Monday, April 20, 2015

Rockets: More battle ready

Bjorkstrand/Chartier are two sharpshooters

  • Are the Kelowna Rockets built better to handle the Portland Winterhawks this season? Are they a heavier/tougher team to play against this time around? My belief is they are if you compare them to one season ago. Not only are they more skilled, but players like Tyrell Goulbourne, Rodney Southam, Chance Braid and Riley Stadel, who I suspect will be used as a forward in this series, give the Rockets more grit and sandpaper up front. It should make it harder on the Winterhawks defenceman to move the puck which means more turnovers in the Portland zone. The hope is the Winterhawks forward group will be forced into spending significant minutes getting the puck outside of their own blue line which will make them less dynamic at the other end of the ice.
  • Let's dig a little deeper here. In last years WCF, the Rockets were without 20 year-old Myles Bell. It's other 20 year-old, Marek Tvrdon, had two assists in the five game series. Nineteen year-old's Ryan Olsen, Tyrell Goulbourne, Colton Heffley, Carter Rigby, Damon Severson and Cole Martin combined for two goals in five games. That's right, of those seven players, only Martin and Olsen were able to score among those players. You can't win a playoff series against elite competition with a lack of offense coming from the 20 and 19 year-old age groups.
  • For the record, the Rockets best player in the Portland series a season ago was 19 year-old defenceman Damon Severson. A draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, Severson had five assists in the five games and was a respectable -1 competing against the best Winterhawks forwards.
  • It is safe to say that Shaw will likely cover the Eastern Conference championship series with the Calgary Hitmen and Brandon Wheat Kings. The Calgary market is just too large to ignore even though the Flames are still the main story in Central Alberta. So with Shaw handling that series, does Sportsnet cover this series, or in a worse case scenario,  only do the games when the Rockets are on home ice? If that's the case, advantage Portland. The Winterhawks aren't exactly a one line team, but it does allow head coach Jamie Kompon to use his top forwards; Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nic Petan, Paul Bittner and Chase De Leo more often. Games involving Sportsnet create massive stoppages in play during a period and can be a real equalizer for a team with not as much depth or likes to roll its top three lines extensively. 
  • This series features two rookie WHL coaches. Dan Lambert guides the Rockets while Jamie Kompon is behind the Winterhawks bench.
  • Dan Lambert has won as a player against the Winterhawks, now he wants to do it as a WHL head coach. Lambert was instrumental in helping the 1989 Swift Current Broncos to a league title that season against a Portland squad that consisted of Dennis Holland and Troy Mick. The Broncos would sweep the Winterhawks in four games with game three and four victories coming at the legendary Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
  • Only two players on the Rockets current roster are familiar with the 2011 playoff series between the two team's. Tyrell Goulbourne was only 16 while Madison Bowey played as an affiliated player at the tender age of 15. The Winterhawks had two elite forwards in that series named Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Johansen. Yikes, where they good!!
  • They will be arch rivals in this series, but will likely be future teammates with the Winnipeg Jets. Kelowna Rockets defenceman Josh Morrissey will face Portland's Nic Petan.  The Jets picked Morrissey in the first round in 2013 and then used their second round selection to pluck Petan with the 43rd overall.
  • If the Rockets coaches want to know how to slow down Oliver Bjorkstrand, it be best to call up the Edmonton Oil Kings and ask them how they did it in last years WHL final. In that series, the now 19 year-old had one goal in those seven games.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Here come the Hawks!!!

