Rival Rockets no small task

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

The consensus is the Kelowna Rockets will be the Calgary Hitmen's stiffest test yet.

That's not exactly rocket science, since the two teams are the last ones standing in the WHL.

But the coaching staff and players are of the belief the Rockets team is for real.

"This is a team that beat us in our last regular-season home game," Lowry said of Kelowna's 2-1 victory Feb. 28 at the Dome.

"If you look at the stats, this is the best team since the trading deadline.

"Obviously, they're a very good team. It's a really good challenge for our hockey team."

Lowry wasn't even willing to hand the Rockets the underdog tag for the WHL championship that kicks off tonight (7:30 p.m., Shaw TV, Fan 960).

"They want to be the underdogs, but it's pretty hard to accept that they're the underdogs when they're the hottest team since January," Lowry said.

Well, one of the hottest teams.

Both teams have won 34 games since Jan. 11, but the Hitmen own an .897 winning percentage over that span compared to the Rockets' mark of .783.

Hitmen overager Kyle Bortis said the Rockets are as good a team as he's seen this season.

"You have to give them credit," Bortis said. "They came back (from a 2-0 series deficit) against Tri-City and they found a way to get past Vancouver as well.

"They've got a lot of skill and they have a respected hockey club over there.

"It's going to be a hard-fought series."

The Rockets don't have quite the same firepower as the Brandon Wheat Kings, who were swept by the Hitmen in the Eastern Conference final.

But they do have two powerful scoring lines and a much stingier defence than the Wheaties.

"They're well-rounded," Bortis said. "(Mark) Guggenberger is a good goaltender and their defencemen are highly touted.

"We have to make sure we respect them on the ice."

Kelowna's solid back end is anchored by world junior tower Tyler Myers and Tyson Barrie. As good as it is, the blueline may be the Hitmen's greatest advantage.

Calgary's offensive-minded defenders have put up 46 points through a dozen games.

Kelowna's d-men have kicked in 34 points in 16 outings.

SCOTT.FISHER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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