The Okanagan Rockets will hit the road for the final time in 2015, as they head to Abbotsford to take on the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds.
Last Weekend: The Rockets and Cariboo Cougars battled to a weekend split at the Capital News Centre. Goaltender Cole Demers returned to the team for the opener, which the Cougars took 4-3. The Rockets followed that up with a 4-2 win on Sunday.
Head-to-Head: The Rockets and Thunderbirds are meeting for the first time since the very first weekend of the season. That weekend, the Rockets won the home opener 3-2, which the T-Birds followed up with a win of their own, 5-3 on Sunday morning.
Historically Speaking: The Rockets are 22-11-8 against the Thunderbirds over the last decade, but are a much tighter 8-7-5 record against the T-Birds on the road in that span.
Halfway Home: As well as being the penultimate weekend set before the holiday break, this weekend also marks the official start to the second half of the BCMML regular season. For the Rockets, it’s tough to imagine the first half going much better than it did. After that Game Two loss to Fraser Valley, the team enjoyed a ten game winning streak, and has kept the gap between themselves and the first-place Cariboo Cougars to just four points, after a key win against the Cougars last weekend. Of course, the team was also able to celebrate the graduation to junior for three players in only about five weeks time, and as of last weekend, was finally on the receiving end of a Midget-Junior transaction, with the return of goaltender Cole Demers. With the exception of that weekend worth forgetting against the Blazers, this team has played exceptionally, and has done it with the busiest lineup in the league
For the T-Birds, it’s been a bit more of a back and forth start. The team’s longest winning streak has been four games, which took place between October 29 and November 6, with weekend sweeps over the Royals and the Blazers. As for the lineup iced on opening weekend, it’s nearly identical to its current form, with the only addition coming in the form of Brodi Stuart, who began the year with the Kamloops Blazers. One thing the Thunderbirds have shown a knack for is having strong efforts against top teams. During their weekend against Cariboo, the TBirds forced a 3-3 tie in the opener, and barely lost the finale by a 1-0 score. Their win against the Rockets having been already documented here, they also beat the third-place Vancouver NE Chiefs in one of two games against them. Teams ahead of the TBirds in the standings haven’t handled this team easily, at all.
T-Birds To Watch: Langley’s Jonathan Rees is the team’s top scorer, with 17 points in his 20 games so far. Equally as dangerous is the aforementioned Stuart, who’s scoring at a point-per-game clip, with 16 points in as many games played. Rounding out the team top five in scoring is 17-year-old Blake Bonnar, along with 00’s Baxter Anderson and Justin Plett. On defence, Dylan Debruyn and Nowel Maarhuis have each hit double digits in points, while 15-year-old Harkirat Gill continues to impress in his rookie season.
Between The Pipes: The Rockets saw both of FV’s goaltenders on opening weekend, beating Boston Bilous and losing to Chad Cromar. Having split the schedule right down the middle, the rookie Bilous has a slight edge at 6-2-2, with the veteran Cromar at 4-5-1. Bilous also has a sparkling 1.76 GAA in that time, with Cromar’s mark of 2.09 fully adequate. As well, Cromar has affiliated with the Langley Rivermen, and played two BCHL games with them. For the Rockets, Demers will be going for his first win on the season this weekend – he appeared in 12 games with the Vernon Vipers, posting a 3.20 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Lineup News: After plugging the lineup gap with some AP faces last weekend, the Rockets have added 17-year-old Ethan Trampuh to the lineup permanently, as he takes the spot vacated by Eli Zummack. Trampuh played 25 games with the Rockets last season, and is returning to the team after a stint in Jr. B, with the KIJHL’s Sicamous Eagles. He had eight points through 22 games this season, along with 57 PIMs. Only other lineup change for the Rockets revolves around the league’s fourth-best scorer Max Kryski – he’s been suspended for one game after a hit from behind on Myles Mattila last game against Cariboo.
Finally, an update from the Macs Tournament in Calgary, where the Rockets will be playing against top midget teams from Canada, US, and Europe over Christmas. The organizers have unveiled the pools for the tournament, with the Rockets getting matched up against the Saskatoon Contacts, Calgary Royals, Sherwood Park Kings, and the Austrian National U18 Team. Should be quite a week in Calgary.