Tonight. Right here, right now.
That's all that matters to Ryan Huska.
But once this evening's road game with the Spokane Chiefs is finished, Kelowna's head coach will then turn his and the team's attention to the weekend. And a highly anticipated doubleheader at Prospera Place against the Portland Winterhawks.
First up, however, are the Chiefs, who are in a three-way fight for the fourth, fifth and sixth-place seedings in Western Conference standings.
Five points separate sixth-place Victoria (60) from fourth-place Tri-City (65), with the Chiefs (62) in fifth. But Spokane (30-20-2-0) hasn't fared well lately, having lost four in a row.
"Spokane is a very good team, especially at home," said Huska, whose Rockets (40-10-3-1) are second in the West with 84 points, five behind Portland (43-7-1-2) and 22 in front of Spokane. "They do a good job of pressuring, and the configuration of the benches makes it that much more difficult to play there, because you have a long way (for a line change) for two periods, instead of just the one.
"And they've lost a few games over the last little bit, so we know they're going to be prepared to play, and we have to be ready for that, especially in the early part of the game."
While there's no doubt that Kelowna's two home games this Friday and Saturday against Portland will be the highlight of the regular season, the Rockets can't afford to look past Spokane. Thanks to an incredible run the past two months, Kelowna is doing the unthinkable by challenging Portland for first place, and the benefit that it brings. But first, a quick trip in the WHL hot-tub time machine.
In 2005-06, Kelowna had a fantastic season, posting 96 points (46-22-1-3). The Rockets, though, missed out on first place in the West, with Vancouver (47-19-0-6, 100 points) taking top spot. Those four points eventually landed Kelowna a tough second-round opponent in Everett (40-27-2-3, 85 pts.), with the Silvertips eliminating the Rockets in six games. Had Kelowna placed first, it would have been Vancouver and Everett in the second round, with the Rockets awaiting the winner, much like the Giants did, healthy and patiently.
Vancouver crushed Everett 4-0, then swept Moose Jaw 4-0 for the league title and a trip to the Memorial Cup in Moncton.
Kelowna's record against Vancouver that season was: 4-3-0-2; Vancouver's record against Kelowna: 5-3-0-1. The two B.C. Division rivals closed out their regular-season series with the Giants winning 3-2 on March 17 at the Pacific Coliseum. Gilbert Brule netted a pair for the home team, while Justin Keller potted his 50th of the season for the Rockets, who were 2-for-9 on the power play. Vancouver was 2-for-7. The shots were 24-24.
With little separating the two teams, it's not a stretch to say that had Kelowna placed first, it could have easily been the Rockets travelling to Moncton, for a fourth consecutive Memorial Cup, and not Vancouver.
So, what does the past have to do with today? Well, consider Kamloops as yesterday's Everett. Whoever places first avoids a tough second-round meeting. In head-to-head meetings, Kelowna's record with Kamloops is 2-1-2-0; the Blazers are 3-2-0-0 against the Rockets. Portland is 2-1-0-0 against Kamloops. Admittedly, this is looking ahead, and presumes much -Â such as Kelowna winning the B.C. Division - but the playoffs aren't far away. The Rockets have 18 games left, while Portland has 19, and every point counts in the race for first.
So, asked if his team is focused on Spokane and the points up for grabs tonight -Â and not the weekend - Huska said yes, they are.
"They're focused. We had a good day on the ice (on Sunday) and Tuesday is a travel day," Huska said yesterday after leaving Prospera Place at 9 a.m. for Spokane. "We're not going to put the players on the ice (Tuesday); we'll put them on (today) for a pre-game skate."
ICE CHIPS: A breakdown of Kelowna's and Portland's remaining schedules. . . . Home games: Kelowna 10, Portland 8. . . . Away games: Kelowna 8, Portland 11. . . . Vs. teams with losing records: Kelowna 7, Portland 8. . . . Vs. B.C. Division teams: Kelowna 11, Portland 9. . . . Vs. U.S. Division teams: Kelowna 6, Portland 8. . . . Vs. Eastern Conference teams: Kelowna 1 (Lethbridge); Portland 2 (Calgary and Edmonton). . . . Home record: Kelowna, 24-2-0-0 (tops in CHL); Portland, 23-4-0-1; Spokane, 16-8-1-0; Kamloops, 20-4-1-1. . . . Road record: Kelowna, 16-8-3-1; Portland 20-3-1-1; Spokane, 14-12-1-0; Kamloops, 15-11-1-2. . . . Last week in the CHL Top-10 rankings, Portland was listed No. 1, with Kelowna at No. 4. Since then, both teams went 3-0.