Gordie Ballhorn and the Kelowna Rockets close out their eastern tour this weekend with games in Prince Albert and Saskatoon. -Image: Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze

Rockets wrap prairie trip in P.A., Saskatoon

Kelowna looks to improve on 1-3 record so far on trip

Like 21 other teams in the Western Hockey League, the Kelowna Rockets are undoubtedly looking forward to some quality downtime over the next couple of weeks.

Still, the Rockets have two more orders of business to tend to before letting their guard down for the Christmas break.

Kelowna will close out its six-game Eastern Division tour with a weekend set in Saskatchewan—Friday night in Prince Albert against the Raiders and Saturday in Saskatoon against the Blades.

With a 1-3 record through the first four games of the trip, assistant coach Kris Mallette stressed the importance of the Rockets heading into the break with a couple of solid efforts.

“Staying focused, that’s what we need to do through the last period of the last game,” said Mallette. “This time of year, with the youth of a lot of the guys, being away from their homes for the first half of the season, you can understand why they’re excited to be going home (for Christmas).

“We’ve played some quality hockey teams through the first part of the trip, and we’ve got two more teams that are probably going to be hungry,” Mallette added. “We need to be prepared and try to finish off the right way.”

After a trip-opening win in Regina last Friday, the Rockets have since lost three straight games—to Brandon, Moose Jaw and 5-1 to the Broncos on Wednesday night in Swift Current.

Kelowna has been without three of its top players—Dillon Dube, Kole Lind and Cal Foote—for the last two games of the trip. Lind was one of four cuts Thursday from the national junior camp in St. Catharines and will rejoin the club Friday in Prince Albert.

Mallette said other Rockets players have stepped up in their absence, just not on a nearly consistent enough basis.

“Our game has been inconsistent,” Mallette said. “We’ve done some really good things in spurts, skated with those teams and we’ve had some leads.

“But we’ve had some mental breakdowns, too, that have been costly,” he added. “You always stress taking care of our own end and with a couple of young goalies in there, you need to help them out. We’ve been caught running around and cheating the game a little so we have to get away from that.

“The more we buy in to team defense the better it is for everybody.”

The Rockets first game after the break is Wednesday, Dec. 27 at home to the Kamloops Blazers.

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