Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rockets Memorial Cup record safe

MVP Kelly Guard
The Kelowna Rockets set a Memorial Cup record in 2004 and it remains safe for yet another season.

The Rockets allowed three goals against in four games and ended up beating the Gatineau Olympiques in the championship final with a 2-1 win.

The record won't be threatened at this years tournament in Red Deer after the London Knights allowed two goals against last night in a 5-2 win over Rouyn Noranda.

The Knights, who advance to Sunday's final, have allowed five goals against in three games.

Kelly Guard (pictured) was the stabilizing force behind that Memorial Cup record and was subsequently named the MVP of the 10 day tournament.

The host team went 4 and 0 in the tournament, winning by scores of 1-0, 4-1, 2-1 and 2-1. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ice, Ice Baby!

Wayne Pansegrau: Heritage Classic in Calgary
Wayne Pansegrau has an odd fascination for ice.

It's that passion that has the Kelowna resident attending the Memorial Cup this week in Red Deer overlooking the crews making the ice surface for the 10 day tournament.

Pansegrau's company, Top Shelf Arena Services, is contracted out by the Canadian Hockey League to make sure the ice surface is at the top of it's game.

"We will come out and we will do a couple of scrapes and an edge and then a few floods, three or four floods. It's not really too hard. The games themselves, having one game a day, isn't too taxing on the surface. It is the practices on Thursday that will give this sheet it's greatest test."

Pansegrau says if the ice isn't good, the players will tell him about it.

"In a tournament like this you definitely hear about it whether it is good or bad. The biggest thing for ice and the quality of it is humidity. With no humidity, I don't see any issues with heavy snow on the ice or anything like that".     

Pansegrau's passion for making ice is well documented.

The Rutland Senior Secondary grad was a member of the ice crew at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and most recently participated in the 'Stadium Series' where an NHL regular season game is played outdoors.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Former WHL coach intrigued by Rockets vacancy

Jason Becker - Shoot the Breeze Photography
The list of potential candidates continues to grow for the vacant head coach position with the Kelowna Rockets.

The job was left vacant this week after general manager Bruce Hamilton and head coach Brad Ralph parted ways. 

Okanagan Hockey Academy Midget Varsity head coach Jason Becker is interested in the job.

Becker is no stranger to the Western Hockey League, spending four and a half seasons as an assistant with the Prince George Cougars from 2009 until 2014 before leaving the organization.

"The ability to communicate with the players is huge and figuring out the buttons you need to push with them and what you can't push. Being the person that makes them believe in what you are trying to sell them. You need to be a good salesman but you need to back it up".        
Becker is keenly aware of the Rockets track record and what has brought the team success over the years.
"It is a team that has created quite a culture over the last number of years. They know how to win and what it takes to win. A good coach is needed, but a good coach must understand what they have created there and what they continue to do", Becker added.
The 41 year-old has a strong resume, having represented Canada as a head coach at the Under 17 Hockey Challenge in 2013.

The team included WHL stars Joe Hicketts, Brayden Point and current Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mallette interested in vacant coaching position


Kris Mallette - Shoot the Breeze Photography
Kris Mallette believes he is ready to be a head coach in the Western Hockey League.

The assistant coach of the Kelowna Rockets admits he would be thrilled to take over the vacant head coaching duties with the team if given the opportunity.

Mallette is a strong candidate, considering he understood the expectations of the organization as a player and now as a coach.

"I think I have paid my dues. I did work my way up through minor hockey, junior 'B', Junior 'A' and now the WHL. You are coaching junior players. The message is the same. The X's and O's haven't changed. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here".  

Mallette played two seasons with the Rockets in the late 90's before being traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors to close out his junior career.

"This will be my eighth year coaching junior hockey players. You pick up good, bad, new things and old things. The biggest thing, the year we went to the Memorial Cup, I say it was three seasons in one. The expectations of winning were there and so that's where I think I grew most as a coach", Mallette added.
          
General Manager Bruce Hamilton has encouraged both Mallette and assistant coach Travis Crickard to apply for the job, which came open this week when the team parted ways with Brad Ralph.  

"I have had success over the years to be able to have guys that want to play for me just because of the relationships I have built with the guys off the ice and that they are not just hockey players and I treat them like a person".
 
A successor is expected to be named by the end of June.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Rockets/Rebels deal to get 11th overall selection

Rockets goalie prospect Roman Basran
  • The Kelowna Rockets made a bold move at the Western Hockey League bantam draft, one the team believes will pay off in the not so distant future. The Rockets, with an abundance of third round picks heading into Thurday's draft (4 in total), used one of them to move from 20th overall to 11th in the opening round. By trading a third round pick to Red Deer, who held the 11th overall pick, and giving the Rebels the 20th overall selection, the Rockets were able to move nine spots before drafting Yorkton, Saskatchewan born Kaedan Korczak. The 15 year-old (turned 15 in January) didn't play bantam hockey, but was a defenceman with the Yorkton Maulers of the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League this past season. Korczak is the first Saskatchewan born defenceman taken in the opening round of the bantam draft since Luke Schenn (Saskatoon) was taken in 2004. 
  • As bold of a move as plucking Korczak with the 11th overall pick, I sure liked Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey using a third rounder on a goalie. This may seem like a no brainer, but the Rockets traditionally do not take a goaltender this high in the draft. In fact they never have, outside of choosing Josh Lepp 4th overall in 2000. That pick didn't exactly go as planned as Lepp struggled throughout his career and was eventually traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors. Since then, Frey has been very apprehensive at taking a goalie early in the draft. But even an old dog can learn new tricks. Frey elected to take 14 year-old Delta, BC born goalie Roman Basran in the third round. Jackson Whistle was a third round pick, but he was chosen by the Vancouver Giants. The last significant goalie taken in that range of the bantam draft was Jordon Cooke, who was selected in the 4th round in 2008 and Kris Westblom, who was also taken in the 4th round in 2002. While 17 year-old Brodan Salmond is next in line after Michael Herringer to take over the number one goaltending duties with the Rockets, look for Basran to push Salmond for significant ice time in two years time.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rockets take defenceman in bantam draft

The Kelowna Rockets selected 15 year-old Kaeden Korczak (Core-zack), a defenceman out of Yorkton, Saskatchewan.  Korczak was taken 11th overall as the team elected to move up in the draft, dealing their first round pick and a third round selection to the Red Deer Rebels to pick Korczak.
The young defenceman played midget triple 'A' hockey this season as one of the youngest players in the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League.
"I wanted to develop more in my bantam draft year so we (family) thought it would be best rather than move away to play bantam hockey at a hockey school", Korczak told Swift Current Broncos broadcaster Shawn Mullin earlier this season. Is Korczak the next Luke Schenn? Hey, Schenn is a Saskatchewan born player and was a first round bantam pick (20th overall) in 2004.
Here's hoping!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Out of gas

