SERIES PREVIEW: (8) Kelowna Rockets vs. (1) Seattle Thunderbirds

Watch more on WHL TV >

The curtain rises on the 2023 WHL Playoffs presented by Nutrien Friday, March 31, and is previewing each of the eight First Round matchups. We conclude our First Round previews by examining the series between the Seattle Thunderbirds and Kelowna Rockets.

The Seattle Thunderbirds and Kelowna Rockets will begin the 2023 WHL Playoffs presented by Nutrien the same way they began the post-season a year ago: against each other.

The best-of-seven First Round series begins Friday, March 31 in Kent, Wash. (7:05 p.m. PT, accesso ShoWare Center).

Seattle has high expectations this spring after finishing the regular season with a franchise record 54 wins. The Thunderbirds, fresh off a visit to the WHL Championship Series in 2022, boast 10 NHL prospects and six Canadian World Juniors stars on the roster, and come into this year’s playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference.

Kelowna finished 53 points behind Seattle in the Western Conference standings and have new leadership after moving former captain Colton Dach to the Thunderbirds ahead of the WHL Trade Deadline. The Rockets are young; they feature two top-tier prospects expecting to hear their names called at the 2023 NHL Draft. Kelowna has had nine days to prepare for this First Round post-season affair after the matchup was confirmed March 22.

Jared Davidson led Seattle in scoring for the second consecutive regular season, his 38 goals and 82 points were both team highs. The Thunderbirds had seven players with 58 or more points during the regular season including Davidson and defenceman Kevin Korchinski (11G-62A), both of whom were named First Team All-Stars for the U.S. Division earlier this week.

For Kelowna, Andrew Cristall displays his star power every single night. The #16-ranked North American Skaters ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft led the Rockets with 39 goals and 95 points and has one of the deadliest shots in the Western Conference. Cristall forms an efficient one-two punch with captain Gabriel Szturc, expect both to be leaned on heavily throughout the series.

As mentioned above, Seattle is replete with NHL talent including three prospects of the Chicago Blackhawks (Korchinski, Dach and defenceman Nolan Allan). The Thunderbirds added a pair of first-round NHL picks in 2023 in Winnipeg Jets prospect Brad Lambert and 2022 WHL Champions Dylan Guenther, who played the first half of the 2022-23 season with the Arizona Coyotes and scored 15 NHL points. Forward Reid Schaefer, who put up 61 points and a team-leading 92 penalty minutes, saw his NHL rights move from the Edmonton Oilers to the Nashville Predators at the NHL Trade Deadline.

Kelowna’s lone NHL draftee is New York Rangers prospect Talyn Boyko, who collected three shutouts in his first full season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-8 netminder appeared in 40 games during the 2022-23 WHL Regular Season.

Seattle won each of the four regular season meetings, all of which took place prior to the turn of the calendar. Most recently, the Thunderbirds swept a home-and-home series December 30 and 31, winning the latest matchup 2-0 on accesso ShoWare Center ice.

Calgary Flames prospect Lucas Ciona collected the most points (six) out of any player to participate in the season series, while Schaefer’s three goals stood as a series high for Seattle. As expected, Kelowna was led offensively by Cristall, who tallied three times and totalled five points from the four-game regular season set.

The two Clubs have been frequent playoff foes, meeting nine times since the Rockets entered the WHL in 1991. Seattle has won five of the nine prior series, including a five-game victory in last year’s First Round.


Seattle Thunderbirds Kelowna Rockets
Record 54-11-1-2 (1st, U.S.) 27-37-4-0 (4th, B.C.)
Leading Scorers Jared Davidson (38-44-82)
Lucas Ciona (28-47-75)
Kevin Korchinski (11-62-73)
Andrew Cristall (39-56-95)
Gabriel Szturc (24-55-79)
Carson Golder (31-24-55)
Leading Goaltender Daniel Hauser (37-4-1-0, 2.28, .917) Beckett Langkow (25-20-7-1, 3.05, .888)
Power Play 20.6% (8th) 22.5% (18th)
Penalty Kill 83.5% (6th) 78.7% (19th)
2022 WHL Playoffs Lost WHL Championship (Edmonton) Lost First Round (Seattle)
Last WHL Championship 2017 2015

Kelowna (0) at Seattle (2) – December 31, 2022
Seattle (4) at Kelowna (1) – December 30, 2022
Kelowna (2) at Seattle (4) – November 23, 2022
Seattle (5) at Kelowna (4) – October 7, 2022


Seattle Thunderbirds: Dylan Guenther scored 46 goals for the Edmonton Oil Kings a season ago and in 20 games with Seattle, the Arizona Coyotes prospect lit the lamp 13 times. Both he and Finnish forward Brad Lambert have provided another element to an already-talented Thunderbirds forward group; both will be tough to defend in this year’s WHL post-season.

