The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs will be seeing a new face in the Pacific Cup this season.
For the last four years the Chiefs faced the Vancouver Giants in the Pacific Cup. This year the Okanagan Rockets downed the Giants 2-0 in their best-of-three provincial and league final, setting the stage for an Okanagan-Red Deer clash at the Arena this weekend.
The best-of-three series begins Friday at 5 p.m. with the second game Saturday at 7 p.m. with a third game, if necessary, Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
The Rockets went into this season with the idea of knocking off the Giants, according to general manager David Michaud.
“That was the plan,” he said. “We lost to them last year in the third game of the playoffs and with the number of players returning this season we decided to go all in.
“Traditionally we went with younger guys and guys in our program, but this year we brought in some additional 17 year-olds to add more experience. We feel we’re very strong.”
Michaud also feels the B.C. midget league is getting stronger as well.
‘There’s always been some top talent, but the teams are getting deeper, so there’s some good races,” he said.
“Playing better calibre teams certainly helps.”
The Rockets have 10 17 year-olds on their roster but two of their premier players — Tyson Jost and Jake Kryski— are 15.
Jost, who is originally from Leduc, set a number of offensive records this season. His 44 goals during the regular season was a league record and his 88 points a team record. He also set a league mark of 18 points in seven playoff games. Jost is a seventh overall pick by Everett in the WHL Entry Draft.
Kryski had 16 goals and 48 points in 37 regular season games then added 11 points in the playoffs, which left him fourth overall. He was originally drafted by Prince Albert, but later traded to Kamloops.
Liam Finlay and Tanner Campbell are two of the Rockets outstanding offensive players and both are listed at five-foot-seven, 145-pounds.
Finlay had 17 goals and 51 points and Campbell 29 goals and 67 points during the season. Finlay added 11 goals and 15 points in the playoffs, second only to Jost.
The Rockets and Chiefs are no strangers tying 3-3 in the Mac’s Christmas tournament in Calgary.
Michaud sees a major difference between the two teams.
“It’s a contrast in style. Red Deer plays a defensive style while we’re more offensive minded,” he said.
One of strengths of the Rockets is their power play.
“Mack (head coach O’Rourke) changed our power play following the Mac’s tournament and it’s been unbelievable since, clicking at around 50 per cent since,” said Michaud. “There’s no question that’s been one of our strengths. It can win us a lot of games. Red Deer will have to take a disciplined approach for sure.”
On the other side, the Rockets don’t take a lot of penalties themselves.
“We rely on our speed and skill and not intimidation,” Michaud said.
During the season the O’Rourke utilized both goaltenders — Brendan Barry and Reid Kilburn — but used Barry exclusively in the playoffs, where he posted a 3.14 gaa and a 6-1 record.
Defensively Gen Bryshyun and Josh Johnson are considered the Rockets top shut down pairing.
“Although we don’t have any true stud defenceman, we use all six guys almost equally,” said Michaud.
• The Rockets arrive in Red Deer Thursday and practice at the Arena Friday morning . . . The Notre Dame Argos won the Saskatchewan title with the Winnipeg Wild taking Manitoba. The two, along with the Thunder Bay Kings and host Prince Albert Mintos, meet for the Western Regional title . . . Tickets for this week can be purchased at TBS or the Red Deer Minor Hockey office . . . A weekend pass is $25 for adults. Single game tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students. Under 12 are free.