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • It wasn't meant to be. After 186 games over the last two seasons, the Kelowna Rockets simply ran out of gas in a third round playoff series with the Seattle Thunderbirds. While being swept in four straight games in the Western Conference final, the team didn't quit and could have won game four. The Rockets had four chances (being fair, three as one was for 7 seconds) to score on the power play in overtime in game four and couldn't generate a goal. The T-Birds took two....two....too many men penalties in overtime and the visitors couldn't make them pay. I knew the Rockets fate was sealed when they didn't generate even a single shot on net on their 7th and final power play of the game. With T-Birds forward Andreas Schumacher in the penalty box for high sticking, fatigue was mounting for the defending WHL champions, who were playing in their 18th game of the 2016 playoffs. If manufacturing a goal with an extra skater wasn't going to happen, the chances were slim to none it would occur at even strength. The Rockets were just 2 for 17 in the series. In overtime, it looked like their spirit had been broken after letting a 4-2 lead slip away late in the third period.  
  • Let's give the T-Birds credit here. They battled back three times from two goal deficits. The Rockets led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 and the U.S Division champions wouldn't go away. With a 4-2 lead with 1:15 remaining in the third period, Seattle would strike for two goals in a span of 1:12. It was a game where the T-Birds were not about to be denied.
  • Who was the best T-Bird in the series? You couldn't help but notice Mathew Barzal, but I thought Edmonton Oilers draft pick Ethan Bear was terrific. Bear was hard on pucks, has an incredible shot from the blue line and knows when and when not to join the play. Having that one lethal skilled defenceman that can generate offense from the back end is something the Rockets didn't have on their roster. You really need one dynamic d-man to quarterback your power play. Will Cal Foote evolve into that? I would pencil Lucas Johansen in that slot, but he doesn't have a heavy shot that Foote used sparingly in his rookie season.  
  • 76. The number of shots faced by goaltender Michael Herringer in game four. Herringer answered all the naysayers in the Western Conference final that he indeed has the ability to be a starter in the WHL. Consistently, inconsistent in an opening round playoff series against Kamloops, Herringer got better and better as the playoffs went along. The 20 year-old goaltender, who with his strong player has to be almost a slam dunk to return as one of three overagers next season, made 30 saves in overtime alone. Herringer was named a star in 9 of the 18 playoff games.
  • Justin Kirkland and Cal Foote tied for the team lead in points in the series against Seattle with four. Kirkland found the back of the net three times and collected an assist. Foote has to be a surprise with four assists.      
  • Let's give this group of players a lot of credit for how hard they fought. Over the last two seasons, many of the core players had played in 186 games (regular season/playoff/Memorial Cup) and did so without first half MVP Jackson Whistle and last seasons leading scorer Nick Merkley. Despite losing those two key players and not adding to its roster at the trade deadline, the team was one of four standing when the Conference finals began. It was an impressive display of how committed they were to one another. They played hard for each other despite the cards being dealt against them. Two epic overtime game seven series showed this group was playing with pride. That shouldn't be forgotten. 
  • Let's be honest, the team limped into the playoffs and weren't exactly playing their best hockey. The team ended up with a record of 12-14-1-0 in their final 27 games (regular season/playoffs), so to think they made it as far as they did with that - win a game, lose a game formula - is mind boggling. Of those final 27 games, 17 were decided by a single goal, so it shows their was a fine line between winning and losing. 
  • Nineteen of the 23 players on the Rockets roster will return in 2016-2017. Can they make another long run towards the Western Conference championship series for a 4th consecutive season? I can't see why not. The team will also add Cal Foote's younger brother Nolan to the mix next season. Nolan Foote was the teams first selection in the 2015 WHL bantam draft.
  • The game four loss officially ended the WHL careers of Jackson Whistle, Tyson Baillie and Cole Linaker. All three leave as WHL champions. Baillie leaves as the highest scoring player in Kelowna Rockets playoff history and is third-all time in games played in a Rockets uniform. Baillie will go down as one of the best to ever wear Kelowna Rockets colours. Whistle and Linaker have committed to playing for the University of Alberta Golden Bears next season.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rockets on the ropes

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • The Kelowna Rockets need to start a four game winning streak. If they don't there season is over. The Seattle Thunderbirds pushed the Rockets to the edge of playoff elimination last night at ShoWare Center with a 3-1 win. It was another closely contested game where the T-Birds opened the scoring for a third straight game. Five stick infractions had the Rockets in a heap of trouble with Lucas Johansen taking a trip to the penalty box just 25 seconds into the game. The T-Birds could have buried their opponent right then and there but managed only one power play goal and a slim 1-0 lead at the first period buzzer.
  • Despite playing close to half of the opening period shorthanded, the Rockets tied the game when Justin Kirkland scored his 9th goal of the playoffs with a tremendous pass from line-mate Tyson Baillie. Kirkland made a nice backhand move to give the visitors renewed life as the two teams went into the second intermission tied at one. It marked the second straight game where the two were tied heading into the third period after skating to a 2-2 draw after 40 minutes in game two. It was Baillie's first point of the series. 
  • The Rockets puck luck hasn't materialized yet in this series. Not even once. Joe Gatenby and Cal Foote hit goal posts from point shots and Riley Stadel had two glorious chances to tie the game on a tremendous up ice rush. I thought Stadel had a great game considering the limited time he spends on the ice. Stadel likely would have scored had T-Birds goaltender Landon Bow not been at his best. It was clearly Bow's best game of the series. 
  • In limited minutes, I thought rookie defenceman Brayden Chizen played very well. The big man made smart plays with the puck, either skating quickly behind his own net to get away from pressure or sending the puck high in the air in an effort to get it out of the zone.   
  • Mathew Barzal had another strong game for the T-Birds. The New York Islanders draft pick set up Ethan Bear for the game winning goal just 58 seconds into the third period and then sealed the game with an empty netter. Barzal creates a lot of attention when he has the puck and the tendency is to over commit when he has it on his stick. In the game winning goal though, he was able to skate freely at the left face-off circle before hitting Ethan Bear with a pass at the right dot that appeared to beat Herringer through the legs. 
  • The crowd at ShoWare Center was at their absolute best. The atmosphere in that building was again tremendous. I especially like the second intermission when the fans turn their cell phone lights on and the song, 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond is played over the PA system. It is a sight to behold. 
  • The T-Birds have won 7 straight playoff games after losing game one to the Everett Silvertips in the second round. 
  • The Rocket do receive a boost in game four with captain Rodney Southam back in the line up after serving a two game suspension for a hit in game one. Southam will help considering his fresh legs will be put to good use in this elimination game. 
  • The Rockets are in a massive hole. That there is no debate. But if they could gut out a win in game four, what would that one win do to change the completion of this series? The Rockets haven't played a complete game in this series, yet surprisingly, are still within a razors edge of winning. I would love to see the Rockets win tonight to see how the T-Birds would react to some adversity of their own. As an outsider, it doesn't appear the U.S Division champions have faced any in this year's playoffs. I think it is time for the Rockets to stir the pot and get the T-Birds blood pressure up. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Rockets/T-Birds ready to go for game three

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: It is game three of the Western Conference Champions series as the Kelowna Rockets face the Seattle Thunderbirds. The T-Birds lead the best of seven series 2-0 after back-to-back 2-1 and 3-2 victories in game one and two. Game four is tomorrow night at ShoWare Centre with game five in Kelowna on Friday. This is the Kelowna Rockets third straight appearance in the Western Conference final. The Rockets eliminated the Portland Winterhawks in six games last season and were eliminated in five games by the Winterhawks in 2014. These two teams met in the WCC in 2003, with the Rockets winning in five games. During the regular season, these two teams met four times with the home team winning all four games.

