliner’s impact on the Western Hockey League club couldn’t have been more clear during the Rockets’ annual awards ceremony at the Kelowna Community Theatre.
Following on the heels of a stellar regular season, Foote was named both the Rockets’ MVP and, for the second straight year, the club’s top defenceman.
Humbled by the MVP honour, Foote said the recognition could have just as easily gone to Dillon Dube, Kole Lind or Carsen Twarynski.
“I was surprised when I got it because we have so many great players, we have three other guys that are in the running for it,” said Foote, who had 19 goals and 70 points this season. “They all had a great seasons, credit to them they played well this year.”
Forward Dillon Dube won the first ever President’s Award, a new honour designed to recognize outstanding and significant accomplishments by a member of the team.
Dube was the first Kelowna Rockets player ever to earn a spot on the Canada’s world junior team roster in back-to-back seasons. The Cochrane, AB native served as team captain and helped Canada win gold at the 2018 championship in Buffalo.
Defenceman Gordie Ballhorn left the ceremony with three awards in his possession. The 20-year-old from Wetaskiwin, AB won the Unsung Hero and Plus-Minus Awards, and shared the Hamilton Humanitarian Award with fellow over-ager, Carsen Twarynski.
Twarynski, who led Kelowna with 45 goals this season, was also named the Rockets’ most improved player.
Other award winners:
• Top scorer—Kole Lind (95 points).
• Rookie of the Year—Kaedan Korczak
• Top defensive forward—Conner Bruggen-Cate
• Most sportsmanlike—Leif Mattson
• Scholastic Award—Wil Kushniryk
To report a typo, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.