Are The Rockets ready for the playoffs?
It may be the final month of the regular season, but the Kelowna Rockets will start their 2022 playoff run in less than two weeks. At this point, it is looking more and more like they will be facing the Seattle Thunderbirds in the first round of the playoffs.
Last week, The Kamloops Blazers clinched first place in the B.C. Division. They are 11 points behind the Portland Winterhawks for third and six behind the Seattle Thunderbirds with six games to go.
March saw the Rockets go through their toughest stretch of the season. They lost seven in a row, five of those games against Kamloops. The other two were to the Victoria Royals. However, they ended that streak on March 26 with a 5-3 win over Kamloops.
The win over the Blazers ended March off on the right foot, but it also got April off on the right foot. Last weekend, the Rockets looked more like themselves. They thumped the Prince George Cougars 9-2, led by the rising star Andrew Cristall’s three points; the Rockets put nine behind Cougars Goaltenders Tyler Brennan and Ty Young. Only three players did not get points that night. On Saturday, Jari Kykkanen earned his first-ever WHL shutout with a 5-0 win over the Victoria Royals.
Overall, March turned out to be a rough month for the Rockets, going 5-6-2. While they got off to a great start with three straight wins, the road trip through Victoria and Kamloops proved to be rocky.
“I think the road trip came a the right time,” Head Coach Kris Mallette told kelownarockets.com on March 26. “I just didn’t like the results. It’s not a bad thing to be on the road. Get away, less distractions. But not coming off the Island with two wins was disheartening. And then going to Kamloops and not getting the result we wanted. But to respond the way they did tonight. I’m proud of that bunch.”
What made Mallette proud was not only the fact that they ended their losing streak; it was also about how the team battled in the face of injuries and illnesses. Both Defenseman Caden Price and Jackson DeSousa were out with injuries or illnesses and didn’t see any ice time. As a result, the Rockets had to face the high-flying Blazers with just four defensemen. Colton Dach led the way with a hat trick.
So after the ups and downs of March, are The Rockets ready for the playoffs? That’s what we are about to find out.
The Rockets final six games include three versus the Prince George Cougars and three against the Vancouver Giants. The Cougars and The Giants are both in a battle for the final three spots in the Western Conference with the Victoria Royals and the Spokane Chiefs. The Cougars came into the week with 48 points, The Giants 50’ while The Victoria Royals have 50, and The Spokane Chiefs have 49. The Giants have two games in hand, so both teams are likely to be desperate and intense. And as much as we are confident that the Rockets are playing the Thunderbirds in the first round, Head Coach Kris Mallette would love to get the home-ice advantage in that four versus five series. So The Rockets will not be able to pull off the gas pedal.
So get warmed up and get ready. The first playoff series since 2019 is two weeks away.