Game Two Recap: Scott Eansor’s goal with just over 3 minutes left in regulation time proved to be the game winner in the T-Birds 3-2 win. Seattle built up a 2-0 lead before the Rockets roared back with goals from Cole Linaker and Rourke Chartier. The Rockets were 0 for 3 on the power play while the T-Birds were 1 for 2.  Michael Herringer made 27 saves in the loss.
Game One Recap: The Seattle Thunderbirds built up a 2-0 second period lead with goals :36 seconds apart in a 2-1 win. Mathew Barzal opened the scoring with a power play goals before Scott Eansor found the back of the net when his shot went off the skate of a defender. Rourke Chartier would find the back of the net to spoil Landon Bow’s shutout with a power play goal with :22 seconds left in regulation time. The Rockets and T-Birds were both 1 for 3 on the power play. The T-Birds out-shot the Rockets 29-24.

What we’ve learned so far: The T-Birds have opened the scoring in both games…Both opening goals of the game have come from Mathew Barzal on the power play…Scott Eansor has scored the second goal in both games…The T-Birds have held a 2-0 lead in both games before the Rockets have attempted to battle back…The T-Birds have led for all 120 minutes in this series…Seattle has had the lead in both games after 40 minutes…The Rockets are 1 for 6 on the power play in this series while the T-Birds are 2 for 5 with the extra man…The Rockets out-shot the T-Birds in game two. Seattle out-shot Kelowna in game one.

Broadcasters Notebook:  The Rockets lost the first two homes games against Seattle in the 2005 playoffs before winning the next two games on the road. The Rockets ended up winning that series on home ice in game seven…The Rockets are 8 and 8 in 16 playoff games. The team lost only three times in last year’s playoffs on its way to a WHL title…The most losses the team has ever suffered in a championship season was in 2005 when the team lost 8 times in 24 playoff games. The Rockets were 16 and 8 that playoff….The last WHL team to play in two-seven game playoff series before winning the WHL title was the Medicine Hat Tigers. In the 2007 post season, the Tigers eliminated the Red Deer Rebels in seven games in the opening round and then used seven games to dispose of Vancouver in the WHL championship series…Michael Herringer was absolutely brilliant in a second round playoff series with Victoria. The 20 year-old goaltender (in hockey age he is still 19) had a sparkling goals against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .927. In the four games Herringer won in round two, the Comox, BC residents goals against average was 1.97 with a save percentage of .937…..Goaltender Michael Herringer has been named a game star in 7 of the 15 playoff games. Herringer has been the first star (2), the second star (3) and the third star (2)….12 of the Rockets 16 games in this year’s playoffs have been decided by a single goal… The Rockets were involved in 8 – one goal games in last year’s playoffs…

Seasonal series: The Rockets beat Seattle 7-4 and 5-2 while the T-Birds were a 6-0 winner and earned a 2-0 shutout win at ShoWare Center. Justin Kirkland (2+3=5) and Tyson Baillie (1+4=5) led the Rockets with 5 points in the four games during the regular season. Rourke Chartier played in only three games but found the back of the net three times. Michael Herringer was 1-2-0-0 in the seasonal series with a goals against average of 4.03 and a save percentage of .894.

Hot as a Pistol: Justin Kirkland has goals in four of his last six games….The 19 year-old had six goals in a second round series win over Victoria…Kirkland has 16 career playoff goals…Rourke Chartier had 3+3=6 in the seven game series against Victoria including two goals in game five…Chartier has 26 career playoff goals…Tomas Soustal may be the biggest surprise in the 2016 post season. The second year forward has 5+7=12 points after recording just 4+2=6 in 19 playoff games in claiming the Ed Chynoweth Cup last season ….Tyson Baillie leads the team with not only 62 playoff games of experience, but also 26 goals and 60 career points. Baillie is the franchise leader in both goals and points in the WHL playoffs.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Chartier line doing heavy lifting

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • The 'Hockey God's' giveth. The 'Hockey God's' taketh away. The Kelowna Rockets found that out Saturday night in a heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds in game two of the Western Conference final. After stunning the Victoria Royals in a game seven improbable win, the defending WHL champions left Prospera Place with a similar feeling after a 3-2 setback. As fate would have it, goaltender Michael Herringer attempted to play a puck on his backhand at the side of the net in an effort to move it to the corner. With a slight hesitation, the puck would go off a hard charging Thunderbirds forecheck Scott Eansor and into the empty net. The goal came with just over three minutes left in regulation time and gave the T-Birds a one goal lead. It would stand up as the game winner. The miscue happened in a period where the Rockets were clearly the better team. They were carrying the play. You could sense the next goal was coming from the stick of the home team, igniting a crowd of over 6 thousand. Not as fast!
  • Clearly, game two was the best effort by the Rockets in the series. The team was able to battle back from a 2-0 deficit with goals from veterans Cole Linaker and Rourke Chartier. More on Chartier later. Despite surrendering the opening goal for a second consecutive game and giving up a second goal less than a minute later, the Rockets pushed the pace. The team had significantly more o-zone time than in game one and were equally as physical. Honestly, I thought they were smarter physically. The hit that Rourke Chartier applied on Ryan Gropp was outstanding. Both players fell to the ice but it showed Chartier's commitment to winning. Is that hit in itself not inspirational to his team-mates? Wow. 
  • Again Scott Eansor was the best forward on the ice with Rourke Chartier a darn close second. Why are these two players so noticeable? It's easy. They both work hard on every shift. Those two players have no give up in their game. Eansor is like an eight year old kid on Red Bull and buzzes everywhere. Chartier has the lung capacity of a long distance runner and never relents. Mathew Barzal will get much of the media attention, for which much is deserved, considering he is an elite talent. That said, Eansor and Chartier, for my money, have been the two most consistent forwards for either team throughout 120 minutes of this Western Conference final.
  • Where is this series being won or lost? With the Chartier line going against the Mathew Barzal unit, no excuses can being given for the Kirkland/Baillie/Dube trio. They are finding themselves playing against Scott Eansor, Donovan Volcan and Donovan Neuls. Is that T-Birds unit outperforming Kirkland/Baillie/Dube? Let's look deeper. Eansor/Neuls/Volcan have 3 goals and 3 assists in this series. Kirkland/Baillie and Dube have combined for 1 assist. During the regular season, Eansor/Neuls/Volcan combined to score 42 goals. Kirkland/Baillie/Dube found the back of the net 100 times. See a problem here? 
  • Let's don't forget what Chartier and his line is attempting to accomplish in this series. They are attempting to keep Barzal and his unit in check. They have done a great job. Sure, Barzal has two goals in this series, but both have come on the power play with terrific seeing eye wrist shots. Chartier is committing to playing defense while also contributing on the score sheet at the other end of the ice. How about his 2-2 goal in the second period? What an unbelievable pass by team-mate Tomas Soustal and what a terrific finish by Chartier.      
  • Despite Herringer's miscue for the game winner, lets not forget the right pad save he made on Matthew Wedman in the second period to keep the score 2-1. I have great faith in Herringer and my sense is his team-mates share the same mindset. The good news is Herringer has experienced what it is like to surrender a goal that could be crippling mentally and has been able to bounce back. Why would it be any different now? Showing mental fortitude is the making of a great goaltender, not a good one. 
  • The Rockets have had a shot go off Cal Foote in game one that results in a goal. Herringer has a puck go off Scott Eansor in game two. Isn't it time for a favourable bounce to go there way? Victoria Royals fans will shout out - NOPE! T-Birds fans will nod their head in agreement. 
  • I think we need to give some praise to the young Rockets d-core, who continue to improve and execute. Pressured beyond belief in a second round series with Victoria, this unit has made some smart plays with the puck and have played awfully good in their own end of the ice. Don't forget the T-Birds have two 20 year-old's on the blue line. The Rockets don't have any. This group is making huge strides in this lengthy playoff and will be a group that other teams say, 'Wow', in years to come.  
  • A nice response from Kole Lind in game two. While I didn't like his penalty, I did like his contribution when pencilled in with Chartier and Soustal. 
  • I think Tanner Wishnowski is putting in some solid minutes. Despite limited ice time, Wishnowski is hitting people and buzzing around the T-Bird net.  
  • Discipline. Discipline. Discipline.  It has to be better. It reared its ugly head again in game two. Calvin Thurkauf's cross check. Kole Lind's slash and Tyson Baillie's high sticking penalty can't happen. I am sorry, but it can't. Self control is paramount at this time of the year. This isn't game #33 in Prince George. I didn't like any of the three penalties. Suck it up and play smart.  
  • I would sure like to see how the game would unfold if the Rockets opened the scoring or played with the lead. We have yet to see that in the first two games with Mathew Barzal opening up the scoring. But again, both of those goals have been on the power play. Show discipline early and force the T-Birds to generate a goal even strength.   
  • The Rockets were down 0-2 in a second round playoff series to Victoria and bounced back winning three in a row. 
  • The Rockets lost a heart breaker in game two of an opening round series against Kamloops when Ryan Rehill scored with 5 seconds left in regulation time. The team bounced back in game three, in Kamlooops, winning 1-0. 
  • The Rockets are 2 and 0 in game three's in this years playoffs. 
  • In the 2005 playoff series between the Rockets and T-Birds, the road team won the first two games before the Rockets won the next two. Both wins for Seattle at Prospera Place were 2-1 and 3-2. That is the exact same scores in 2005. Crazy eh? The Rockets would win that series in seven games. 
  • The Rockets played the game without captain Rodney Southam who was suspended for a hit on T-Birds forward Cavin Leth in game one. No word on the length of the suspension. We should get word Monday on the length. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rockets drop opener on home ice

