The Kelowna Rockets kick off their seven game pre-Christmas road trip tomorrow night in Tri-City.
The Rockets have strung together five extremely strong games, going 4-0-1-0 over that time, and outscoring their opponents by a total of 17-7 throughout. Assistant coach Travis Crickard says the main reason for their recent success starts in the D-zone.
“The main factor is being as clean in our own zone as possible. That means retrieving pucks, good breakouts, and coming into defensive zone coverage quickly so we can get the puck back and make an exit as quick as possible,” said Crickard. “That starts with hard puck tracking by our forwards, as well as our defense going hard back for pucks, an our first forward back providing an immediate option. We work on it every day and we’re seeing it numerous times over the course of a game. If we continue to do that I am confident in our group.”
The Rockets will very soon lose four of their top players to World Junior tryouts (Dube, Merkley, Soustal, Thurkauf). Crickard says all that means is it’s an opportunity for other players.
“Whenever you lose one player or a small group of special players the mindset must be ‘every man up’. We played without these players earlier in the year and it was quite evident we needed them,” Crickard said. “However, our coaching staff believes that through the first 29 games all of our players have learned and developed so they can now be counted on to step up and execute at a high level.”
The Rockets and the Americans met just over a week ago. The Rockets came out with a 4-1 victory in that one. Crickard says it’ll be tougher than last time, but the team just has to stick to what they’ve been doing well.
“Special teams are crucial. They carry one of the best power plays in the league. If we can continue to shut it down we will find success,” Crickard explained. “They will have a little bit of a different look tomorrow with Valimaki on the back end and the addition of Topping up front so it will be imperative we apply pressure and physicality against their defense so they can’t get the puck in their forwards hands.”
The Rockets enter Friday night with a 17-11-1-0 record that has them sitting in second place in the B.C. division, now only nine points back of the Prince George Cougars.
The Americans come into Friday with a record of 18-11-2-0, placing them second amongst the U.S. division.
The Rockets next home game is Tuesday December 27, 2016 when their close rival to the north heads down highway 97 for another battle of the Okanagan. This will be the fourth meeting of the season between the Rockets and the Kamloops Blazers.
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