Welcome Back: We’re back! And I mean that in more ways than one. First off, it feels good to get back to my weekly previews and recaps. After the Rockets Christmas/Mac’s Tournament holiday break, I’ve been on a wild Asia vacation for much of the month of January, which concluded in finally getting back to town last week! Secondly, the Rockets are back – home that is. Starting back up in January, the Rockets had a solid weekend in Squamish against the Giants (2 W’s), a not-so-solid weekend in Richmond against the Kootenay Ice (1 L, 1 OTL), and didn’t return home until last weekend, with the two wins against Valley West. Though this weekend will take the Rockets and visiting Vancouver NE Chiefs down to Penticton, it’s another “home” series for the Rockets, who also return to the CNC next weekend against the South Island Royals. And lastly, these Rockets are looking to get back to some of the swagger the team picked up in a successful KIMMT tournament back in January, which saw Okanagan skate through with a great showing in the semi-finals. And lots to be excited about looking ahead – after next weekend’s date with the Royals, the Rockets will have revenge on the mind in a pair of games against the Thompson Blazers, before wrapping up the regular season in Prince George against Cariboo. Can’t wait for the ride, and thanks for checking in! Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…. - Evan
Last Weekend: After a tough weekend at the Showcase in Richmond against Kootenay the previous weekend, the Rockets returned home for the first games at the Capital News Centre in 2017, rattling off a couple wins against the Valley West Hawks. Meanwhile the Chiefs also had a four-point weekend, picking up wins against their Giant Vancouver counterparts.
Head-to-Head: The Rockets and Chiefs first met back in November in Port Coquitlam. After the Chiefs opened the weekend with a 5-2 win, the Rockets took the finale by a 4-3 score. The Saturday win by the Chiefs was also significant, as it put an end to Okanagan’s 10-game winning streak.
Historically Speaking: Dating back to the 2006/07 season, the Rockets have a 22-14-6 all-time record against the Chiefs. 12 of those wins have come on home ice, with the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton an untested battle ground so far.
Change of perspective: When these two teams met back in November, the Rockets were a vastly different group. Coming into that weekend riding a ten-game winning streak, Okanagan had its attention firmly set on catching up to the first-place Cariboo Cougars. The Chiefs were no slouches either, having won eight of their first 12 games on the season, which put them just off the Rockets pace in the standings. But since that weekend split in the Lower Mainland, the Chiefs have rattled off an outstanding 15 wins in 18 games, which currently has them taking over the second place spot in the standings ahead of the Rockets. Also impressive about that record, is that the Chiefs knocked off the Cougars in back-to-back games on home ice back in January. For the Rockets, a good start to January has allowed for a record of 11-7 since that November weekend. But there’s no doubt that for this series, each team will be feeling out the situation that their opponent felt back in the last head-to-head series. And this weekend has the potential for lots of drama. Coming in, the Chiefs lead for second place is only two points, leaving the opportunity ripe for the Rockets to re-gain control of second place by the end of the weekend. Rockets fans should also keep their eye on this weekend’s series between Cariboo and the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds. Cariboo’s six-point cushion over the Rockets for first place could deteriorate with any kind of setback for the team from Prince George.
Chiefs To Watch: Only four players in the entire league have been more offensively productive than Rockets captain Coleton Bilodeau, and the Chiefs have one of them. 15-year-old rookie Ethan Leyh has been outstanding, putting up 54 points through 28 games this season, for a pace of nearly two points per game. A draft pick of the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, he won’t be teaming up with former Rocket Eli Zummack anytime soon, as Leyh has already committed to the Wisconsin Badgers for 2019. Not bad for an MML rookie, who’s also appeared for the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings this year. But the Chiefs offence is far from just the Ethan Leyh show. This team has SIX different players with 30 points or more, and TWELVE players with 20+ points, highlighting a balanced attack. Newly 17-year-old Hayden Delorme has been strong all year, with 38 points in the 28 games. And third-year forward Logan Bromhead is right behind, 35 points. Also part of the 30+ point club? Forwards Liam Ryan (PG Cougars), Liam Evenson, and Christian Buono (Coquitlam Express). On defence, the team is still led by their pair of 17-year-old veterans. Jonny Sheardown and Ian MacDonald have 25 and 20 points respectively, and are each wearing Chiefs colours for a second season.
Between The Pipes: Two wins in two games was the story last week for Owen Partrick, who’s expected to pick up another couple of starts for the Rockets this weekend. Those wins now give him 15 on the season, to go with only three losses. In the Chiefs crease, 17-year-old Kolby Matthews has emerged as the front runner, with a league-leading 16 wins in 20 games this season - one of those wins coming against the Rockets already. Jonathan Holloway took the loss against the Rockets, and has 7 wins in his 13 games.
Lineup News: A rare weekend for Colton Bilodeau last weekend, as he was held to only one point in the wins over Valley West. The captain is no doubt not at 100% after suffering an upper body injury during the KIMMT tournament. He comes into the weekend with 52 points, two back of Leyh……Max Kryski has continued his solid play coming off the Christmas break, and now sits only four points back of Bilodeau……Not enough can be said about 15-year-old Mitchell Gove. After a rock solid KIMMT, he’s more than doubled his goals total from 4 to 9 since the beginning of January, and the Merritt Centennials have noticed too, officially carding him after the big tourney……The Rockets will be without veteran Jeremy Hite again this weekend, as he’s recovering from an upper body injury of his own……Okanagan will also be without the services of defenceman Cody Schiavon, who’s been called into action by the Salmon Arm Silverbacks this weekend……Those moving parts, plus the parting of ways with forward Jordan Robinson, leaves the Rockets with three full lines plus a forward this week. Brandon Della Paolera draws back into the lineup, after having to deal with appendicitis. And without Schiavon, the Rockets will cycle through five defencemen.