Depth is what's fuelling Kelowna's successful drive this season. This evening, though, the Rockets will be without one of their top players, and it'll be against a team that has plenty of depth as well.
On Monday, forward Myles Bell was suspended for two games by the WHL for a hitting-from-behind major penalty and game misconduct in the Rockets' 6-3 home-ice win against the Tri-City Americans last Friday. Bell, who leads the Rockets in scoring with 27 goals and 60 points, sat out Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss at Vancouver, so missing tonight's game will end his suspension.
Yet, what type of team will Kelowna (31-10-2-1) be without Bell when they host the Spokane Chiefs (28-14-1-0) tonight?
With his NHL-calibre slapshot, Bell is the triggerman and straw that stirs the Rockets' power play. On Saturday, though, without Bell, Kelowna was a terrible 0-for-6 on the power play against the Giants (12-32-0-0), the league's worst team.
Coincidence? Maybe, but it's fair comment to say without Bell, the Rockets are a different team - though, statistically they shouldn't be, which makes tonight's 7 p.m. game at Prospera Place interesting.
Kelowna is second in scoring this season at 191, just eight behind the leading Portland Winterhawks (37-5-1-0). Subtract Bell's 27 goals, and that leaves 164, meaning he's accounted for just 14 per cent of Kelowna's goals. It's the same story regarding power-play goals. Kelowna has scored 39 power-play goals, and Bell, with four of them, has accounted for just 10.2 per cent.
"The one thing we've tried to pride ourselves on all season is the ability to play four lines," said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska, whose team had an eight-game winning streak snapped Saturday. "It is a challenge when you're missing someone of Myles' calibre because he's a dangerous threat every time he's on the ice, and he's having a wonderful season. But we need, in these situations, other players to elevate and try to fill his absence."
Hopefully, Huska's young charges learn this lesson, as with the playoffs on the horizon, they may be pressed into top-end duty.
In the 2009 playoffs, Kelowna met Tri-City and played a punishing game, eventually winning in six games. The finishing hit was when Tyler Myers pounded Tri-City's top scorer, Mitch Fadden, into the end boards during Game 4. Fadden suffered a separated shoulder and Tri-City never recovered.
"Tri-City is such a fast team that if you can't slow them down by finishing your checks, you're asking for trouble," Huska said at the time. "That's usually when we get into tough spots in the series: When they're skating and they're pressuring very hard. So we have to try, if we can, to finish hits on some of their players."
Spokane Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur was Tri-City's coach back then.
The Ams were a nicked-up squad heading into the playoffs, but Nachbaur said following the series that Kelowna "dismantled us, game by game. I thought we showed a lot of courage in what we did, but, yes, (their physical play) affected us. It was almost like getting bombed every night in a war, and, after a while, it gets too much for you.
"They did a good job; their physical presence was a good game plan and their power play and skill came out in the end. And that's why they're moving on."
Like Tri-City then, Kelowna has a fast team this season. And, as history shows us, the best way to slow a fast team is to hit it hard, consistently, especially top players. While no one wishes anyone to get hurt,
injuries are a part of sport, and direct para-llels of success or failure can be made to how a team responds to those injuries and/or missing players.
In a nutshell, call tonight's game a dress rehearsal for a possible, if not likely, scenario come playoff time.
"You have to believe in the guys in your dressing room, no matter who's in the lineup," said Huska. "You have to believe that they're going to go out and play the right way. That's been our mindset all season.
"We played well when Colton Sissons was out of the lineup for 10 games, and he was kind of our heart-and-soul guy. I expect the same while we're missing Myles for one more (game). He's not in the situation like Colton was, but it's time for other guys to challenge themselves that they're bringing their very best game (tonight)."
ICE CHIPS: Tonight's game will be the second of four meetings this season between Kelowna and Spokane. The Chiefs won the opener, 6-4 at Kelowna on Oct. 10. The Rockets haven't lost a home game since then. (17-0). . . . The two clubs will meet again on Friday night in Spokane, then again in Spokane on Wed., Feb. 6. . . . The Rockets are 18-2 at home; the Chiefs, who have a fast team like Kelowna, are 13-9-1-0 on the road. . . . Kelowna is 22-3-10 and 27-4-1-0 when leading after the first and second periods, respectively. Spokane is 13-2-0-0 and 20-2-1-0. . . . Top scorers: Kelowna, LW Bell (27-33-60), LW Zach Franko (18-34-52), RW Dylen McKinlay (16-27-43), C Ryan Olsen (20-19-39) and C Sissons (15-19-34). Spokane, D Brendan Kichton (14-39-53), LW Todd Fiddler (28-23-51), RW Mitch Holmberg (27-21-48), C Mike Aviani (21-25-46) and C Dylan Walchuk (12-26-38). . . . Special teams: Power play, Kelowna, 5th overall at 22.2 per cent (39-176); Spokane, 7th overall at 20.6 per cent (33-160). Penalty killing: Kelowna, 3rd overall at 84.6 per cent (32-208), Spokane, 7th overall at 82.3 per cent (29-164). . . . The Rockets are 8-1-1-0 in their past 10 games, while the Chiefs are 5-5-0-0, including a 4-2 win over the Kootenay Ice on Saturday.