Tyrell Goulbourne and Nic Petan are ready for one last battle
  • Yep, they are coming. Like the famous Hatfield-McCoy rivalry of 1860, the Kelowna Rockets will again meet the Portland Winterhawks in the 2015 WHL playoffs. Honestly, the Rockets wouldn't want it any other way. When you have faced an opponent that has ended your season in three of the last four years, you would like nothing better than to give them some of their own medicine. In the 2011 post season, in a second round series, the Winterhawks won in six games. In the 2012 playoffs, the Winterhawks eliminated the Rockets in round one. In last years Western Conference championship series, the Hawks ended the Rockets hopes of making an appearance in the WHL final for the first time since 2009. The Winterhawks have won the Western Conference championship four years running. Yes, four years in a row. That is nothing close to crazy to comprehend in junior hockey where player turnover is significant over a five year span. Again this season the Winterhawks are no slouch...but either are the Rockets. 
  • My general belief is the Rockets confidence level heading into last years WCF against the Winterhawks was average to low. No player ever said it. It was a vibe I got when the two team's faced off in round three. Despite winning a franchise record 57 games, the Rockets were not the favorites heading into that series and the players wearing the jersey with the angry Ogopogo on it likely knew it. Without leading scorer Myles Bell in the line up, the teams best shooter, the task of generating offense against a Winterhawks team was hindered. Jordon Cooke, the Rockets clear advantage in the most crucial position in hockey, would have to be terrific to keep the Winterhawks shooters that comprised of Taylor Leier (2+4=6 in last years series), Brendan Leipsic (4+4=8 in last years series), Derek Pouliot and Matt Dumba off the scoresheet. All five of those players are now gone, Cooke included. Without question as these two face-off with one another again in the playoffs, this is as level of a playing field we've seen between the two teams. Oh ya, there is talent to go around in this series, but it is more evenly spread out across both teams which makes for what will be an epic series that could go the distance.
  • While it is clear the Rockets don't have the advantage in goal like they did one playoff season ago in Cooke, they are stronger on defense this season with puck moving defenceman Madison Bowey and Josh Morrissey. Bowey was here last season but that extra year of physical maturity now makes him a significantly better player. Those two will be stretched in containing Portland's trio of Oliver Bjorkstrand, Chase De Leo and Nic Petan. But this is about puck possession and if Morrissey and Bowey have it, those three are forced to play defense in order to get it back. That has to happen. If the roles are reversed, it's trouble. This year's playoff series features elite talent on both sides, so no one team has a significant advantage.
  • Hockey fans across the WHL hate Portland. They really do. They don't like their success. Don't count me among those with a disdain for the team that wears the same jersey's as the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks. The run they are on is incredible. You can't but admire the franchises successes for drafting well, specifically in Europe, and obtaining some of the best American talent available. Portland has won 154 games in the last three seasons. The only team better are the Rockets with 162 victories. While Portland leads the hate parade, my sense is the Rockets aren't far behind. Fans across the league dislike both franchises for how they've orchestrated trades to make them contenders. Without question, the hatred between the two will also be significant with game one this Friday night at Prospera Place. Can't wait!!   
  • 2011 Playoffs: Met in Round Two
    Winterhawks beat Rockets in 6 games

    2012 Playoffs: Met in Round One
    Winterhawks win in four straight

    2014 Playoffs: Met in Round Three
    Winterhawks win in five games.

    Rockets are 3-12 in the last 15 playoff appearances against the Winterhawks dating back to 2011.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Some kind of wonderful