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Rodney Southam missed what appeared to be a wide open net in the first period of a scoreless tie Friday night between the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds. The 19 year-old may also miss playing time if he is slapped with a WHL suspension. Southam took a run at T-Birds penalty killer Cavin Leth in the third period, receiving a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct. Leth left the game woozy and never returned as the T-Birds went on to a 2-1 win in game one of the Western Conference Championship series. League disciplinarian Richard Doerksen was in the building and had a birds eye view of the infraction. We will know before game two on Saturday if the Rockets captain is in or out of the line up for the rematch.
  • The T-Birds erupted for two goals :36 seconds apart late in the second period and then nursed the lead until the final buzzer. Mathew Barzal opened the scoring on a power play goal when Tyson Baillie was accessed a goaltender interference penalty. Without question it was interference by Baillie, but prior to the 20 year-old being fingered to the penalty box, the T-Birds could have easily been called for interference. Baillie split between two defenceman in an effort to chase down a loose puck that was rolling just inside the Seattle zone. No call was made and Baillie made contact with goaltender Landon Bow. The T-Birds scored on the power play and it is 1-0 for the visitors. Scott Eansor made it 2-0 just :36 seconds later when his low shot at the right circle hit defenceman Cal Foote in the skate and it went into the net. 
  • Despite trailing 2-0, on this night it seemed too tough a hill to climb for the home team. Manufacturing just 7 scoring chances through 60 minutes, much of the zone time resulted in shots from the perimeter. The majority, if not all, were 'one and done' shot attempts on Seattle goaltender Landon Bow. The 20 year-old was given the first star in the building for his efforts, but that was gracious on behalf of the selection committee. It was a easy night for Bow, who's best stop came in the second period against Riley Stadel with a nice glove hand save. Stadel backhanded the puck on goal from in-tight from the near post with Bow snaring it with his trapper as the puck was sent to his left. Stadel was among the leaders with three shots on goal. 
  • The best player on the ice? T-Birds Scott Eansor by a country mile in my opinion. Eansor, all 5 foot 8 of him, had great energy, made a nice move on a defender for his goal and came close to scoring an empty netter late in the third period. It is hard to believe the just turned 20 year-old had only 12 goals this season. Eansor was the best forward and I thought 18 year-old Turner Ottenbreit was really good on the blue-line. Ottenbreit led all T-Birds players in ice time with just over 30 minutes.
  • Who was the Rockets best player? When it is tough for me to answer that question, it isn't a very good sign. I thought everyone was average at best. No one individual stood out. Usually it is easy to point to goaltender Michael Herringer, but honestly, the 20 year-old didn't have to make any highlite reel saves. Early in the game, the Rockets shot blocking was near perfect so Herringer didn't see many quality chances. Don't get me wrong, Herringer was steady in the loss but did not have to be spectacular. No five alarm saves were needed unlike what we witnessed in a second round series against Victoria.
  • My biggest concern is scoring, or a lack-thereof from Tyson Baillie and Dillon Dube. They are just too quiet for me right now. Justin Kirkland is generating all the offense on that line. The only encouraging sign was that trio generated six shots on net with Dube firing three pucks on goal.  
  • I am not sure how the T-Birds viewed their performance in game one, but if they think they played well, then we have ourselves a series. Outside of a solid first period, the Rockets were very underwhelming. That said, they only lost by a goal and surrendered 12 scoring chances against. Again, it was the lack of scoring chances at the other end of the ice that needs to change for the team to earn a win in game two. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rockets/T-Birds clash for Western Conference supremacy

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to the Western Conference final. This is the Kelowna Rockets third straight appearance. The Rockets eliminated the Portland Winterhawks in six games last season and were eliminated in five games by the Winterhawks in 2014. The Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds are meeting in game one of a best of seven Western Conference Championship series. These two teams met in the WCC in 2003, with the Rockets winning in five games. One game in that series went to double overtime with the T-Birds Tyler Metcalfe winning it. These two teams last met in the post season in 2014. The Rockets eliminated the T-Birds in four straight games in a second round series. The Rockets have five (excluding injuries to Jackson Whistle and Nick Merkley) while the T-Birds have 7 players still on their roster from the 2014 playoff series. During the regular season, these two teams met four times with the home team winning all four games. Game one and two are in Kelowna tonight and tomorrow with games three and four in Seattle/Kent on Tuesday (April 26) and Wednesday (April 27). Game five is back in Kelowna Friday April 29th.

