The Kelowna Rockets will be back in action this weekend when they hit the ice for the first round of the WHL playoffs.
The opening round matchup between the fourth-seeded Seattle Thunderbirds and the fifth-ranked Rockets will commence with Game 1 tonight and Game 2 on Saturday in Washington. Game 2 is slated to begin at 6:05 p.m.
The series is to shift back to Kelowna for Games 3 and 4 at Prospera Place on April 26 and April 27.
It's the eighth time in the past 25 years that the Thunderbirds and Rockets will face-off during the WHL Playoffs.
"By no means are we looking past game one," said head coach Kris Mallette. "It's going to be a battle, they've got home ice so our mentality is to go in there and play our style of game and see where it goes - hopefully we come out on top."
"Our group is very good when we play our style of game, the thing is Seattle plays a very similar style of game - so it's going to be a series."
Twenty-year-old defenceman Jake Lee is the final remaining player from the trades made with Seattle in 2019 when the Rockets were gearing up for the 2020 Memorial Cup. He's also the only player on the Rockets roster with playoff experience.
Named the team's top defenceman on Wednesday in the Rockets awards, Lee says that he's excited for his last chance at a WHL Playoff run to go through his former team.
"We're very excited in the room, this is what we've been working for all year and now the time has finally come," said Lee.
"I couldn't be more excited to play my former team, I like to think of it as payback. They're a good organization and treated me really well, but I'm more than excited to get to it in the playoffs. We're both the meat and potatoes teams, we get in deep and bang bodies, that's how both of us play. It's going to come down to who wants it more, who wants to sacrifice more and who's ready to go."
Game 1 – Friday, @ Seattle, 7:05 p.m.
Game 2 – Saturday, @ Seattle, 6:05 p.m.
Game 3 – April 26, @ Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Game 4 – April 27, @ Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
* - Game 5 – April 29, @ Seattle, 7:05 p.m.
* - Game 6 – May 1, @ Kelowna, 2:05 p.m.
* - Game 7 – May 3, @ Seattle, 7:05 p.m.
(* - if necessary)
Fans can purchase their tickets online at selectyourtickets.com, at the Prospera Place box office or by phone at 250-762-5050.
Seattle Thunderbirds (44-18-4-2 – 94 points)
3rd U.S. Division/4th Western Conference
Power Play: 50/211 – 23.7%
Penalty Kill: 242/290 – 83.4%
Last Ten: 8-2 Streak: 4-0
GF: 271. GA: 179. PIM: 906.
Kelowna Rockets (42-20-1-5 – 90 points)
2nd B.C. Division/5th Western Conference
Power Play: 35/152 – 23.0%
Penalty Kill: 207/266 – 77.8%
Last Ten: 8-2 Streak: 2-0
GF: 250 GA: 207. PIM: 866.
Regular Season Series
Dec. 7: T-Birds 2, Rockets 1 (SO)
Dec. 11: T-Birds 5, Rockets 4
Feb. 27: Rockets 4, T-Birds 3
March 1: T-Birds 4, Rockets 3
PLAYERS TO WATCH
• The Rockets roster three NHL prospects: Pavel Novak (MIN), Colton Dach (CHI) and Talyn Boyko (NYR). Max Graham (168) and Nolan Flamand (187) are ranked on the NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Rankings for North American skaters ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft.
• Dach has scored 24 points in his last nine games. The Rockets top scorer was the only player to post at least a point in all four games against the T-Birds during the seasonal series, registering five assists.
• Gabriel Szturc, Colton Dach and Mark Liwiski led the team in points against Seattle this season, posting five points each.
• New York Rangers prospect Talyn Boyko was named the Rockets MVP. The goaltender appeared in 46 games for Kelowna this season, posting a 28-12-1-3 record with two shutouts, a 2.79 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
• The Thunderbirds roster features seven NHL prospects: Henrik Rybinski (FLA), Lukas Svejkovsky (PIT), Matthew Rempe (NYR), Conner Roulette (DAL), Lucas Ciona (CGY), Tyrel Bauer (WPG) and Samuel Knazko (CBJ). Kevin Korchinski (20), Jordan Gustafson (43) and Reid Schaefer (85) are ranked on the NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Rankings for North American skaters ahead of the NHL draft.
• F Jared Davidson led the Thunderbirds in points against the Rockets this season with six (1G, 5A).
• G Thomas Milic appeared in 47 games this season, registering a record of 27-16-2-2 with three shutouts, a 2.44 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.