October 10, 2013, KELOWNA (ISN) – When the Kelowna Rockets (5-1-0-1) host the Seattle Thunderbirds (6-2-0-0) Friday night at Prospera Place, it will not only be a meeting of two of the top teams in the Western Hockey League, it will also feature two of the hottest rookies in the league.
The T-Birds, led by 16-year old Mathew Barzal, arrive in Kelowna to play the Rockets, riding a three game winning streak. Barzal,who leads all WHL rookies with 12 points in eight games, was selected first overall by Seattle in the 2012 WHL bantam draft. Eight picks later the Rockets selected an electrifying forward of their own, in Calgary native Nick Merkley. Merkley leads the league’s rookies in goals with five through seven games, and was named the WHL and CHL Player of the Week this week.
The Rockets are coming off their first regulation loss of the season, a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Chiefs in Spokane on Tuesday night. Heading into the matchup, they were the only unbeaten team in the WHL.
After dropping Kamloops in a home and home series to open the year, the Rockets lost in a shootout to Victoria, before stringing together a win over the Silvertips in Everett and back to back wins over the defending WHL champion Portland Winterhawks last weekend in Kelowna.
After the loss in Spokane, Kelowna coach Ryan Huska says his team will need a better effort to beat a streaking Seattle squad.
“They are a very good team and are going to be one of the better teams in our conference this year,” said Huska. “We have to make sure we learn from the mistakes we made in Spokane. We have to be committed to play for 60 minutes and make sure we’re doing the little things right.”
This week the Rockets were named to this week’s CHL Top Ten rankings, slotted as the sixth best team in the entire Canadian Hockey League. Only the aforementioned Chiefs ranked higher amongst WHL clubs, placing 3rd. Kelowna had been recognized as an Honourable Mention for the previously three weeks.
The Rockets and Thunderbirds currently sit second and third in the WHL’s Western Conference standings, trailing only Spokane. This will be the only game of the weekend for Kelowna, who play home games on October 16th, 19th, and 22nd.
Game time is 7:05 at Prospera Place.