Looking Closer: The Rockets beat Seattle 7-4 and 5-2 while the T-Birds were a 6-0 winner and earned a 2-0 shutout win at ShoWare Center. Justin Kirkland (2+3=5) and Tyson Baillie (1+4=5) led the Rockets with 5 points in the four games during the regular season. Rourke Chartier played in only three games but found the back of the net three times. Michael Herringer was 1-2-0-0 in the seasonal series with a goals against average of 4.03 and a save percentage of .894. Mathew Barzal led the T-Birds attack with 7 points (4+3=7) in four games. Scott Eansor and Ethan Bear each chipped in with 6 points apiece. Both power plays were just average. The Rockets were just 2 for 13 while the T-Birds were 3 for 17.  

Broadcasters Notebook: Michael Herringer was absolutely brilliant in a second round playoff series with Victoria. The 20 year-old goaltender (in hockey age he is still 19) had a sparkling goals against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .927. In the four games Herringer won in round two, the Comox, BC residents goals against average was 1.97 with a save percentage of .937. ..These two teams just don’t make many trades with one another. The last of significance was a one-for-one deal in November of 2005 when the Rockets dealt 20 year-old goalie Derek Yeomans to the T-Birds for 20 year-old defenceman Clayton Barthel. The two teams also made a deal in 2000 when the Rockets obtained Paul Hurd for a 4th and 6th round bantam pick…. Goaltender Michael Herringer has been named a game star in 7 of the 13 playoff games. Herringer has been the first star (2), the second star (3) and the third star (2)….10 of the Rockets 14 games in this year’s playoffs have been decided by a single goal… The Rockets were involved in 8 – one goal games in last year’s playoffs…The most memorable playoff series between the Rockets and T-Birds was in 2013 when Seattle won the first-three games games before the Rockets roared back with four straight victories. Five of those seven games that season went into overtime…The T-Birds team is built on the players drafted in the 2012 WHL bantam draft. Mathew Barzal (1st round), Keegan Kolesar (1st round) and Ethan Bear (2nd round) headline the list. The Rockets chose Nick Merkley in the 1st round in that draft, Joe Gtenby in the second round and Lucas Johansen in the 6th round. ..The Rockets are the only team from the four that competed at the 2015 Memorial Cup that are still alive in the playoffs. Quebec, Rimouski and Oshawa have all been eliminated.

Hot as a Pistol: Justin Kirkland has goals in four straight playoff games. The 19 year-old had six goals in a second round series win over Victoria…Kirkland has 16 career playoff goals…Rourke Chartier had 3+3=6 in the seven game series against Victoria including two goals in game five…Chartier has 24 career playoff goals…Tomas Soustal may be the biggest surprise in the 2016 post season. The second year forward has 5+6=11 points after recording just 4+2=6 in 19 playoff games in claiming the Ed Chynoweth Cup last season ….Tyson Baillie leads the team with not only 60 playoff games of experience, but also 26 goals and 60 career points. Baillie is the franchise leader in both goals and points in the WHL playoffs.

Incredible Comeback: It will go down as the greatest single game comeback in Kelowna Rockets playoff history. Tuesday night in Victoria, Justin Kirkland tied the game with a goal with .2 seconds left in regulation time and then Calvin Thurkauf scored at the 5:56 mark of overtime in a game seven 3-2 victory over the Victoria Royals. It marked the third straight game where the home team won, but the first time the Rockets won a playoff game (1-5) after trailing after 40 minutes. It also marked the first time in franchise history that the team was forced to play back-to-back game 7’s in overtime after eliminating Kamloops in round one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Epic comeback realized

Jon Howe Photo
Epic series. Epic win.
I have seen many things in my 21 years in the Western Hockey League. This will go down as one of the most memorable comebacks in Kelowna Rockets franchise history.
It may trump 'Tyson Time, Tyson Baillie's game winning goal in the 2013 playoffs when the Rockets lost the first three games to Seattle only to win the next four in advancing to the second round. As dramatic of a comeback bid that it was against the T-Birds, you could prepare yourself emotionally as the momentum appeared to change hands.
In the Rockets second round series against Victoria, and in game seven the way it went down, no one could prepare you for that end result.
With only four Kelowna Rockets scoring chances through the first-two periods, the Royals looked like they were on their way to a game clinching playoff win. With a 2-1 lead and a capacity crowd of 7 thousand on their feet in the dying seconds, goaltender Michael Herringer was pulled in an effort to find the equalizing goal. But it was too late right? The 'Hockey God's' don't reward a team for lacklustre play through 2/3's of the game?
Hold the phone!!
It was painful to see the puck tied up in the corner in the Royals zone as the clock quickly wound down. Then, out of nowhere, the puck popped loose and landed on 20 year-old Logan Fisher's stick. The Royals forward was unable to clear it past rookie defenceman Cal Foote, who was situated at the right point. Foote, with ice in his veins wouldn't shoot it, but passed it to team-mate Justin Kirkland who wired a shot past Royals goaltender Coleman Vollrath with .2 seconds remaining in regulation time.
Game tied 2-2.
We were off to overtime.
Then in extra time, Calvin Thaurkauf, who had not scored in 13 previous playoff games, would fire a puck, on a broken play at the right face-off circle, through the legs of Vollrath and the improbable comeback was realized.
Again, it will go down, single handily, as the greatest comeback in a single game in Kelowna Rockets franchise history.
I'm just glad I was in the building to witness it and behind the mic to call it.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

For dramatic effect, we go to game 7

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Michael Herringer was excellent. The team in front of him? Not so much. Herringer kept the game close in the Kelowna Rockets 3-2 home ice loss Sunday night at Prospera Place. The Victoria Royals played with the desperation that is expected of a team facing playoff elimination. The Royals worked hard in the one goal win, which could have been a greater margin of victory had Herringer been just average. Fact is Herringer, who is the MVP for this round no matter how game seven unfolds, is getting better as this series goes on. The quiet as a mouse goalie who the local media attempt to get words out of during post game interviews, is making a massive bid to return to the team next season as one of three 20 year-old's. Herringer was named the second star, but was clearly the best player on the ice.
  • As much as the Royals deserve credit for the determined effort, the Rockets just didn't have it going on. After a good push in the first 5 minutes of the opening period, the team unravelled in several areas. The biggest thing I saw was mental fatigue. Uncharacteristic decisions with and without the puck were common place. When a penalty killer has a chance to clear the puck down the ice at his own blue line but elects to dump it back into his own corner of the ice, what does that tell you about the mental approach and decision making that went on in game six? I really believe puck management, or a lack-there-of was one reason why the Royals looked so good and the Rockets played their worst game of the series.
  • Far too many penalties. The Rockets took 7 of them, many that are unnecessary at this time of the year. While several were undisciplined infractions, I believe mentally fatigue, again, played a significant factor. The Royals have been awarded 12 power play chances in the last two games. Fans will say the officiating has been awful, but that's a load of crap. Can I say 'crap' on this blog? People think this blog is a load of crap, so I think it's ok. Thank goodness the penalty killing unit has been so good or a game seven wouldn't be needed to decide a winner in this series.
  • Royals leading scorer Alex Forsberg was hit hard by Rockets forward Calvin Thurkauf in the third period and appeared to hurt his ankle or knee. The 21 year-old, who had 91 points in 71 regular season games, likely won't play in game seven. 
  • If I'm the Rockets, you put this game behind you and move on. Clearly you weren't very good. In a one game showdown, anything can happen and you have to lean on experience and the things you did right to earn three wins in this series. Look back at the Rockets opening round series and a 4-0 loss to the Blazers in game six. You put that game to bed and look forward to the next one. That is exactly what the defending champions must do if they want to move on to the Western Conference final for a third consecutive season.  
  • I believe the Rockets can win in Victoria for a second time in this series. They have played well in all three games on the Island. Eliminate the mental mistakes, stay out of the box and play with determination and they can earn a game seven victory for a second consecutive playoff series.  
  • The Rockets last won a game seven on the road in 2010. Mark Guggenberger was the first star that night in a 2-1 win against the Everett Silvertips. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Road team 'Rockets' to victory

