A week ago, the Seattle Thunderbirds performed a deed no other WHL team has managed to do since late October—beat the Kelowna Rockets on home ice.
With the memory of the loss still fresh, Jason Smith’s club will see the Thunderbirds again Friday in Kent, WA in the first of back-to-back road games this weekend for the Rockets.
“Seattle came in here last week and they played us hard, they skated, they banged bodies,” said Smith, whose Rockets fell 6-4 to the T-Birds last Friday at Prospera Place. “That’s the starting point of the trip for us.
“We’re going to have to make sure we’re ready to play, ready to handle their physical play and their pressure and making sure we’re doing the right things with the puck. We turned the puck over against them a lot the last time.”
Kent will be the first of two key weekend stops for the Rockets. On Saturday, Kelowna (26-12-2-1) will be in Langley to take on the surging Vancouver Giants (24-14-4-2).
Vancouver is 6-0-2-0 in its last eight games and sits just a point back of the Rockets atop the B.C. Division, though Kelowna does hold three games in hand.
The Rockets marked captain Cal Foote’s return to the lineup Wednesday at Prospera Place with a 7-4 win over Dan Lambert’s Spokane Chiefs.
Foote, who along with Dillon Dube won gold with Team Canada at the world junior championship, scored once and was named the game’s first star as Kelowna won at home for the 14th time in the last 15 games.
Kyle Topping, who paced the Rockets attack with a pair of goals, said Foote is stabilizing force on Kelowna’s blue line.
“Anytime he’s in the lineup he’s a difference-maker,” said Topping. “He plays in all types of situations and having him on the back end helps us a lot.”
Unlike Foote, Dube wasn’t able to take part in a pre-game ceremony honouring the two players or play in the game due to a bout of the flu.
According to Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton, the 19-year-old from Cochrane, AB, who captained Canada’s team at the world juniors, won’t play this weekend but is expected to rejoin the team early next week.
Rookie netminder Roman Basran will also miss this weekend’s action after suffering a leg injury early in Wednesday’s game. Brodan Salmond, who has been recovering from injury since November, will make the trip in Basran’s place and serve as James Porter’s backup.
The Rockets next home action is next Wednesday, Jan. 17 against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.