The Chilliwack Bruins try to keep their playoff hopes afloat this weekend as they tackle the Kelowna Rockets in a crucial B.C. division home-and-home.
Trailing the Kamloops Blazers by one point (with five games in hand) for the eighth and final Western conference playoff spot, the Bruins know they’ve got to start cashing in.
But the Rockets present a major obstacle.
Always a thorn in Chilliwack’s side, Kelowna figures to be even tricker coming off back-to-back road losses in Prince George (4-2 and 3-0).
The Rockets were without the services of veteran Mitchell Callahan and young winger Colton Sissons — both should be back for this weekend.
“It’s tough when you lose guys like that because of their style of play and what they bring to the team,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “When you don’t have that gritty element in your lineup, you need someone to step up. And in Prince George we didn’t get that.”
Meanwhile, the Bruins prepare for an extended stretch without captain Brandon Manning, who was issued a seven game suspension for a hit on Kamloops defenceman Austin Madaisky last weekend, one that earned Manning a five minute boarding major and game misconduct.
“You don’t want to lose him for that amount of time,” said Bruins coach Marc Habscheid on Thursday. “It was unfortunate and I don’t think there was anything malicious about it.”
Video of Manning’s hit found its way onto Youtube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c7WK3Hk2f4) on Wednesday.
On the play, Manning chipped and chased from the neutral zone, tracking the puck into the right corner.
He and Madaisky arrived at the same time and Manning appears to shove the Blazer blueliner’s right shoulder as they both hurtled towards the puck. It’s more a case of Madaisky falling awkwardly into the boards than being driven into them by Manning, and if Madaisky hadn’t ended up writhing on the ice for five minutes, the play might have passed without much notice.
It seems a case where Manning was punished for the result rather than the act.
“It’s unfortunate the guy got injured, but the league made a decision and we live with it,” Habscheid said.
It’s a tough time to lose the captain, but if the Bruins can make do in his absence, it may be a blessing in disguise. The 20-year-old hasn’t been himself lately, playing at much less than 100 per cent coming off a groin injury.
His mobility has been hampered and his dangerous point shot has been significantly less threatening.
“He’s still our best defenceman and our captain, so no doubt it hurts,” Habscheid said. “But this will hopefully give him a chance to heal up a bit so that when he does come back he’s close to 100 per cent and ready to go.”
The Bruins and Rockets met nine days ago, with Kelowna taking a 6-4 decision. Penalties were Chilliwack’s downfall, and Habscheid knows his team has to get that cleaned up if they want wins.
“They’ve had a good run lately, but I liked the way we played in that last game up in Kelowna,” he said. “We just have to keep our penalties in check, play hard and give ourselves a chance.”
The Bruins are back on home ice Sunday night at 5 p.m., hosting the Tri-City Americans.