Rocket soars in playoffs

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:02 AM ET

As a member of the Kelowna Rockets third line, St. Andrews native Brent Howarth isn't relied on to do a lot of scoring.

That didn't stop Rockets head coach Jeff Truitt from asking Howarth and his linemates to pick up the offence a notch in the first round of the WHL playoffs against the Vancouver Giants.

"The coaches talked to my whole line about the playoffs and how we were going to be a big part of it, because the first and second lines usually match up pretty well together, but the third lines can always be the difference in a series," Howarth, 18, said yesterday from B.C. "He told us that, and I guess we just stepped up."

Did they ever. Howarth's line, which also includes Kelowna native Chris Ray and Latvia's Lauris Darzins, scored three of the Rockets' four game-winners in their six-game elimination of the Giants. The trio must like performing in front of big crowds, because the three games at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum attracted an average of more than 14,000 fans.

"It's a huge relief, actually, because they played us tough," Howarth said. "It was a hard-hitting series, and we knew it was going to be. It's just good to get past them and have some days off here to rest our sore bodies."

Howarth scored in overtime in Game 2 and finished the series with three goals and two assists. Not bad for someone who had just 10 goals and 12 helpers in 61 regular-season games.

Howarth and the Rockets, who are the defending Memorial Cup champs, will meet the Seattle Thunderbirds in the second round, beginning Friday night in Kelowna.

The Rockets also feature Tyler Mosienko of West St. Paul, Troy Bodie of Portage and Kirt Hill of Winnipeg.

Seattle, meanwhile, has Headingley's Tyler Metcalfe and Winnipeg's Gavin McHale on its roster.

In all, there are 42 Manitobans still alive in the WHL playoffs, the first round of which will wrap up tonight with two Game 7s.

The Brandon Wheat Kings, who beat the Moose Jaw Warriors in five games in the opening round, won't know their second-round opponent until tonight when the Medicine Hat Tigers and Red Deer Rebels play Game 7.

If the Tigers win, the Wheaties will play the Calgary Hitmen. If the Rebels win, Brandon will meet the Prince Albert Raiders. Despite not knowing their opponent, the Wheaties will host Games 1 and 2 at Keystone Centre on Friday and Saturday.

AROUND THE GLASS: The Portage Terriers and Selkirk Steelers resume their Manitoba Junior Hockey League final series tonight in Portage at 8 o'clock. The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 ... Game 2 of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League final goes tonight at 7:30 at St. Vital Centennial Arena. The Charleswood Hawks beat the St. Vital Victorias 3-2 on Sunday in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.


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