KELOWNA - After knocking out the Kamloops Blazers in the first round of playoffs, the Kelowna Rockets are taking on the Portland Winterhawks tonight in the first game of the second round of the WHL playoffs.
The Winterhawks are also coming off a six game series in the first round where they defeated the Prince George Cougars.
“Portland has two pretty good lines and four pretty good D-men who can produce and create offensive chances,” Kelowna Rockets defensemen Gordie Ballhorn says. “They play a run and gun style of game but if we stick to what we know and do what we do I’m pretty confident.”
With home ice advantage for the first two games, the Winterhawks can expect the Rockets and their fans to be out in full force.
“Having home ice advantage is going to be huge,” Ballhorn says. “Travel-wise they’ve been on the bus for nine or 10 hours, it’ll be great if we can get in two wins off the bat.”
The Rockets and Winterhawks met four times during the regular season, with the Rockets securing three victories.
However, Ballhorn says the team won’t be focussing on the past.
“It’s good to have that knowledge and to not go in blind, but playoffs is a whole different area, it’s more intense and up-paced,” Ballhorn says. “It’s a new slate for sure, our team has changed a lot over the course of the season and I’m sure theirs has too.”
Meeting in the playoffs seems to be a tradition for the two teams. From 2001 to 2016, Kelowna and Portland have met four times, with the Rockets only edging out the Hawks in 2015 in a 4-1 series.
Key players to watch on the Rockets include rookie forward Reid Gardiner. Gardiner was traded to the Rockets in January from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins A.H.L. team. With five goals and one assist in the first round of playoffs, Portland will be looking for ways to shut the high-scoring forward down.
Another asset for the Rockets is their goaltender Michael Herringer. Against the Blazers, Herringer held two shutouts, totaling a .928 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average.
For the Portland Winterhawks, Kelowna will have to watch for center Cody Glass. After leading his team with 94 points in the regular season, Glass went on to score two goals and make four assists in the first round of playoffs.
Additionally, Winterhawks defenseman Caleb Jones will be one to keep an eye on, with six assists against Prince George in the first round, he is a skilled and well rounded player.
The game starts at 7:05 p.m., April 7 at Prospera Place. Game two is tomorrow night.
“We’re feeling really good, we had a bit of a break between series which we didn’t have last year,” Ballhorn says. “It should be another fun and exciting series for the fans - they’ve been behind us for the good and bad and we want to give them a good show.”
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