Photo courtesy: Jon Howe/Victoria Royals
  • Revenge is sweet. Just ask Tyson Baillie. The 20 year-old forward scored the game winning goal Friday night in the Kelowna Rockets 4-1 win over the Victoria Royals. The goal came after stealing the puck from Royals marquee defenceman Joe Hicketts inside the blue line and scoring on a misplayed deek, yet the puck found its way past goaltender Coleman Vollrath.  Baillie’s apparent ‘kicked in’ goal didn’t count in game two, here in Victoria, so justice was served with Baillie’s winner in game five. The Rockets have now won three straight games and lead the series 3-2 in this best of seven affair. Game six is Sunday in Kelowna.
  • I could have envisioned the start before the puck was even dropped in game five. The Royals came out guns a blazing in an effort to stop a two game losing streak and the Rockets looked slow and road weary. How could they not? While both teams faced the same type of travel, the Royals are accustomed to it. The Rockets are not. Playing on game day after a huge amount of travel is foreign territory. That is what makes the road win even that much more impressive. 
  • Michael Herringer should have been the first star. The veteran goaltender, who is still wet behind his ears because of his lack of big game experience, was the reason why his team was able to win. Herringer did what good goalies do. He gave his team a chance to find their footing with several solid first period stops. The Royals out-shot the Rockets 10-2 in the opening 20 minutes.
  • The game seemed to turn in the second period. The Royals must have been shocked to be carrying the play only to see the Rockets score the opening goal. If that didn’t damper their spirits, a ferocious penalty killing unit was nothing short of outstanding in limiting the home team to perimeter puck movement, with few good looks on five extra man chances. I thought the battle level of every penalty killer was excellent. Getting into shooting lanes was common place. One that stands out was a slap shot from Joe Hicketts at the Rockets blue line that hit defender Cole Linaker right in the shin pad and the 20 year-old didn’t even flinch.  The commitment to sacrifice the body and win board battles was as good as I’ve seen this season. Honestly, I have not seen that sacrifice this season up until now. It must be the playoffs.
  • Four words. Rodney Southam was outstanding. The score sheet won’t show it. Winning pucks and playing desperation hockey to clear the zone was uncanny.
  • Third period lock down. Is that what we call it? The Rockets third period was as good a road period  as I’ve witnessed. Chipping pucks deep, taking time off the clock with excellent puck management and just battling for possession didn’t allow the Royals a ‘sniff’ (Saskatchewan terminology) in an effort to produce a comeback before a capacity crowd of over 7 thousand. As an observer, it just felt like the Rockets were in control and a flurry at the end wasn’t about to happen. It didn’t. Even with Vollrath on the bench, the Royals just couldn’t get it going against a team that looks determined.
  • Speaking of Vollrath, does Royals head coach Dave Lowry make a goaltending change in game six? Not like Vollrath has been bad, but he has lost three in a row. You may remember he replaced Vollrath with Griffen Outhouse in game four of a first round playoff series with Spokane. Outhouse closed out the series. Or is that a sign of panic? Lowry is a bold coach. Let’s see if he makes the bold move or stays the course Sunday night.   
  • I said it on the pre-game show, my belief was if the Rockets were to win a game in Victoria, game five was the one to get. The speedy Royals would likely have a good push early but would fade with travel fatigue and the fact both teams were playing their third game in four nights. It was all about gutting it out and showing that past playoff battle experience is a valuable accessory in your tool belt. Everyone talks about championship pedigree. It is great to have if you use it.  Are the Rockets finally putting that trump card on the table in the most crucial time of the season?
  • Are the Rockets out of the woods in this series? Not a chance. As impressive as a three game winning streak and digging out of a 0-2 deficit in this series, it can come crashing down in the blink of an eye. Any miss step against a team that won 50 games during the regular season and the defending champions season will come plummeting to the ground. Now is not the time to let off the gas. If the Rockets truly have the ‘killer instinct’, they will show their true colours Sunday in a crucial game six for both teams. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rockets attempting to make it a best of 3

Shoot the Breeze Photography 
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals meet tonight in game four of this best of seven Western Conference semi-final series. The Royals lead the series 2 games to 1 after a 2-1 win in game one, a 3-2 victory in game two before the Rockets turned the table with a 3-2 game three win. Game five is Friday in Victoria. These two teams met last season in the second round with the Rockets winning in five games. These two teams met eight times during the regular season with the Rockets winning three games. Two of those three wins came in Victoria. Conversely, The Royals won three times at Prospera Place in Kelowna.

Game Three Recap: Rourke Chartier had a goal and two assists in the Rockets 3-2 win. Tomas Soustal scored the game winner at the midway point of the third period. Michael Herringer made 30 saves and was named the second star. The Rockets were 1 for 3 on the power play while the Royals were 0 for 3. The Rockets out-shot the Royals 38-32.
Game Two Recap: Jack Walker was credited with two goals in the Royals 3-2 win. Walker scored a power play goal to open the scoring and his shot appeared to go off the stick of Alex Forsberg in the third period, also on the power play, yet Walker was given the goal. The Rockets found the back of the net courtesy of Tyson Baillie and Justin Kirkland. The Rockets were 1 for 4 on the power play while the Royals were 2 for 4 with the extra man. The Rockets out-shot the Royals 28-26.
Game One Recap: Dante Hannoun scored the game winning goal at the 1:25 mark of the second period in the Victoria Royals 2-1 win. Jack Walker opened the scoring four minutes into the first period before Tyson Baillie scored his first goal of the playoffs to tie the score at one after the opening 20 minutes. The Rockets were 0 for 4 on the power play but were 4 for 4 on the penalty kill. The Rockets out-shot the Royals 41-31.

Common Trends: The team that has opened the scoring has won all three games…The team leading after 40 minutes has won all three games…The Rockets have out-shot the Royals in all three games…Michael Herringer has started all three games in goal for the Rockets while Coleman Vollrath has started all three games in this series for the Royals…The home team has won every game in this playoff series…This is the 12th meeting between the two teams this season.

Broadcasters Notebook: Goaltender Michael Herringer has been named a game star in five of the ten playoff games. Herringer has been the first star (2), the second star (2) and the third star (1)….Seven of the Rockets 10 games in this year’s playoffs have been decided by a single goal… The Rockets were involved in 8 – one goal games in last year’s playoffs…When was the last time the Rockets lost the first two games of a playoff series? It was in 2013 in a second round series with the Kamloops Blazers. The team would drop back-to-back games at home before being swept in back-to-back games on the road…When was the last time the Rockets dropped the first two games of a playoff series only to bounce back and win a best of seven affair? The team lost the first three games against Seattle in 2013 only to win four consecutive games.

