The Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds have post-season history - albeit a history of mixed results.
Their playoff paths have crossed four times since the spring of 2001, with each team winning twice. The series with the most at stake was the 2003 Western Conference final, which Kelowna won in five games (4-1) en route to capturing its first WHL championship.
That year, the Rockets set several franchise records with a 51-14-6-1 regular-season record for 109 points.
This year, the Rockets eclipsed that wins mark with a record of 52-16-3-1 for 108 points, winning the B.C. Division title with the second-best point total in club history. And, yet again, the current Rockets' quest for a Memorial Cup berth will go through Seattle, as second-seeded Kelowna will host the seventh-seeded T-birds (24-38-7-3) tonight and Saturday to start their best-of-seven, first-round, conference quarter-final series.
Both games are set for 7 p.m. at Prospera Place, with tickets still available.
The scene shifts to Kent, Wash., for Games 3 and 4 next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Kelowna has won three of four meetings to date this season, including three straight and both contests on home ice - 4-1 on Feb. 28 and 8-0 on Jan. 24. On the road, the Rockets also prevailed 4-3 in overtime on Jan. 25, but dropped a 4-2 decision in the head-to-head series opener on Dec. 1, 2012.
Looking farther back, in 2008, Seattle won a first-round matchup that saw the fourth-seeded Thunderbirds edge the fifth-seeded Rockets in seven games.
That season, only seven points separated the two teams in regular-season standings, whereas this year Kelowna finished 50 points better than Seattle.
Prior to that, Kelowna won a second-round conference semifinal series in 2005, when the second-seeded Rockets beat the third-seeded but U.S. Division-champion T-Birds in seven games. And, in the first playoff matchup between these organizations back in 2001, sixth-seeded Seattle upset top-ranked Kelowna in six games of a first-round series despite the Thunderbirds earning 17 fewer points than the Rockets in regular-season play.
History is unlikely to repeat itself on that front, even with the Rockets losing captain, MVP and top-line centre Colton Sissons for this year's playoffs - expected to miss 8 to 12 weeks with an upper-body injury sustained last Friday in Vancouver. Kelowna's forward depth and home-ice dominance (31-5 this season) should still be enough to oust Seattle, likely making short work of the Thunderbirds.
Will it be a sweep? Possibly, but for the sake of making predictions, we'll say the Rockets win in five games - fittingly, putting on the finishing touches at Prospera Place next Saturday night.