Josh Morrissey - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Some kind of wonderful. That would best describe Josh Morrissey's performance Friday night in the Kelowna Rockets series ending game five victory over the Victoria Royals. The 20 year-old, who has often been injured since his acquisition in early January, showed why he is in elite status as one of the best defenceman in all of Canadian junior hockey. Morrissey's pinpoint shooting accuracy was on display in a 7-3 win last night, leading his team to a birth in the Western Conference final for a second consecutive season. Morrissey, who didn't dress for game three or four, scored twice and added three assists for a spectacular five point night as the Rockets wrapped up the Western Conference semi final series with a four games to one win. Morrissey was the most determined player on the ice, and unlike some of his teammates, the true professional showed no signs of fatigue after a long ferry/bus ride from Victoria in the early morning hours of Thursday morning. The more Morrissey played, the better and more dominant he became. The Winnipeg Jets prospects second period goal was the back breaker as the Rockets built up a 5-2 lead. That goal came on the heels of a Tyson Baillie power play tally after Royals forward Jared Dmytriw was slapped with a five minute major after defenceman Cole Martin was pancaked into the side boards. Fortunately, Martin returned a few minutes later but Dmytriw's night was through.
  • The Rockets start in game five was terrific, but after scoring the opening goal less than two minutes in, they flat lined. For whatever reason they stopped skating and taking the play to the Royals, who took full advantage by scoring two goals in 23 seconds and it felt like the series was headed back to Victoria for a game six on Sunday. But that is where head coach Dan Lambert made his boldest move of the WHL playoffs. In a 2-2 tie, Lambert, in consultation with his assistants, elected to pull starter Jackson Whistle and replace him with back up Michael Herringer. It worked in an opening round series clincher against Tri City, but would it work again? Whether the move was made to wake his team up or an indication he didn't like Whistle's body of work in the opening period, the move paid off in a big way. Not only was Herringer solid when called upon, but Lambert's team seemed to galvanise together and the commitment to defending improved and the execution in the offensive zone was stellar.
  • Herringer is now 2 and 0 in a relief appearance in this years playoffs. Whistle is 7 and 1. In my opinion the team can't go wrong with either goaltender. Whistle has proven that he is more than capable, so no goalie controversy is necessary. Herringer has proven that he can too carry the mail, so if Whistle falters, it sure is nice to know that the guy sitting on the bench with his mask off is more than just an average replacement. 
  • Leon Draisaitl had a solid series vs. Victoria. The 19 year-old had 2+9=11. The German had a three point night (1+2=3) in the game five win. Tyson Baillie scored in four of the five games. While he was relatively quiet in game five, the 19 year-old still found the back of the net in a clutch time of the game. That's what Baillie is - clutch. The goal he scored hit two defenders before bouncing in, but as ugly as that goal was, the dude just scores timely goals. Baillie had five goals and three assists in the series.
  • The Victoria Royals lost with class. I think that should be mentioned here. They played a tough, in your face series, but at games end and series end they didn't take things into the gutter. In fact, I hardly saw Brandon Magee in the third period outside of a late power play. Was that Dave Lowry's doing? Who's to know? Last season, Magee went off the handle in a series ending game against Portland and was suspended for 12 games for his actions. This time, Magee played with pride and conceded defeat in a mature manner. It was impressive to see how he took a step forward in his development as a person/player. Everyone deserves a second chance. Magee got his and proved in this playoff series that he is not only clutch for his team, but he learned from his mistake. 
  • The Rockets are off to the Western Conference final for a second consecutive season. The Rockets lost in five games last year to the Portland Winterhawks. Could the same two teams be headed for another rematch? The two rivals met in 2011-2012 (first round) and again in 2013-2014 (third round). The Rockets have lost those two series. Nothing is written in stone, but with the Winterhawks holding a 3-1 series lead on Everett, it looks more and more like they will fight again for the Western Conference playoff banner. The Rockets haven't won the Conference crown since 2008-2009.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Royals trying to upset the apple cart

Kevin Light Photo
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets have a 3-1 lead on the Victoria Royals heading into game five of their best of seven Western Conference semifinal series tonight at Prospera Place. The Rockets won game one 5-0, game two 4-3 in overtime and game three by a score of 4-2. On Wednesday night, in game four, Greg Chase scored the game winning goal in the Royals 5-4 overtime win. It marked the first time in three playoff overtimes that the Rockets have suffered a defeat. Game five is tonight in Kelowna with game six back in Victoria (if necessary) Sunday. This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history. Since the Christmas break the Rockets are 32-8-3-1 (including playoffs). Overall, the team has won 9 of its last 10 games (8 playoffs and last two regular season games).

Scoring in this series:
Period     1    2     3   OT   Total
Rockets: 4    7    5     1      17
Royals:   2    3    4     1      10

Shots by Period:  1     2     3   OT   Total
Rockets:              49    52   42   4     143
Royals:                36    33   52   2     123

*The Rockets are 6 for 27 on the power play in the series while the Royals are 2 for 18.

Playoff Tidbits: Tomas Soustal has 4 goals in 8 playoff games. It took the 17 year-old 22 regular season games to score his 4th career goal…The home team has won three of the four games in this series….Rockets defenceman Cole Martin shares the same birthdate as Royals rearguard Travis Brown. Both were born March 15, 1994…Tyler Mosienko holds the team record for most playoff games played by a Rockets player. Mosienko played 81 career playoff games. Brett Palin played 75 career playoff games. Tyler Spurgeon, Blake Comeau and Mike Card are third on that list with 72 career playoff games….Dan Lambert was part of a Swift Current Broncos championship team in 1989 that played in a minimum 12 playoff games to earn the WHL championship. Lambert and the Broncos swept every series, winning 4 games to 0, to capture the league crown. Lambert had 28 points (9+19=28) in those 12 playoff games…The Rockets best record in the playoffs was in the 2002-2003 campaign when the team won the Ed Chynoweth Cup with a record of 16 and 3. The team would win its first eight games before losing once in the WCF and twice in WHL final.

Hot to Trot: Tyson Baillie has a point in every playoff game. Baillie is riding an eight game point streak with 6+5=11 over that period…Gage Quinney has goals in four of his last five playoff games….Nick Merkley is riding a six game point streak. Merkley has 1+6=7 over that period....Madison Bowey has points in six straight games. Bowey has 3+4=7 over that stretch….Leon Draisaitl has a five game point streak in this year’s playoffs. The 19 year-old has1+8=9 in those five games…Joe Gatenby leads the Rockets with a +8 rating in the playoffs. Tomas Soustal has goals in four of his last six playoff games. 

