Sunday, January 3, 2016

Thank goodness this stretch of games is over!

  • The Kelowna Rockets coaching staff and players can breathe a sigh of relief. This excruciating portion of the Western Hockey League schedule has finally ended for the defending champions. They knew it would be tough sledding when Rourke Chartier, Nick Merkley, Calvin Thurkauf and Tomas Soustal headed overseas for the World Junior Hockey Championships following a home game December 5th. But adversity came in a variety of forms over the last month. A massive illness gripped the team in the early portions of the Eastern Division road trip that I have never witnessed. Oh, did I mention a significant injury to forward Rodney Southam in Moose Jaw December 16th made matters even worse. Severely short-staffed, the team had to call in affiliate players Alex Uryga and Connor Bruggen-Cate and was forced to use rookie defenceman Danny Gatenby and Brayden Chizen as forwards. It was a gong show! After the Christmas break, suspensions were handed out to both Justin Kirkland (three games) and Riley Stadel (one game). While the team was attempting to keep their head above water, the post Christmas schedule had them playing five games in seven nights before finally getting some relief following a 5-4 win over the Victoria Royals Saturday night. Following a December 5th win against Portland, the last game Chartier, Merkley, Soustal and Thurkauf dressed for the Rockets, the team managed a 6-4-1-0 record in 11 games. Not great but not bad considering they hold a slim four point lead on Lethbridge for first place in the WHL standings. Face it, the Rockets were ripe for the picking with the line-up they iced over that stretch. Most teams would be crippled. Only Brandon, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Everett could beat them in regulation time. The Rockets managed to score just 28 goals in those 11 games (2.55 per game) which is well under the teams average goals per game. The team surrendered 31 goals against (2.82 per game). The good news is everyone outside of Southam should return to the line-up next Friday when they welcome the Everett Silvertips to Prospera Place. This week long break couldn't have come at a better time!!      

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