The Kelowna Rockets will ring in the new year on their bus, somewhere between Washington state and the Okanagan.
This weekend, the Rockets will close out 2021 with back-to-back games against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Kelowna will host Seattle on Friday night at Prospera Place, then trek to Kent, Wash., for a New Year’s Eve tilt against the Thunderbirds. Friday’s game starts at 7:05 p.m., with Saturday’s game starting at 6:05 p.m.
The trip to Kent from Kelowna takes around five-and-a-half hours.
Factor in two-and-a-half hours it takes to play a game, then another hour or so for the post-game meal, the Rockets should be close to the Canada-U.S. border when midnight strikes.
But regardless of where they are when 2023 rings in, up first are the Thunderbirds.
Seattle (25-4-1-1) is one of the WHL’s top teams this season, having amassed 52 points in 31 games.
The Thunderbirds not only lead the U.S. Division, but also the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Kelowna (12-16-3-0, 27 points) is fourth in B.C. Division standings and sits eight in Western Conference standings.
This weekend, though, the T-Birds won’t be at full strength, with four players away at the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship in Atlantic Canada. Those four, all playing for Canada, are Reid Schafer, Nolan Allan, Kevin Korchinski and Thomas Milic.
However, Kelowna also enters the weekend shorthanded, with Colton Dach (Canada) and Gabriel Szturc (Czechia). Notably, Dach has two assists so far, while Szturc has two goals, both coming in a 9-0 win over Austria on Monday.
The Rockets will also be missing Adam Kydd (lower-body injury).
The two teams have played twice this season, with Seattle winning both: 5-4 on Oct. 7, and 4-2 on Nov. 23.
As their record belies, the T-Birds are on a roll and are 9-0-0-1 in their past 10 games. They’re also 12-3 in road games and are 13-1-1-0 at home.
Tij Iginla, a Lake Country product who was selected in the first round, ninth overall, of the WHL’s bantam draft in 2021, will play in his 25th game this season on Friday night. The rookie centre has two goals and 12 points thus far.
The Rockets are 3-6-1-0 in their past 10 games. They also have a home record of 5-7-2-0 and are 7-9-10 in road games.
Earlier this week, the Rockets dropped a pair to Kamloops, losing 6-4 on Tuesday, then 6-2 on Wednesday.