April 20, 2017 - Western Hockey League (WHL) - Kelowna Rockets
The Kelowna Rockets hit the road this morning en route to Kent, Washington to face the Seattle Thunderbirds in game one of the Western Conference Championship in the 2017 WHL Playoffs.
Though the T-Birds are the toughest opponent the Rockets have faced so far, Head Coach Jason Smith says preparation remains the same.
"Our preparation hasn't changed a whole lot. We've shown some videos and worked on structural and systematic play that we need to be prepared to execute against them," said Smith. "Our plan is still to play one game at a time and control what we can control with our systems and our work ethic."
Seattle has a potent offence with the likes of 2015 first round NYI draft pick Mathew Barzal, 2015 third round CBJ draft pick Keegan Kolesar, and 2015 second round NYR draft pick Ryan Gropp up front. Smith says shutting down talent like that starts with awareness.
"We need to make sure we're aware of their high end skill players at all times. We need to make them work for any opportunities they get," Smith said. "We also have to make sure we don't turn the puck over or take penalties. Anything that could give them momentum."
This series marks the eighth time the Rockets and T-Birds have faced off in the post season. Kelowna holds the edge in head-to-head history with a 4-3 series win/loss record between the two clubs. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was last season in the Western Conference Championship in a series that ended with the Rockets going home in four games.
Kelowna has held the advantage over the Thunderbirds in the regular season this year. In the 2016-17 regular season the Rockets won the season series with a record of 3-1-0-0 against the Birds. On October 22nd the Rockets were led by rookie Kyle Topping who notched his first career hat trick in a 5-1 win. On December 7th the Rockets dropped the T-Birds 6-1, but this time three goals came from leading goal scorer Calvin Thurkauf. On February 13th Kelowna hosted the Thunderbirds for a Family Day afternoon match-up. Seattle led 3-2 going into the third period before the Rockets burst for four third period goals to take the contest 6-3.
Game one of the Western Conference Championship against the Thunderbirds starts on Friday, April 21st at 7:35pm at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington. Game two will be the following evening at 7:05pm, at the ShoWare Center once again.
The series shifts back to Kelowna for games three and four. Game three is on Tuesday, April 25th at Prospera Place. Game four is the following night, Wednesday, April 26th. Puck drop for both of those games is at 7:05pm.