No team in the WHL does the no-superstars thing quite as well as the Kelowna Rockets, who finished second only to the loaded Portland Winterhawks in overall points, goals scored and fewer goals against across the regular season. Still, there's no denying that their likelihood of possibly wearing out Portland in a potential conference-final matchup — as the 2012 Edmonton Oil Kings and 2011 Kootenay Ice did in the past two championship series — is diminished without captain Colton Sissons.
Portland's chances of coming out of the conference were already outstanding to begin with, at least on paper. The Rockets went 8-2 across a 10-game stretch in December when the Nashville Predators-drafted forward had another injury that caused him to miss Canada's national junior team training camp. Kelowna is certainly balanced, but winning while Sissons is out with a left arm injury in the playoffs could be tougher than it was in the regular season.
From Warren Henderson:
The only way Sissons might see action again this season is if the Rockets advance as far as the Western Hockey League final or the Memorial Cup in May.
... "It's devastating," said Sissons, who scored 28 goals and 67 points in 61 games this season. "I thought the worst timing for an injury was around Christmas, but I think this one takes the cake because I believe so much in our team. We have something special in there, a team that could go all the way."
Still, thanks to the club's depth and leadership group, Sissons believes the Rockets—who won a franchise record 52 games this season—have what it takes to compete for a WHL title.
"I trust everybody on our team and we're lucky that we have that depth," Sissons said. "We have great leadership beyond myself, they're going take over and do a great job I know that, and everybody's going to step their game up to a whole new level, and they're capable of doing that." (Kelowna Capital News)
The optimistic take in the Okanagan is that the Rockets, who had six 20-goal scorers (and another eight players who reached double digits while not being used in offensive roles), have the depth to get by without their captain. That may very well be.
For the record, here's the game log from Sissons' previous absence in December:
— Dec. 1: 4-2 loss at Seattle
— Dec. 5: 6-5 win over Swift Current
— Dec. 8: 7-2 win over Prince George
— Dec. 11: 3-1 win at Kootenay
— Dec. 12: 3-1 win at Lethbridge
— Dec. 14: 5-2 win at Medicine Hat
— Dec. 15: 6-1 win at Red Deer
— Dec. 16: 6-2 loss at Calgary
— Dec. 27: 7-3 win over Kamloops
— Dec. 28: 5-3 win at Vancouver
It is a small sample that little should be read into either way. Since it's playoffs, though, one should chuck those results against the three non-playoff teams. Calgary is a contender in the deeper Eastern Conference and Swedish star Victor Rask wasn't with them in that Dec. 16 game, but it caught the Rockets at the end of a five-game road trip through Alberta. Kelowna did dominate Kamloops, its likely second-round opponent, during that stretch, but the Blazers had leading goal scorer JC Lipon away at the world junior championship (and Lipon's status for the start of the playoffs is murky).
More power to Kelowna if it pulls this off. It's possible this doesn't change the long odds of toppling the Winterhawks.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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