October 3, 2013, KELOWNA, BC – This weekend promises to be an excellent test for the Kelowna Rockets and a treat for hockey fans in the Okanagan as two high-powered Western Hockey League teams will face-off for a pair of games at Prospera Place.
The Rockets welcome the defending WHL champion Portland Winterhawks for games Friday and Saturday night. Game times are 7:05 p.m. from Prospera Place and tickets are available through Select Your Tickets.
The Rockets (3-0-0-1) are coming off a solid 6-3 road win in Everett Wednesday while the Winterhawks (3-1-0-1) have picked up where they left off last season, scoring 30 goals through five games. Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic are back this season; the two tied for the CHL scoring lead last season with 120 points apiece. Add in returning forwards Chase De Leo and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and it is understandable why the Hawks are averaging six goals per game. Bjorkstrand leads the league with eight goals in just five games.
Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert knows that despite losing a couple key contributors from last years championship team, the Winterhawks will be a great test for his team.
“They are going to be a very, very good hockey team,” said Lambert. “We know that. It’s nice to see them early in the season and see what we are up against. At the end of the day, we know we have to play our best hockey to compete with them.”
The Rockets, for their part, have been nothing short of impressive through four games this season. Undefeated in regulation, Kelowna’s scoring has been balanced, and its defense stifling. Having allowed only 11 goals through four games, goaltenders Jordan Cooke and Jackson Whistle have held the fort beautifully thus far.
Offensively, Tyson Baillie (2-4-6) and defenseman Madison Bowey (3-3-6) pace the Rockets with six points each, while Zach Franko has five points, and sixteen year old rookie Nick Merkley continues to impress with three goals and a helper in four games. Merkley was Kelowna’s top pick in the 2012 draft, nabbed with the ninth pick overall.
In the weekly CHL team rankings, Portland slotted in at the six spot, again putting the league on notice that they will contend this season. The Rockets also have made an early mark, tabbed with an Honourable Mention, leaving them just outside the top 10 Canadian Hockey League teams.