The Spokane Chiefs and Kelowna Rockets will log plenty of miles on their buses during their first-round playoff series. The unusual format was announced Monday.
It’s a 1-1-1-2-1-1 schedule, meaning that if the Western Hockey League West Division series goes seven games, the two will play on back-to-back nights twice in different cities.
“Whomever is successful in this series will feel it in the next one,” Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz said. “From our standpoint that’s a lot of (needless) travel.”
The Chiefs, the West’s No. 2 seed, forfeited the right to open at home. The Arena will be occupied by the Shrine circus through Sunday.
The Rockets, who lost to Spokane in six games last year, sought a different format, hoping to interrupt a tradition of losing early to Spokane.
So the series opens Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Kelowna. It resumes a week from tonight, March 24, here, and continues Wednesday night, the 25th, in Kelowna.
The Chiefs get home games on March 27 and March 29, the latter if necessary.
Games Six and Seven would be played on consecutive nights, March 31 in Kelowna and April 1 in Spokane, if necessary.
The Rockets, improved after the trade deadline, beat the Chiefs in five of their last six games and won the regular-season series with Spokane 5-3.
With defenseman Scott Hannan (concussion) and goaltender Chris Noble (groin pull) healthy, the Rockets expect to be at full strength.
The Chiefs hope to have defenseman Kyle Rossiter (shoulder) back before the month is out.
“He won’t be ready this week, I don’t think, but next week he could be closer,” Speltz said.
Rockets president Bruce Hamilton said Monday the Chiefs are “quite a bit more talented than we are, with the deals they made (at the January WHL trade deadline). But our team has matched up pretty well. In some of the games down there they outshot us pretty good, but we survived.
“I expect this to be a very spirited series. They have a tradition of handling us (in the playoffs).”
The Chiefs have never lost a playoff series to the Rockets. This is the fourth postseason meeting between the franchises, dating back to when the Rockets were in Tacoma.
“I do know this,” Hamilton promised. “Our guys will come to battle. It’ll be two teams who get after each other entertaining the fans.”
Last year, home ice didn’t mean much. The Chiefs were tougher on Kelowna’s smaller ice surface in tiny Memorial Coliseum, in part because they held up the Rockets through the neutral zone.
The Chiefs took fewer penalties and got a big series from goaltender Aren Miller.
Kelowna fared better in Spokane, where the Rockets took both their wins in an eventual 4-2 series loss.
The Chiefs are 2-8 at home in their last 10 playoff games since ‘96. Conversely, they’ve been a great road club under coach Mike Babcock.
“It’s the same old story,” Hamilton said. “Whoever has the best goaltending and specialty teams is going to have success. In our case, we feel more comfortable playing Spokane and Portland than Prince George.”
Prince George owned the Rockets, beating them 11 of 12 in the regular season.
Prince George opens at home against Kamloops. Seattle is at Portland in the other opening-round matchups.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Chiefs vs. Rockets Schedule for the best-of-7 West Division first-round series between Spokane and Kelowna: Game 1: Saturday at Kelowna, 7:30 p.m. Game 2: March 24 at Spokane, 7 p.m. Game 3: March 25 at Kelowna, 7:30 p.m. Game 4: March 27 at Spokane, 7 p.m. Game 5: March 29 at Spokane, 6 p.m.* Game 6: March 31 at Kelowna, 7:30 p.m.* Game 7: April 1 at Spokane, 7 p.m.* i * if necessary