This and That: Tyson Baillie is the WHL Player of the Week. Baillie had three goals and one assist in the first two games of this second round series to pick up the award…Nick Merkley has been rated as the 23rd best player in North America for June’s NHL draft. NHL Central Scouting released its final rankings last Wednesday. Devante Stephens was rated 116th while Joe Gatenby was 174th …The Rockets have opened the scoring in six of the eight games in this year’s playoffs…Madison Bowey turns 20 on April 22nd…The Rockets won the most road games of any team in the WHL (27)…Nick Merkley and Cole Linaker were the only two players to play in all 72 regular season games this season… The Rockets were held to just one goal seven times this season. Kamloops (road), Seattle (road), Edmonton (road), Calgary (twice – once on road and once at home), Regina (home) and Prince Albert (home) have turned the trick against the highest scoring team in the Western Conference...Justin Kirkland has missed 23 straight games with a LBI…Tyrell Goulbourne has a team high 40 playoff games under his belt…Madison Bowey has 39 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season …Cole Martin has 37 playoff games on his resume….In total, the Rockets have 431 games of playoff experience in the lineup this evening…Rourke Chartier had 6 goals in 14 games in last year’s playoffs. In this year’s post season, the now 19 year-old (turned 19 April 3rd) has six goals in eight games. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Split on road leaves Rockets sour

Photo by Kevin Light -Tomas Soustal's 2nd period goal
  • If the Kelowna Rockets were looking for a split when they played a pair of games in Victoria Tuesday and Wednesday night, then mission accomplished. But something tells me the Western Conference regular season champions were looking for more than that. The Rockets won a crucial game three by eking out a 4-2 win and attempted to repeat the performance again Wednesday night, but this time the wheels fell off the wagon. Nursing a 4-2 lead midway through the third period, a turnover by captain Madison Bowey at the side of his own net gave the Royals a gift goal from Jack Walker. Up until that point, the home team, which had no real life in the third period up until that point, regained the belief that their season may indeed be extended with a late period push. Twenty-four seconds later, the Royals again found the back of the net and the Royals rally was on. This is a game the Rockets simply gave away. Awarded a power play after Victoria overager Brandon Magee was given a goaltender interference penalty :14 seconds into overtime, the visitors never created a good look on the man advantage that ended the night going 0 for 8. A few minutes later, on a mad scramble in front of the Rockets net, Greg Chase found the back of the net and the Royals avoided elimination with a 5-4 overtime win. Back to Kelowna we go for game five tomorrow night.
  • The Rockets surrendered a two goal lead three times only to see the Royals bounce back to get within one goal. They had a 2-0 lead in the first period before the Royals found the back of the net and then regained that two goal advantage at periods end with Rourke Chartier’s 6th of the post season. Then with a 4-2 lead midway through the third, the Royals again struck for back-to-back goals to tie the game at four. The loss gives the Royals just a glimmer of hope in sending this series back to Victoria on Sunday. If the Rockets don’t nail it down tomorrow at Prospera Place in game five, the Rockets will be doing all the sweating, not the Royals, who must win the next three games to advance to the Western Conference final.
  • While the power play failed to strike on eight chances, it generated good looks early in the game but ran into some unfortunate bounces. As the power play attempts went for not, you had a strange feeling this would come back to bite the Rockets. Indeed it did. On a team with an above average skill set, 0 for 8 shouldn’t even be in the teams vocabulary.
  • It was nice to see Lucas Johansen score his first career playoff goal. It came on a seeing eye slap shot from the left point that beat Royals goaltender Justin Paulic. Paulic was the surprise starter in game four as Royals head coach Dave Lowry elected to change things up with his team down three games to none. Paulic replaced Coleman Vollrath and the team’s fortunes changed. 
  • In the first four games, the Royals have played with the lead for only 7:15 seconds.
  • It was hard to believe that Austin Carroll’s goal in the second period was his first of the playoffs. The 21 year-old has been snake-bitten since he signed that NHL contract with the Calgary Flames. Carroll made no mistake when his snap shot beat Whistle between the legs. 
  • It was the Rockets first loss of the playoffs. The team is now 7 and 1 in eight playoff games.
  • Last night's game in Victoria was the teams 80th of the season.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Game notes in advance of game three

Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets have a 2-0 lead on the Victoria Royals heading into game three of their best of seven Western Conference semifinal series tonight at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. Tyson Baillie scored the game winning goal early in the second period in a game one 5-0 win. Baillie was named the first star with a goal and an assist. Cole Martin, Gage Quinney, Rourke Chartier and Tomas Soustal also scored. Josh Morrissey, who hadn’t played since February 28th, returned to the lineup and had three assists. Leon Draisaitl had a pair of helpers in the lopsided win. Jackson Whistle made 20 saves for his third consecutive shutout on home ice in this year’s playoffs. The Rockets were 2 for 5 on the power play while killing off four Victoria advantages. In game two Saturday night, the Rockets squeezed out a 4-3 win in overtime. Again, Tyson Baillie scored the game winner 58 seconds into the extra session. Gage Quinney, Tomas Soustal and Baillie, who opened the scoring in the first period, found the back of the net. Jackson Whistle was outstanding making 38 saves. The Rockets were 2 for 8 on the power play. Game four in the series is tomorrow night with a fifth game (if necessary) Friday at Prospera Place in Kelowna. This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history. Since the Christmas break the Rockets are 31-8-2-1 (including playoffs). Overall, the team has won 8 straight games (6 playoffs and last two regular season games).

Scoring in this series:
Period     1    2     3   OT   Total
Rockets: 1    4    3     1      9
Royals:   0    1    2     0      3

Shots by Period:  1     2     3   OT   Total
Rockets:              21    24   25   1     67
Royals:                15    20   26   0     61

*The Rockets are 4 for 13 on the power play in the series while the Royals are 2 for 9.

Rockets in Victoria: The Rockets were 2-1-1-0 in four visits to Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre during the regular season. The Rockets won by scores of 5-3 and 3-2 and suffered a 5-2 regulation loss February 21st. In the only overtime game between the two teams, November 19th in Victoria, Axel Blomqvist scored the winner in a 4-3 victory. The amazing stat in the seasonal series was both teams were identical 5 for 17 on the power play in the four games on the island. Oddly, the Rockets over the last five years have had more success in Victoria than in Kelowna. In the team’s last 20 appearances at Memorial Centre they have earned a point (12 wins and 2 overtime losses) in 14 of those 20 games.

Hot to Trot: Tyson Baillie has a point in every playoff game. Baillie is riding a six game point streak with 5+3=8 over that period…Gage Quinney has goals in three straight playoff games….Nick Merkley is riding a four game point streak. Merkley has 0+5=5 over that period. Merkley has not scored in five games or since game one of the Tri City series...Madison Bowey has points in four straight games. Bowey has 2+3=5 over that stretch….Leon Draisaitl has has a three game point streak in this year’s playoffs. The 19 year-old has 6 assists in those three games but hasn’t scored in four straight games…Rourke Chartier has two-two goal games in the playoffs…Joe Gatenby leads the Rockets with a +8 rating in the playoffs. Tomas Soustal has goals in three of his last four games.

This and That: Tyson Baillie has five playoff goals. The 19 year-old had five in last year’s playoffs and eight in the 2013 post season. Add it up and Baillie has 18 goals in his last 28 playoff games…Two of the Kelowna Rockets all-time top players call Victoria home. Jamie Benn and Tyson Barrie won a WHL title with the Rockets in 2009. Both also played for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship…Nick Merkley has been rated as the 23rd best player in North America for June’s NHL draft. NHL Central Scouting released its final rankings last Wednesday. Devante Stephens was rated 116th while Joe Gatenby was 174th …The Rockets have opened the scoring in five of the six games in this year’s playoffs…Madison Bowey turns 20 on April 22nd…The Rockets won the most road games of any team in the WHL (27)…Nick Merkley and Cole Linaker were the only two players to play in all 72 regular season games this season… The Rockets were held to just one goal seven times this season. Kamloops (road), Seattle (road), Edmonton (road), Calgary (twice – once on road and once at home), Regina (home) and Prince Albert (home) have turned the trick against the highest scoring team in the Western Conference...Justin Kirkland has missed 21 straight games with a LBI…Tyrell Goulbourne has a team high 39 playoff games under his belt…Madison Bowey has 37 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season …Cole Martin has 35 playoff games on his resume….In total, the Rockets have 393 games of playoff experience in the lineup this evening…Rourke Chartier had 6 goals in 14 games in last year’s playoffs. In this year’s post season, the now 19 year-old (turned 19 April 3rd) has five goals in six games.

