Pats set to toss teddy bears against Rockets in WHL on Access action


Kelowna Rockets (17-8-2-1) at Regina Pats (15-13-2-0)
Friday, December 8 – Brandt Centre 7 p.m. (Central)

 Access7 SD, Access 70 HD, WHL Live


The Kelowna Rockets and Regina Pats will battle each other for the first and only time this regular season in WHL on Access action Friday, but if the four-time Ed Chynoweth Cup Champions have their way, it won’t be their last voyage to the Queen City this season.

Neither the Rockets or Pats have been at full strength in recent weeks, but both are remaining competitive in their respective conferences. While a future meeting in the 2018 WHL Final between the two isn’t as plausible as other scenarios, there is a very real possibility that the Rockets could find their way back to Saskatchewan in May in pursuit of their second Mastercard Memorial Cup.

If the aging out of Michael Herringer in the off-season wasn’t enough of a loss, losing newly-minted starting goaltender Brodan Salmond to a knee injury in November should have made things worse. Should is the key word in the previous statement because the line of strong goaltenders kept coming for the Rockets in a pair of rookies.

James Porter and Roman Basran have held things together in the crease and even carried the load when asked for a Rockets squad that has since gone 8-2-0-0 in their last 10 and crept back into the conversation for the B.C. Division lead. Porter has 12 wins to lead all rookies and sits tied for sixth among all WHL goaltenders. His .900 SV% also ranks second among rookie goaltenders to play in at least 10 games this season. He’s won his last three starts, already totaled 40-plus saves in three games and allowed two goals or fewer in nine of his 20 games.

Basran has performed well in his two starts, winning both of them and collecting a 38-save shutout in his first start.

It’s also helped that the Rockets skaters have provided the offence necessary for the recent surge up the standings. The trio of Dillon Dube (Calgary Flames), Carsen Twarynski (Philadelphia Flyers) and Kole Lind (Vancouver Canucks) have combined for 102 points (47G-55A) in the team’s first 28 games. Add in the likes of Cal Foote (Tampa Bay Lightning), who sits ninth in defensive scoring with 26 points (6G-20A), helping him to produce at the best rate of his career and you’ve got a team capable of making a long run and challenging the other top contenders.

The Regina Pats will have two points in mind coming into Friday’s matchup, but will also have the added goal of spreading some holiday cheer as they host their annual Teddy Bear Toss game.

It will be another tough test for the Pats though, who have dropped six of their last 10 games and are hanging onto the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks) scored twice in Wednesday’s loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings and led the Pats during November with 10 points (6G-4A) in 10 games, but there’s no question the Pats will need to find more consistency in order to climb back into the division race. The positive news at the moment is that with their positioning, they’d cross over to the Central Division and could likely fight their way to the Eastern Conference Final that way.

At some point though, the Pats will need to strike down the Wheat Kings, Swift Current Broncos or conference-leading Moose Jaw Warriors. Whether that happens in the next few months, in the WHL Playoffs or even at the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup is irrelevant as long as it happens.

The Pats could be better than they are now of course, but they’ve put on some impressive performances despite what their record indicates. On their road trip through the Pacific Northwest a few weeks ago, goaltender Tyler Brown made 38 saves to edge the surging Everett Silvertips by a 2-1 score. Matt Bradley has rediscovered his scoring touch from the early part of the season, scoring three goals in his last four games. The addition of Cale Fleury (Montreal Canadiens) from the Kootenay ICE has helped as well.

As Austin Wagner (Los Angeles Kings) has made the move up to the professional ranks, he is one player the Pats will miss out on that they were no doubt hoping to add in the second half for a playoff run. Now Wagner hadn’t played a game for the Pats, so what sort of impact the Pats were hoping for him to have will remain a mystery. How they choose to to fill Wagner’s expected role is the question around the Pats now and could shift the balance of power in the division over the coming weeks.

As witnessed by the moves made by the Warriors and Broncos in recent weeks though has made one things clear: there’s a race to load up talent ahead of the WHL Trade Deadline. The moves have come at high prices for both clubs so far and whichever team ultimately finds the right balance could find themselves hoisting trophies this spring. It’s the ultimate tale of risk versus reward and there’s no clear way to know what the winning move will ultimately be.

But regardless of all their additions, the Regina Pats are undoubtedly a hungry team looking to power their way to a hot streak in the coming months to get back in the divisional race and win their way into the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup and it could start tonight against the Kelowna Rockets.

You can catch all the WHL on Access action starting at 7:00 p.m. (CST) live from the Brandt Centre!

Kelowna Rockets

Record: 17-8-2-1
Head coach: Jason Smith
Leading scorers: C Dillon Dube (16-20-36); RW Kole Lind (12-22-34); LW Carsen Twarynski (19-13-32)
Leading goaltender: James Porter (20 GP, 12-4-2-0, 3.34 GAA, .900 SV%)
Power play: Fifth – 28.0 per cent
Penalty kill: 13th – 77.5 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: LW Erik Gardiner (upper body, week-to-week), G Brodan Salmond (lower body, 1-to-3 weeks)

Regina Pats

Record: 15-13-2-0
Head coach: John Paddock
Leading scorers: C Matt Bradley (19-15-34); C Sam Steel (14-18-32);  RW Emil Oksanen (11-17-28)
Leading goaltender: Tyler Brown (23 GP, 10-10-2-0, 3.16 GAA, .893 SV%)
Power play: Seventh – 24.4 per cent
Penalty kill: 21st – 69.8 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: N/A

Season series
Dec. 8 – Kelowna at Regina*

* Indicates WHL on Access broadcast

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