Rockets Feeling Squeeze

With the trade deadline behind them, the Rockets hope to build on performances in their last 2 games when they host the Cougars at Prospera Place tonight.

Saturday, the Rockets got a late third period goal from newcomer, Jason MacDonald, to edge the Chilliwack Bruins 4-3. On Tuesday, they outworked the Kamloops Blazers but ultimately lost a 4-3 heart breaker when C.J. Stretch tied the game late in regulation and then won it with an overtime goal at 1:22 of the extra frame.

But, the Rockets know this is no time to feel sorry for themselves with this weekend’s games vs. Prince George tonight and in Chilliwack vs. the Bruins Saturday. Kelowna is presently squeezed in between both clubs in fourth place in the BC Division. They lead Chilliwack by 4 points and have 3 games in hand. And, they trail Prince George by six with the Cougars holding a game in hand.

Of course, the top 4 teams in the division will qualify for playoff action but Kelowna’s veteran defenseman, Clayton Barthel, says the team would dearly love to catch Prince George.

“Overall, I think we’ve been fairly happy with how we’ve played the last few weeks and we plan on keeping it rolling,” said Barthel. “But, we need to put in a full 60-minute effort each night instead of playing well for two periods and blowing leads in the third.”

“We need to shore up our third period play and we showed against Chilliwack on Saturday that we can do that. We’re only six points behind Prince George for third and anything can happen if you make the playoffs.”

Meanwhile, the Rockets were pretty quiet at the trade deadline when rumors of deals involving veterans Chris Ray and Kris Westblom died for good. The only activity was the trade of third year forward Craig Cuthbert to Saskatoon for a 4th round pick in the 2008 Bantam Draft.

The departure of Cuthbert means that for the first time in 9 years, there is no longer a member of the Cuthbert clan in the Kelowna organization. Craig’s brother, Ryan, is the team’s former Captain and inspirational leader who led the team to the 2003 WHL Championship. Craig was chosen by the Rockets in the 2003 Bantam Draft but had trouble adjusting to the pressure of following in Ryan’s big footsteps.

“This is a very difficult deal for me to make,” said Rockets’ President and General Manager, Bruce Hamilton. “I think it was tough for Craig playing here because of the legacy his brother left.”

“Going to Saskatoon will give him a fresh start in a new organization. As an 18-year-old, he wanted more ice time than we could give him. But, he’s such a great guy that we wanted to move him somewhere that would be a good fit for him.”

For their part, the Cougars were quiet at the deadline. Their big deal of the year came back in October when they acquired scoring star, Devon Setagouchi from Saskatoon. Since his arrival, the first round, San Jose Shark draft pick has been ok, but not spectacular. He has 15 goals and 25 points in 29 games.

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