Rockets launch Cup run tonight

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

The Strathroy Rockets excellent adventure continues tonight.

It's been quite a trip for the Western Ontario Hockey League champions, beginning the season as a team in the pack and emerging on top.

They'll approach the Sutherland Cup round-robin competition as they've done all year, one game at a time.

The Rockets travel to Cambridge to play the Midwestern league champion Winter Hawks, who are also the defending Sutherland Cup champions.

It's the opening game for the Rockets while the Winter Hawks played last night against the third team in the round-robin, the Golden Horseshoe league champion St. Catharines Falcons.

The top two teams in the round-robin meet in a best-of-seven series for the OHA junior B championship.

Neither the Rockets nor the Falcons have any players who have gone through the Sutherland Cup experience, while the Winter Hawks have 15 players back from last year's club.

"The experience we have does help," said Hawks coach Greg Bignell. "Hopefully, we can lean on the guys who have been through it. It will be an advantage somewhat but all three teams are winners in their leagues."

The Rockets are in a place few people people would be in, not only at the start of the season but as late as two weeks ago when they trailed the Sarnia Blast 3-1 in their best-of-seven WOHL final. But after their remarkable regular-season and playoff runs, the Rockets never stopped believing they could win.

"We didn't have these expectations before the season began," said Rockets coach Mike Bondy. "We knew we had some talent but you have to wait to see how that develops. As the season went on, we started to see that we had something.

"You look at the players and they step it up and get better. As a coach, all you really want is for the your players to develop and improve and find their place on the team."

The Falcons finished second in the Golden Horseshoe but dumped regular-season champ Niagara Falls in five games.

"We got our ass slapped in Game 1, 8-2," said Falcons coach Garry Lariviere. Then we got the momentum going and in junior hockey . . . you get it sliding that way and it's good, you get it sliding the other way, you can't get it stopped."

Lariviere says his team is young, likes to skate and has three consistent lines.

They'll be bolstered in the round-robin by the return of 100-point man Nick Petriello who missed the final series with a groin injury. The Rockets will also have to watch for defenceman Kevin Floris, who was the playoff most valuable player and tied for the team lead in playoff scoring.

They'll also play in front of sold-out houses of more than 3,000 fans in their home rink. As their promotion says, "We'll sell you the entire seat but you'll only need the edge."

Bignell says the Winter Hawks want to force the opposition to play their style of game but he believes his team has the capacity to go whatever direction the game takes.

"We can do a little of everything. We're a physical team, a fast team," said Bignell. "I like to think we're a disciplined hockey club, one of those teams that whatever way the other team wants to play, we can play that way. We're high energy, got a good mixture of skill. I classify skill as guys who are good at putting the puck in the net, others are good at hitting, others are skilled by their work ethic . . . we're all part of the end goal.

It sounds a lot like the Rockets.

"We proved we're capable of playing a couple of different ways," said Bondy. "We can play a physical game but yet we're highly skilled."


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