How did we get here: The Rockets advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs with a thrilling game seven - 2-1 overtime victory vs. the Kamloops Blazers. Tomas Soustal scored the game winner at the 7:07 mark of overtime. The team that scored the first goal won 6 of the 7 games in a series which featured three shutouts. It marked the 8th time in franchise history the Rockets have been forced to a game seven and it was the third consecutive win in dramatic game seven fashion.  It was the first time the Rockets and Blazers were involved in a game seven finale. In total, the Rockets and Blazers played in 17 games against one another this season (8 in regular season, 7 in playoffs and 2 in pre-season).

The Matchup: The Royals earned the WHL regular season title and BC Division crown with 106 points this season. The Rockets had 100 points. The Royals had 50 wins. The Rockets had 48 victories. The Rockets had 27 home ice wins, one better than Victoria. The Rockets played in 28-one goal games (20-4-4-0) while the Royals were only involved in 19 (8-5-3-3). The Rockets leading point producers against the Royals during the regular season was Justin Kirkland (4+3=7) and Dillon Dube (4+1=5). Michael Herringer was 2-4-0-0 in six appearances with a goals against average of 4.13.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Physical approach produces favourable result


Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Gut check time. The Kelowna Rockets passed the test. Needing a massive win in game three of their second round playoff series with the Victoria Royals Tuesday night, the defending WHL champions delivered. Playing with determination and physicality, the team's best player - Rourke Chartier - was in on all three goals in a heart palpitating 3-2 win. Instead of being down 3 games to 0, the series is now 2-1 Victoria. The Rockets have a chance to make it a best of three series with a win in game four tomorrow night at Prospera Place.
  • Michael Herringer made several timely saves in the one goal win. Herringer made a breakaway stop on Royals forward Jack Walker in the second period that gave me a good indicator that he was indeed dialled in. Royals netminder Coleman Vollrath also had to be very good as the Rockets created significantly more quality opportunities on goal. Had either goaltender been average, it could have been a 6-5 final. 
  • I have to give high praise to Cole Linaker for his significantly improved play in game three. Linaker was put to the test late in the game and came through in flying colours against arguably the best face-off man in the Western Conference - Logan Fisher. Linaker won several defensive zone face-offs when the Royals pulled the goaltender for the extra attacker. 
  • Calvin Thurkauf was a horse. The 18 year-old punished every opposing player he confronted and led the hit parade with Tanner Wishnowski. What I liked most about those two players, specifically, was their ability to hit hard, but hit clean.
  • I say little about Devante Stephens on this blog, but his speed really stood out last night. The second year d-man made a high risk decision to break up a possible 2-1 in the second period by racing to a loose puck in the neutral zone and broke up the play with his tremendous speed. The speed he possesses can also get his team out of trouble when the Royals apply a relentless fore-check.
  • Speaking of defenceman. Yes, Cal Foote failed to clear the puck on the 3-2 goal, but Foote has the physical girth needed when you are protecting the lead.  You need that big body presence, net front, with the opposition banging away in a desperate effort to score. Foote logs massive minutes and is playing against an elite forward group in this series. What a great pass to Rourke Chartier on the 2-0 goal. What a learning experience for him and rookie blue liners Gordie Ballhorn and Jonathan Smart. I really like Ballhorn. Ballhorn has a massive shot from the blue line and makes hard passes. If the recipient can't handle it, at least it exits the zone with velocity. How about Ballhorn's shot blocking. Wow!     
  • The Rockets d-men have to be prepared. Put your head on a swivel. For the first time in this series, I really noticed one Royals forward sneaking/cheating behind the Rockets defence for a long pass. Jack Walker was often seen skating just outside the offensive blue line awaiting a long pass. 
  • The Rockets need to clean up their neutral zone work. The number of times the puck was turned over in that area resulting in odd man rushes, which the Royals feasted upon. Puck management needs to improve significantly in that area of the ice. 
  • I like the line of Rourke Chartier, Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf.  That line must not change. Chartier needs line-mates that work as hard as him but play with a high skill set.   
  • It was nice to see Dillon Dube score. He has to be a difference maker in this series for the Rockets to succeed. I wish he would shoot more and shoot lower. How did he score his power play goal? Oh ya, funny that it was on the ice. Make Vollrath make a save!!
  • I hate to bring this up, but the Royals are extremely adept at fall down easily or grabbing their mouths as if they were high sticked in the face. It is called embellishment. Tip of the hat to referee Mark Pearce for making an embellishment call when Royals d-man Joe Hicketts went down softly in a battle with Calvin Thurkauf in front of the net. Video made it look comical as Hicketts went down easily on an apparent cross check from Thurkauf.  Pearce wasn't buying it. Good on the officials for keeping the integrity of the game intact.
  • Speaking of the officials, nothing gives me more joy than when off setting minor penalties are handed out when two players are jostling. Why give out only one penalty? Off setting penalties keep the game under control and allow the two team's to decide the game even strength. Bitch and complain all you want about the officiating, I don't think it is that bad. As I mentioned in game two, the call on the ice was correct. The officials are making the right call more times than not.  
  • The Rockets opening the scoring and are now 5-1 when doing so in the playoffs. 
  • The team that scores first has won all three games and the home team has won all three times.   

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rockets/Royals game notes

Kevin Light photo
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals meet tonight in game three of this best of seven Western Conference semi-final series. The Royals lead the series 2-0 after a 2-1 win in game one, Thursday night, and a 3-2 victory in game two on Saturday. These two teams met last season in the second round with the Rockets winning in five games. These two teams met eight times during the regular season with the Rockets winning three games. Two of those three wins came in Victoria. Conversely, The Royals won three times at Prospera Place in Kelowna. After tonight, the series continues with game four, Thursday, at Prospera Place with game five in Victoria on Friday.

Game Two Recap: Jack Walker was credited with two goals in the Royals 3-2 win. Walker scored a power play goal to open the scoring and his shot appeared to go off the stick of Alex Forsberg in the third period, also on the power play, yet Walker was given the goal. The Rockets found the back of the net courtesy of Tyson Baillie and Justin Kirkland. The Rockets were 1 for 4 on the power play while the Royals were 2 for 4 with the extra man. The Rockets out-shot the Royals 28-26.
Game One Recap: Dante Hannoun scored the game winning goal at the 1:25 mark of the second period in the Victoria Royals 2-1 win. Jack Walker opened the scoring four minutes into the first period before Tyson Baillie scored his first goal of the playoffs to tie the score at one after the opening 20 minutes. The Rockets were 0 for 4 on the power play but were 4 for 4 on the penalty kill. The Rockets out-shot the Royals 41-31.