Kelowna Rockets: Andrew Cristall has the ability to create highlight-reel plays both with his shooting and his passing acumen. The Burnaby, B.C. product is creative, flashy, and perhaps most importantly of all confident every time he touches the puck.


Seattle Thunderbirds: The Thunderbirds tandem of Thomas Milic and Scott Ratzlaff finished one-two in the WHL with 2.08 and 2.15 goals-against averages, and Milic led the League with a .928 save percentage over his 33 games played. Milic is two years older than Ratzlaff, and was the man in the crease for Seattle’s playoff run last year, but Ratzlaff is a more-than-capable running mate as the Thunderbirds begin their post-season journey.

Kelowna Rockets: Talyn Boyko is the elder statesman in the Kelowna Rockets crease, though it was 18-year-old Jari Kykkanen who led the Club with 14 wins this season. Both netminders are big, though at 6-foot-8 Boyko stands taller than the 6-foot-3 Kykkanen. Both posted similar stats during the regular season as well.


Seattle Thunderbirds: He led the League with a +70 rating and scored five game-winning goals as part of his 48-point total; thanks to those figures, defenceman Jeremy Hanzel earns X-Factor honours for Seattle. The product of Coquitlam, B.C. made memories among Thunderbirds fans with his two-goal performance in Game 7 against rival Portland a season ago, helping Seattle avenge a 3-1 series deficit to win their Second Round matchup in seven games.

Kelowna Rockets: The Rockets acquired 20-year-old forward Carson Golder in late 2022 and it’s proven to be a move that’s paid dividends. Golder, who started his WHL career as a defenceman with the Victoria Royals, brings WHL Championship experience and a 31-goal regular season to Kelowna’s playoff arsenal. The product of Smithers, B.C. finished tied for the Oil Kings scoring lead during the 2022 WHL Championship Series versus Seattle, totalling six points (1G-5A) in six games.


Game Date Away Home Time
1 March 31, 2023 Kelowna Seattle 7:05 p.m. PT
2 April 1, 2023 Kelowna Seattle 6:05 p.m. PT
3 April 4, 2023 Seattle Kelowna 7:05 p.m. PT
4 April 5, 2023 Seattle Kelowna 7:05 p.m. PT
5 April 7, 2023 Kelowna Seattle 7:05 p.m. PT *
6 April 9, 2023 Seattle Kelowna 4:05 p.m. PT *
7 April 11, 2023 Kelowna Seattle 7:05 p.m. PT *

* – if necessary

Through WHL Live on CHL TV, fans can enjoy every single scheduled game throughout the 2023 WHL Playoffs presented by Nutrien with the purchase of a WHL All-Access Pass at the low price of $59.99 plus applicable taxes and fees.

WHL Live – 2023 WHL Playoffs Packages
All-Access: $59.99
Round-by-Round: $19.99 per round
24-Hour Access: $9.99

* all prices in Canadian dollars
+ does not include applicable taxes and fees

WHL Live on CHL TV is available to fans anywhere in the world, providing high-quality streaming of WHL games on Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV platforms, via mobile with iOS and Android, and on web using Safari or Google Chrome web browsers. Visit for complete details.

More News
Rockets acquire Tij Iginla in deal with Thunderbirds
8 hours ago
WHL Community Collective: Lethbridge Hurricanes
10 hours ago
21 WHL Players to participate in 2023 NHL Scouting Combine
1 day ago
Highlights: Thunderbirds (0) vs. Remparts (5)
3 days ago
Thunderbirds fall to Remparts in Memorial Cup final
3 days ago
Thunderbirds Post-Game Media - Matt O'Dette
3 days ago