The Kelowna Rockets arrive in Spokane tonight with one big goal all but unattainable but another well within reach.
For much of the Western Hockey League season, Kelowna was on pace to tie or break the Victoria Cougars’ 1980-81 record for most wins (60) in a season.
But a 4-2-0-2 stretch in their last eight games means the Rockets (44-8-0-4) would have to win their final 16 games to match Victoria’s mark.
What Kelowna can still achieve is the top overall record in the league and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Rockets have 92 points, nine more than Western Conference rival Portland, which is on a 14-0-0-1 streak, and 11 more than Eastern Conference-leading Edmonton, which has won 11 straight.
Edmonton defeated Kelowna 3-2 in a shootout on Friday. The following night, Victoria (80 points) beat Kelowna 6-4.
“We’re going through a tough time right now, myself included, and it just didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” Rockets goalie Jordon Cooke told Larry Fisher of the Okanagan Sunday after the Victoria loss.
Spokane (32-19-3-2) is 2-0 against Kelowna this season, winning 6-5 on a shootout Jan. 29 at Kelowna and 6-3 in Spokane on Oct. 8.
Time to heat up
The seventh-place Regina Pats (28-22-3-2, 61 points) are among a group of teams attempting to hold off ninth-place Prince Albert (53 points) in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
But the Pats are 9-9-1 during the second half of the season, with just three wins over teams with winning records.
“I would liken it to a car in Saskatchewan,” Pats coach Malcolm Cameron told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post. “Once you shut the motor off, it takes a long time to warm up. You have to keep it running.”
Regina has benefitted from a 7-0 record against Saskatoon. The Pats battered Saskatoon goalie Troy Trombley with 62 shots during last Saturday’s 7-3 win.
Another thing that should help Regina: Prince Albert begins a grueling five-game swing through the U.S. Division next Wednesday at Spokane.
Around the league
The Red Deer Rebels followed up a five-game winning streak with a six-game losing streak. The Rebels were swept during a four-game tour of the B.C. Division that ended Saturday. … The biggest crowd of the WHL season saw visiting Victoria beat the Vancouver Giants 3-2 on Monday on Travis Brown’s power-play goal with 2:47 left. Vancouver’s annual school-kids flash mob drew 11,621 to Pacific Coliseum. The Royals (38-16-4) are on an 8-0-2 run. Western Conference sixth-place Vancouver is 4-4-1-0 against third-place Victoria this season and could meet the Royals in the first round of the playoffs. … Swift Current (64 points) took over first place in the East Division with a 3-0 home win over Brandon (62) on Sunday night. Brandon suffered its first shutout of the season. … Saskatoon has a league-high six regulars out with injuries. … The Lethbridge Hurricanes terminated assistant coach Brad Lukowich “with cause” on Saturday. Lukowich walked out on the team Jan. 29 after a home game against Prince Albert. … Seattle’s Taran Kozun was named Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Week after posting consecutive shutouts against Spokane. Kozun also won the award three weeks ago. … Kootenay’s Sam Reinhart was named CHL Player of the Week after recording three goals and eight assists in three games.