The Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets last hooked up in a WHL playoff series in the spring of 2013.
The Blazers, who missed the playoffs each of the next two seasons, swept the Rockets from that second-round series, winning 6-2 and 4-2 in Kamloops and posting two OT victories — 5-4 and 4-3 — in Kelowna.
Now, with the WHL’s regular season to conclude this weekend, it appears likely that the two teams will hook up again in a best-of-seven series.
The Blazers (36-25-9), who are third in the B.C. Division, have two games left in their 72-game regular season, both of them against the fourth-place Prince George Cougars (36-29-5). They will play tonight in Kamloops and Saturday in Prince George.
The Cougars, who have lost three straight (0-2-1), are four points behind the Blazers, meaning Kamloops needs one point from the two games to wrap up third place and set up a first-round meeting with the Rockets (46-20-4), who are destined to finish second.
No doubt, the Blazers will tell you that they are taking games one at a time, so haven’t yet thought about the Rockets. Of course, that would be for public consumption.
Considering that the Blazers have won seven straight games, including three in a row over the Rockets, you know there
will have been chatter behind closed doors.
The Rockets, meanwhile, are gearing up.
“It’s the greatest thing that could ever happen if that’s who we play,” Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ general manager, told Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier earlier this week. “We’ve been waiting for a rivalry with those guys for years, to get going again, and this could be the start of it.
“If Kamloops is our first-round opponent, then so be it, and that would be the best thing for our hockey club and for our fans, and our two cities.”
The Rockets, the WHL’s defending champions, lost 7-4 to the visiting Victoria Royals on Wednesday night. With that one victory, the Royals won the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s regular-season champions and banners as the Western Conference and B.C. Division champions.
Kelowna has lost five of its past seven games as it concludes its regular season with two games against the Vancouver Giants, who will finish last in the 10-team Western Conference. They will play tonight in Vancouver and Saturday in Kelowna.
A series between the Blazers and Rockets would open with games in Kelowna on March 25 and 26. Kamloops’ home dates, regardless of an opponent, have yet to be announced, but at least one game could be played at Memorial Arena, which opened in 1948, due to scheduling conflicts with the IIHF World Women’s Championship, which will be in the Sandman Centre from March 28 through April 4.
First, though, the Blazers need to find one point against the Cougars.
The two teams last played in January, when they met on three occasions. In the last two of those meetings, in Prince George, the Cougars skated to 9-4 and 6-1 victories.
Still, the Blazers lead the season series, 4-3-1. Oh, wait! This being the day of the loser point, the Cougars also are 4-3-1. Each team has posted a 4-3 shootout victory.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers are 9-1-0 in their past 10 games; the Cougars are 4-5-1. . . . The Blazers haven’t played since scoring a 2-1 shootout victory over visiting Vancouver on Saturday. . . . The Cougars last played on Sunday when they dropped a 4-3 decision in Victoria. . . . The Blazers are 19-10-6 at home; the Cougars are 15-17-3 on the road. . . . Prince George has two 40-goal men in F Chase Witala and F Jesse Gabrielle, both of whom are right on 40. . . . F Collin Shirley leads the Blazers in goals, with 35. . . . Shirley has 15 points, including six goals, in eight games against the Cougars this season. . . . In the eight games, F Jansen Harkins and F Jared Bethune lead the Cougars, each with 10 points. Harkins has six goals; Bethune five. . . .
Earlier this week, the Blazers added D Jackson Shepard and D Luke Zazula, both 15, to their roster. Shepard had 42 points, including 13 goals, in 37 games with the major midget Vancouver-Northwest Giants, then added three assists in six playoff games. Zazula had 26 points in 29 games with the Delta Hockey Academy midget prep team that won the Canadian Sport School Hockey League championship last weekend in Penticton.