RIMOUSKI, Que. – Coach Ryan Huska wanted the Kelowna Rockets to soak up some Quebec culture during their five-day break at the MasterCard Memorial Cup, and what better place to start than a stop at a roadside diner for poutine?
So on their way to a zip-lining outing, the Rockets got to feast on hamburgers and the typically Quebec side dish of poutine _ a mix of french fries in gravy and cheese curd.
“It was awesome,” Huska said Friday. “It was just a small little place, barely enough room for our team in there, and there were three ladies in the kitchen.
“It was something our guys were all smiles about after.”
The Rockets clinched a berth in Sunday’s final by winning their first two games of the four-team tournament over Rimouski and Drummondville, and have not played since a 2-1 loss to Windsor in their final round-robin game on Tuesday.
That left the Western Hockey League champions idle for five days while the other clubs beat each other up in Thursday’s tie-breaker game and Friday’s semifinal.
The first day, the Rockets got out of town for some zip-lining, or aerial rope-sliding, but from the next day on, it has been practices, video sessions and other activities aimed at keeping them sharp for the final.
“There’s a few things in our games that we weren’t overly pleased with so we’ve worked on correcting those in practice,” added Huska. “Now it’s just making sure that our guys have a lot of energy and that their focus is on Sunday and nothing else.”
Huska said the first practice was long and intense but he is gradually cutting down the on-ice work as they approach the final.
A key with a long lay-off between games is keeping the players’ minds on the game.
“We spend the bulk of the day together, whether it’s at meals, practice or watching video, so they don’t have a ton of free time,” Huska said. “We also give them family time, which is important.
“They’ve grown up watching this tournament on TV and they know why they’re here and the opportunity they have.”
And he’s not worried about his team losing its edge. He said there was a seven-day break between taking the WHL title and the start of the Memorial Cup and his team was fine in its tournament-opening 4-1 win over the Rimouski Oceanic.
His players seem to be enjoying the break as well.
“Getting that first spot was huge,” said defenceman Tyler Myers. “It gives us time to let our bodies rest and get ready for Sunday.”
“It’s not too long,” added goaltender Mark Guggenberger. “There are always games at night so we try to watch those as a team, and we try to work on fundamentals at practice.
“It can work both ways. If you’re not productive with your time off it can come back to bite you. We’re just trying to stay focused and get ready for our next challenge.”