The Rockets wrapped up their regular season this past week, with a narrow 2-1 loss to the Columbia Valley Rockies.
While the loss may sting, the Rockies finished second in the division and fifth in the overall KIJHL power rankings, and a tight game sets the Rockets up well for the playoffs, which start on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
The Rockets are now preparing to square off in a best of seven series against the Kimberley Dynamiters, who finished first in the Eddie Mountain Division by one point over the Rockies, and sit in second on the KIJHL power rankings.
It’ll be a rematch of the 2018-19 playoffs, the last time the team qualified for the playoffs, that saw the Rockets swept by the Dynamiters.
The Dynamiters finished with a 31-9-0-2 record.
The Rockets finished in fourth in the division, and qualified for their spot in the playoffs within the Eddie Mountain Division after a format change was announced by the KIJHL last week. The Rockets finished with 29 points on the season, with a 13-26-3-0 record.
The two teams faced off eight times in the regular season, with the Dynamiters claiming all eight games and outscoring the team by a score of 32-8 and shutting out the team on three occasions.
However, Head Coach Chuck Wight is bolstered by a pair of closed 3-2 games, and one 3-1 loss that had the Dynamiters score an empty net goal.
“Our best games against them this year have all been close,” said Wight.
“When we play a strong checking game and stay out of the box with their strong power play, we need to play more disciplined while still being gritty, that’s where we can have success here.”
“I don’t think the record against Kimberley really shows how we played against them,” said Captain Jordan Lario.
“I think this is a series that could go either way.”
Wight says that he’s expecting Levi Hall to continue his strong play in net, finishing the season with seven wins, and a .910 save percentage.
He also expects that the Lario, Connor Funke and Will Vernon line will keep rolling, as when they were healthy they were doing well. He’s also confident in the back end on the blue line, with Nathan Kaye leading the way. However, it’s not going to be individual players that bring the wins home.
“It’s going to take the whole team, we’re not a team built around one start, we’re a team with depth and that’s something that we have to use.”
“We have a really good group of guys, this is probably one of the closest teams I’ve ever been on, I love all the guys in the room and I feel we’ve really come together as a team,” said Lario.
“I think that’s why we all have really high confidence right now, we all believe, we all really thing we can do it and see how far this goes. The regular season is in the past, we’re ready to get the playoffs going.”
Wight says that the regular season threw plenty of adversity at the team, but that overall, he saw the team and the players take strides and grow. For a team with plenty of first years players, Wight says that it shows promise for the future of the program how well they handled adversity, and that their upcoming playoff appearance will be huge for the team.
“It’s an important part of the build for our program, it’s great to see a lot of our top players start to play at a highest possible level and at their optimal level,” said Wight.
“Overall, adversity came at different times from injuries to suspensions and other issues with game cancellations, but we did a good job getting back on track in the second half.”
Both Wight and Lario say that with restrictions dropping, they’re hoping they can get the Plywood Palace bumping when the team has their first two guaranteed home games on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 25 and Feb. 26.
“I think that would be awesome if Friday night we can experience that at home first hand, our guys will notice the difference, when we get the opportunity to have the hometown cheering for us that would be fantastic,” said Wight.
“We love getting a big crowd and we’re gonna put everything that we have into those games, for the people watching but for ourselves, too,” said Lario.
The series kicks off on the road in Kimberley with games on Tuesday, Feb. 22 and Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m MST, before coming home to Golden on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. MST.
The series will head back to Kimberley on Monday, Feb. 28, with games to be scheduled as needed in the best of seven series.