Dare to compare: The Rockets had 30 more points than the Royals during the regular season, with 14 more wins and 16 fewer losses. The Rockets scored 61 more goals and allowed 36 fewer against. The Rockets and Royals each had five – 20 goal scorers. The Rockets had eight 15 or more scorers while the Royals had seven.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Baillie is money at the left face-off circle


  • Wayne Gretzky's unofficial 'office' was always behind the opposition net. He was often seen stick-handling behind the goal before niftily setting up a teammate or taking matters into his own hands and beating the goaltender himself with a wrap around using either his forehand or backhand. I think it is safe to say Tyson Baillie's 'office' is situated at the left face-off circle at the north end at Prospera Place. The 19 year is golden from that shooting area. The Fort, Saskatchewan resident scored from almost that exact spot last night in the Kelowna Rockets 4-3 overtime thriller over the Victoria Royals. It was almost the exact same location where he scored the game winner - also in overtime - in a game seven playoff series victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds two seasons ago. Last night's goal came a little easier than the one in 2013 though. Leon Draisaitl had the puck against the right side boards and feathered a perfect on the tape pass that Baillie calmly slid into the back of the net. It gave the Rockets a 2-0 series lead heading into game three and four in Victoria Tuesday and Wednesday night.
  • The Baillie goal came just after Victoria Royals defenceman Chaz Reddekopp came out of the penalty box after taking a late third period boarding call. The call was questionable in a 3-3 game. I know that an infraction is an infraction no matter what the score, but this was a soft call in my opinion. I am just calling a spade a spade. Regardless, the Rockets took advantage and carried the power play into overtime. While they didn't 'technically' score on it, it was the end result that created the odd man scoring chance when Redekopp attempting to get back into the play.
  • As for that 'soft call', it comes with the territory of being an aggressive team. Whether the Royals like it or not, they have a reputation and they won't get the benefit of the doubt from the officials when you play an angry game. My belief is if you are on the officials all game long, which Lowry was, the veteran referee's won't cower to you. I think it works against you frankly, not for you. Sometimes less is more when barking at the officials. But Lowry knows better than I do. He will guide Canada's entry at the World Juniors, so he can do whatever he pleases.   
  • So, where do we start to describe the Rockets effort in game two? Safe to say the Royals were much better. Despite what Victoria head coach Dave Lowry thought in game one, his team was not prepared from the very start and were thoroughly outplayed. That wasn't the case in game two though, but my belief is the Rockets had a lot to do with that. You could tell in the first period that this would be a rough game for the home team. Passes were off, the intensity/jump was nowhere near what it was a night earlier. Given three early first period power plays can be a blessing or a curse. In this case it was a curse. The Rockets never could get on track and a short 5 on 3 power play didn't even manufacture a real good scoring chance. 
  • The real story of the game was the strong play of Jackson Whistle. Without Whistle's solid effort this series would be tied at one. I didn't exactly like the third goal he gave up on a soft shot from Austin Carroll that was kicked out only to see Brandon Magee find the rebound to tie the game, but Whistle was still the reason why his team is heading to Victoria with a two-nothing advantage.
  • A stealth move by Dave Lowry to switch goaltenders after the Rockets opened up a 3-0 second period lead. Starter Coleman Vollrath wasn't awful by any means, but the switch tends to give a team a lift and it worked for the Royals. Honestly, the Rockets were lucky to be up 3-0 considering how they played in the first 27 minutes of the game. The Royals were the better team and deserved a much better fate. By hockey is a cruel sport where sometime you outplay the opponent and still come out on the short end of the stick.
  • The Rockets lost defenceman Josh Morrissey, who didn't return after the first period. In fact, the 19 year-old assisted on Tyson Baillie's opening goal late in the period. The Royals lost forward Greg Chase after the Edmonton Oilers draft pick was found playing without a mouth guard. Chase was assessed a 10 minute misconduct. To make matters worse once Chase located his mouth guard, and before stepping off the ice, he threw it in the direction of the officials. Chase was immediately ejected from the game. It makes me wonder why a one game suspension wouldn't be appropriate in this matter. How can a fight four seconds into a game between two willing combatants (Braid and James) be worse than a player who literally shows no respect towards the officials? We have our priorities way out of whack here!! Chase won't get suspended, but isn't the way things are ruled in the game often times a little ass backwards? 
  • How many chances did Royals forward Tyler Soy have in game two? Whistle had his number numerous times.  
  • Gage Quinney has scored in three straight games.
  • The Rockets have won 6 straight playoff games. They won seven in a row in the 2014 post season.
  • Leon Draisaitl had three assists. 
  • Game three and four are in Victoria Tuesday and Wednesday. The Rockets have to find the jam they had in game one or they will be headed home Friday for a game five with this series tied at two wins apiece.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Rockets show no sign of rink rust

