As the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, it's impossible for Guy Charron to be a fan of the Kelowna Rockets.
But, still, Charron does admit he has a whole lot of respect for the Rockets and what they accomplished this week.
In case you missed it, the Rockets became the second team in WHL history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. The Rockets finished the series with a 3-2 overtime victory over the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds on Wednesday night.
And, by the end of the series, the Rockets were missing seven regulars, none of whom is expected to play in a second-round series with the Blazers that opens with games in Kelowna on Saturday and Sunday.
The Blazers, fresh off a six-game victory over the Victoria Royals, will play host to Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
"To me, what it says, is that character is a big characteristic of their team," Charron said after Thursday's practice at Interior Savings Centre. "They were put behind the 8-ball with all the injuries they had and to key people. . . . Seattle had the ability to make a series tough for anyone and they showed that. To come back from a three-game deficit . . . it's been awhile since I've seen that or heard about it."
The Rockets went into the playoffs without forwards Colton Sissons (shoulder) and Carter Rigby (shoulder, foot), and defenceman Mitchell Wheaton (shoulder). Former Kamloops forward J.T. Barnett, who battled illness late in the season, played in Game 1 against Seattle but is ill again and was scratched from the last six games. Freshman forward Rourke Chartier (back) was injured in Game 3 and defenceman MacKenzie Johnston (shoulder) went down in Game 4. Defenceman Jesse Lees (suspected concussion) was injured by a check to the head in Game 6.
When the dust had settled, the Rockets were down to four defencemen, so they added Joe Gatenby for Game 7. A Kelowna native, Gatenby, 15, was a second-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft. He played for the major midget Okanagan Rockets and made his WHL debut in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
The Rockets also had four other youngsters play in Game 7. While forward Austin Glover, a second-round pick in 2011, got into 31 games during the regular season and defenceman Riley Stadel, a third-round selection in 2011, played in 49, forwards Nick Merkley, 15, and Justin Kirkland, 16, are recent roster additions. Merkley was the ninth overall pick in the 2012 bantam draft, while Kirkland was taken in 2011's fifth round.
Kirkland drew an assist on forward Tyson Baillie's series-winning OT goal on Wednesday.
Baillie, who won't turn 18 until Nov. 16, scored all three of Kelowna's goals in Game 7 and now shares the playoff goal-scoring lead with Blazers forward Kale Kessy, each with seven.
With the Rockets' injury list such as it is, there isn't much doubt that the Blazers will try to force the issue deep in the Kelowna zone. Kamloops' game plan will be all about getting pucks deep and making the Rockets' defencemen work.
"That'll be how we do it," Charron stated. "We all know what they're missing; they're missing key people on the back end. We've got to make them work hard so that fatigue sets in.
"If they play more time in our end than we do in their end, then we play into their hands."
It will be interesting to watch special teams in this series.
The Blazers' power play struck eight times in 31 opportunities against Victoria (8-for-31), while Kelowna's penalty-killers didn't allow even one PP goal in 27 opportunities.
Charron said the Blazers' penalty-killers have to be better, after Victoria torched them for seven goals on 24 chances.
"The biggest difference in the (Victoria) series was our penalty kill," Charron said. "Victoria capitalized. Their power play kept them in games. . . . When they had chances, they put the puck in the net."
As for Kelowna's penalty-killers being on a roll, Charron said: "That's one series. It can change. Our power play was 25 per cent (against Victoria). It better be good against Kelowna because we will need our special teams to be good."
JUST NOTES:Kamloops C Joe Kornelsen (leg) has been cleared to return and is expected to be in the lineup on Saturday. Kornelsen, who turned 20 on Jan. 9, hasn't played since March 2. . . . Kamloops LW Tim Bozon (hand) won't play. . . . The Blazers and Rockets last met in the playoffs in the spring of 2009, with Kelowna sweeping the first-round series. . . . These franchises also met in the first round in 2002, with the Rockets sweeping, and in 1999, when the Blazers won in six games. . . . Kamloops LW Brendan Ranford and C Colin Smith are the only players left on either team who played in 2009.
© Kamloops Daily News