Broadcasters Notebook: How important is it for the Rockets to open the scoring? They have lost all four games when the opponent finds the scoreboard firstWhen was the last time the Rockets lost the first two games of a playoff series? It was in 2013 in a second round series with the Kamloops Blazers. The team would drop back-to-back games at home before being swept in back-to-back games on the road…The Rockets have just three power play goals in the 2016 post season. In other words, the Rockets have failed to score a power play goal in seven of its nine playoff games…When was the last time the Rockets dropped the first two games of a playoff series only to bounce back and win a best of seven affair? The team lost the first three games against Seattle in 2013 only to win four consecutive games….Former Kelowna Rockets goaltender Kristofer Westblom is competing in the Allan Cup, the Canadian Senior Men’s Senior AAA Hockey Championship this week in Steinbach, Manitoba. Westblom is playing for the lle-des-Chenes (pronounced: Eel-de-shane) North Stars, which is a community 28 kilometers southeast of Winnipeg. Joining Westblom on the North Stars is former Brandon Wheat Kings and Spokane Chiefs defenceman Reid Gow……In Michael Herringer’s four wins in the opening round, the 20 year-old posted a goals against average of 0.73 and a save percentage of .977…Tomas Soustal and Tyson Baillie leads the Rockets in playoff points with 6 apiece

How did we get here: The Rockets advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs with a thrilling game seven - 2-1 overtime victory vs. the Kamloops Blazers. Tomas Soustal scored the game winner at the 7:07 mark of overtime. The team that scored the first goal won 6 of the 7 games in a series which featured three shutouts. It marked the 8th time in franchise history the Rockets have been forced to a game seven and it was the third consecutive win in dramatic game seven fashion.  It was the first time the Rockets and Blazers were involved in a game seven finale. In total, the Rockets and Blazers played in 17 games against one another this season (8 in regular season, 7 in playoffs and 2 in pre-season).

The Matchup: The Royals earned the WHL regular season title and BC Division crown with 106 points this season. The Rockets had 100 points. The Royals had 50 wins. The Rockets had 48 victories. The Rockets had 27 home ice wins, one better than Victoria. The Rockets played in 28-one goal games (20-4-4-0) while the Royals were only involved in 19 (8-5-3-3). The Rockets leading point producers against the Royals during the regular season was Justin Kirkland (4+3=7) and Dillon Dube (4+1=5). Michael Herringer was 2-4-0-0 in six appearances with a goals against average of 4.13.

Number Crunching This is the Rockets 82nd game of the season….Devante Stephens is the only Rockets player to dress in every game this season…Tyson Baillie has 25+34=59 in 55 career playoff games…Cole Linaker is next with 53 playoff games under his belt…Tyler Mosienko is the franchise leader in playoff games played with 81. Mosienko had 55 points in those 81 games.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Suck it up buttercup

  • We've had ample time to dissect and ingest what happened in game two's 'no-goal' that went off the skate of Kelowna Rockets forward Tyson Baillie. Let's move on. Bitching and complaining won't solve the dilemma the team is in. Only a win in game three will do that. Look at how the Rockets rallied in game three of an opening round playoff series against Kamloops. After surrendering a 3-1 third period lead and watching in disbelief as the Blazers scored four goals in the third period, including the game winner with five seconds remaining in regulation time, it's another indicator that obstacles will get in your way. It is how you deal with them that makes a long playoff run so rewarding. 
  • Let's be honest, the Rockets could have avoided that entire scenario in game two had they played with more passion, intensity and emotion earlier in the game. Why wait until you are down by two goals with 9 minutes left in the game before finally taking it to the next level? For whatever reason, it has been a common theme with this team all season long. 
  • Positives? Tyson Baillie seems to have found his groove again. The 20 year-old had a goal and an assist in the game two loss and had a glorious chance to tie the game, not once but twice, when he was denied by the right pad of Royals goaltender Coleman Vollrath in the dying stages of game two. Baillie also won several key draws late in the game, none better than his clear face-off win for a quick shot from Justin Kirkland that made the score 3-2. 
  • Where has Cole Linaker gone? Pointless in 7 straight playoff games, the 20 year-old doesn't need to have a multiple point night, but he can't be invisible on the ice. In round one, Linaker was able to hit the crossbar no less than twice and made Blazers goaltender Connor Ingram make a solid save.
  • The Rockets had just 8 scoring chances in game two. They usually average 15 per game. Against Kamloops they average 20 scoring chances per game. While Coleman Vollrath has been steady in this series, the Rockets need to generate more quality chances on the 20 year-old goalie. 
  • It would be interesting to see the Rockets play with the lead in this series. The Royals have opened the scoring in both games and have failed to play without the lead for the entire 120 minutes. 
  • Will Joe Hicketts play in game three? Why rush the all-star defenceman when your team can win without him? Are they better off with him? Of course they are, but if he is even remotely questionable, why force him into playing if he isn't 100%. If the shoe was on the other foot and the Royals were down two games to none, it is a completely different story. An 80% healthy Joe Hicketts, in a desperate situation, would still be a massive upgrade back on the blue line.
  • The best player for the Royals in games one and two is clearly Jack Walker. With goals in four straight games dating back to game six of the Royals/Chiefs series, the 19 year-old undrafted player is playing with speed/pace and no one on the Rockets side, up until now, has been able to match Walker's determination. 
  • While the fans in Victoria were cheering loudly when Royals pint sized forward Dante Hannoun sent Justin Kirkland tumbling in a game two hit behind the Royals net, it was a clear indicator where Kirkland's battle level and commitment to winning is at in this series. Kirkland is not a hitter. Kirkland, up until this season, lacked aggressiveness in his overall game, but the 19 year-old clearly does not want to go down without a fight in this series. While he was knocked down by the 5'5, 157 pound forward, that lost body check spoke volumes of how much Kirkland wants to win. 
  • Thanks to Mike Walker for his help over the last two broadcasts in Victoria. Walker provided colour commentary on our AM 1150 broadcasts and did an absolutely terrific job. Check his business out at www.rollfocus.com

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Rockets get 'royally' screwed in game two

Kevin Light Photo
The on ice official got it right. The video goal judge got it wrong.

Controversy reared its ugly head in game two of the Kelowna Rockets second round playoff series with the Victoria Royals.

With the Royals desperately holding on to a late third period 3-2 lead, Justin Kirkland's wrist shot towards the Royals net went high and wide. The puck hit the glass with enough velocity that is bounced towards teammate Tyson Baillie at the right side of the net. The puck glancing off of Baillie's right skate, and from an unseeingly impossible angle, the galvanized piece of rubber made its way past a Royals defenceman' stick and into the wide open net. Victoria goaltending Coleman Vollrath was out of position with only the ability to see it agonizingly trickle into the wide open cage.  
On the ice it was declared a goal.

Like all goals in the playoffs, video review was used to make sure it was a clean goal. This was not a clean goal. What goal is that hits a player and then enters the net? That said, the fact it was viewed that Baillie intentionally kicked the puck into the net is laughable. Did the puck make contact with his right skate? Yes. Did Baillie try to corral it with his skate in an attempt to stop it for a secondary shot on goal? Yes. I'm my view, there was no conclusive evidence that showed it was deliberately kicked by Baillie. His right skate moves to stop the puck while also attempting to slow down in an effort to get it on his stick. With no conclusive evidence on video, and with the call on the ice being a goal, the game should have been tied at 3. Now, the Rockets are down 2 games to 0 heading home for game three on Tuesday.

Can they use the setback as a rallying cry with back-to-back games at Prospera Place Tuesday and Thursday night?

This may be the fuel to the fire the defending champions needed.