Josh Morrissey

  • Josh Morrissey showed no rust after a long layoff. Neither did his teammates. The 19 year-old Winnipeg Jets first round draft pick returned to the Kelowna Rockets lineup Friday night after missing 13 games with a lower body injury. Morrissey looked no worse for wear with a three assist effort in the Rockets 5-0 shutout win over the Victoria Royals in game one of a best of seven Western Conference semi final series. The Rockets took it to the Royals in the first period, specifically, after having nine days off after disposing of the Tri City Americans in the opening round. The Rockets out-shot the visitors 14-1 in the first period and directed a total of 44 shots at the Royals net over the course of the game. Had it not been for a strong performance by Victoria goaltender Coleman Vollrath, this game would have been out of reach earlier. Instead, the Rockets needed three-third period goals to extend their winning streak to five games in the 2015 playoffs.
  • My only criticism in the opening period was the Rockets were pretty much a one and done team in the offensive zone. Either Vollrath made the save and didn't give up a rebound or the Western Conference regular season champions were unable to get to a secondary chance after Vollrath showed quickness with both his right and left pad. Was I the only one that noticed that Vollrath was particularly good with his left pad? The 19 year-old flared it out several times over the course of the game.
  • While Vollrath was the best player on the ice for the Royals, don't forget about the contribution of Jackson Whistle in this one. With the game scoreless and the majority of the first period play inside the Royals zone, Whistle made a solid stop against Alex Forsberg to keep the game scoreless. Whistle could have been asleep at the wheel with a lack of work in the opening period, but the veteran came up large throughout the game with timely saves.
  • Whistle has not allowed a goal in three straight home games. That has never been done by a Kelowna Rockets goalie. Nope, not even shutout king Kelly Guard. The only Rockets goalie to accomplish anything close to Whistle's remarkable effort on home ice is Derek Yeomans. In the 2005 playoffs against the Seattle Thunderbirds, Yeomans went three straight road games without surrendering a goal. The Rockets won that second round series over the T-Birds in seven games.
  • Tyson Baillie had a goal and an assist in the win. In the building he was named the games first star. Baillie flourished playing on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Gage Quinney. Quinney had a goal while Draisaitl, who many at the end of the game thought was the most effective  forward on the ice, chipped in with two assists. I thought Draisaitl was dangerous almost every time he touched the puck, and outside of Bowey, my belief is no one has the puck on his stick more than Draisaitl.   
  • I was told that the Royals out-hit the Rockets by a 2-1 margin, but I thought the Rockets played a solid physical game and showed as much physicality as they've shown all season. And frankly, its pretty tough to be overly physical when you have the puck the majority of the game. Tyrell Goulbourne got the 'hit parade' rolling by bowling over Royals d-man Joe Hicketts less than two minutes into the game. Nick Merkley was also physical when he needed to be.
  • How did you like the Rockets five on three power play goal in the third period? Head Coach Dan Lambert put out Leon Draisaitl with Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley as forwards with Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey on the blue line. Rarely has that been seen this season with all five marquee players on the ice at the same time. Usually, those five are split evenly in two separate power play units with each receiving about a minute to work with on a two minute power play.  
  • I thought the officiating crew called a great game. Jeff Ingram and Brett Iverson kept their whistle in their pockets in the first period and didn't call a penalty. Four of the nine penalties at games end were for hooking. I thought the officiating crew wasn't noticeable at all. That my friends tells me Ingram and Iverson were both on their game.
  • Game two goes tonight at Prospera Place. As good as the Rockets were in the opener, if they stub their toe Saturday night, all the effort expended in game one is for not. The Royals ultimately wanted a split in Kelowna in the first two games. Let's see if the Rockets are unfriendly hosts in the rematch. See you at the rink. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Let the battle begin

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets are making their third consecutive trip to the second round as they open a Western Conference semifinal series against the visiting Victoria Royals. These two teams have never met in the playoffs. They did meet eight times during the regular season with the Rockets winning five out of the eight games while losing twice in regulation time and once in overtime. The Rockets are coming off a four game sweep of the Tri City Americans in round one. Overall, the Rockets out-scored the Americans 19-7 in the four games but had to use overtime to win game four. The Rockets fired 152 shots at Eric Comrie in four games, or on average 38 shots per game. They fired a team record 71 at Comrie in game four. Game one and two in this series is tonight and tomorrow at Prospera Place with the best of seven shifting to Victoria for games next Tuesday and Wednesday. Game five is one week from tonight back in Kelowna. This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history. Since the Christmas break the Rockets are 29-8-2-1 (including playoffs).

