Rockets vs Chilliwack

Thursday night hockey games are about as rare in Kelowna as Ogopogo sightings. But, tonight is the exception.

Coming off a tough 3-2 loss in Prince George on Tuesday, which followed a 1-0 loss to the Bruins Saturday, the Rockets know that another loss tonight is not a viable option. With 27 games left in the regular season, ‘crunch time’ is here. If the Head Coach, Jeff Truitt, has his way, his club will take that literally and ‘crunch’ the Bruins tonight.

Entering the contest, Kelowna sits 4 points in front of Chilliwack for fourth place in the BC Division and the final playoff spot. The Rockets also have 2 games in hand. Meanwhile, they trail Prince George by six points with the third place Cougars holding a game in hand. Kelowna has won 3 of 5 vs. Chilliwack this season and the teams have two more meetings after tonight.

Since the resumption of play following the Christmas break, the Rockets have posted a 4-5-1 record in 10 games. Over that span, they are 3-2-1 in games decided by a single goal. But, perhaps the most noticeable improvement has been their work ethic. Decent, but inconsistent over the first have of the season, the team’s commitment to outworking their opponents every night is starting to turn expectation into reality.

With improvement there and continued solid goal-tending, the team now needs to see improvement in both special teams if they hope to jump up in the standings. Kelowna continues to sport the league’s lowest rank power play unit which has converted just 11.6% of its chances. But, recalling that the unit was below 10% for much of the first half, it is moving in the right direction.

On the short handed ledger, the Rockets are killing just 79.2%. What’s complicating that problem is their continued propensity to take penalties. Kelowna has been shorthanded 336 times in 45 games – a total which is the fifth most in the league. Again, however, significant improvement is apparent.

Over their first 45 games, the Rockets were shorthanded an average of 7.9 times per game. Since the holiday break, they’ve reduced that figure to 5.9 times per game – still too many, but better. Furthermore, they have earned more power play chances than their opponents in each of their last 3 games. During that span, they’ve been shorthanded just 12 times.

Defeating Chilliwack means stopping their top line of Mark Santorelli, Oscar Moller and Josh Aspenlind who’ve combined to score 51 of the teams 102 total goals on the season. That’s an amazing 50%!

Fortunately, the Rockets won’t likely have to face Moller who participated in the CHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City Wednesday. He was named the top player for Team White and scored a goal while adding an assist in the game. Given the travel distance it’s doubtful he’ll be here in time for the game.

Santorelli is an 18-year-old rookie whose 50 points have him 14th overall in league scoring and tied for second among rookies.

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