Dare to compare: The Rockets had 30 more points than the Royals during the regular season, with 14 more wins and 16 fewer losses. The Rockets scored 61 more goals and allowed 36 fewer against. The Rockets and Royals each had five – 20 goal scorers. The Rockets had eight 15 or more scorers while the Royals had seven.

Success against Royals: Nick Merkley (4+6=10) and Madison Bowey (2+8=10) led the Rockets in the seasonal series against the Royals. Tyson Baillie led the team in goals with five in seven games. Michael Herringer saw the bulk of the action against the Royals, playing in five games (4-1-0-0) and posting a goals against average of 2.80. Jackson Whistle was 1-1-1-0 in three games with a goals against average of 3.60. Brandon Magee was the top scorer for Victoria against the Rockets with ten points (5+5=10). Austin Carroll also had five goals in the seasonal series while Joe Hicketts led all Royals with eight assists.

This and That: Nick Merkley has been rated as the 23rd best player in North America for June’s NHL draft. NHL Central Scouting released its final rankings on Wednesday. Devante Stephens was rated 116th while Joe Gatenby was 174th….The last Rockets forward to be taken in the first round of the NHL draft was Scott Parker in 1998. The Colorado Avalanche selected the big, burly forward 20th in 1998…In the 2009 drive towards a WHL title, the Kelowna Rockets swept the Kamloops Blazers in round one, much like they did with the Tri City Americans in the opening round….Michael Herringer is facing his old team in this series. Herringer was the Royals 9th round pick in the 2011 WHL draft….Herringer earned his first career playoff win in game four in a relief appearance of Jackson Whistle…The Rockets opened the scoring in three of the four games in the opening round….Geordie Wudrick has the team record for goals in a playoff series with eight (8) against the Everett Silvertips in the 2010 post season….Jamie Benn and Mikael Backlund hold the team record for goals in the playoffs. In 2009, on the way to a WHL championship, those two 19 year-old’s at the time found the back of the net 13 times each. Jesse Schultz (2003) and Justin Keller (2005) had 12 goals in the post season…Madison Bowey turns 20 on April 22nd…The Rockets won the most road games of any team in the WHL (27)…Nick Merkley and Cole Linaker were the only two players to play in all 72 regular season games this season… The Rockets were held to just one goal seven times this season. Kamloops (road), Seattle (road), Edmonton (road), Calgary (twice – once on road and once at home), Regina (home) and Prince Albert (home) have turned the trick against the highest scoring team in the Western Conference...Justin Kirkland has missed 19 straight games with a LBI…Josh Morrissey has missed 13 straight games with a LBI…Tyrell Goulbourne has a team high 37 playoff games under his belt…Madison Bowey has 34 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season …Cole Martin has 33 playoff games on his resume….In total, the Rockets have 356 games of playoff experience in the lineup this evening…Veteran d-man Mitch Wheaton made his playoff debut in game three’s 5-3 victory in Tri City. Wheaton, who must be signed this summer by Detroit or become a free agent, sat out 70 games (68 regular season - two in playoffs) after being hurt in the fourth game of the regular season…Chance Braid won’t play tonight. The 20 year-old was suspended one game for a fight with Americans forward Maxwell James in game four…Rourke Chartier had 6 goals in 14 games in last year’s playoffs. In this year’s post season, the now 19 year-old (turned 19 April 3rd) has four goals in four games…The last time Victoria Royals Dave Lowry coached a playoff game in Kelowna, it was as the head coach of the Calgary Hitmen in the 2009 WHL final. Tyson Barrie scored the winning goal in a game six championship victory at Prospera Place.

Rockets 2014-2015 regular season recap: The Rockets finished in first place in the Western Conference with 53 wins and 112 points. The 53 wins and 112 points was the second highest total in franchise history. The team scored 305 goals, the second most in the WHL. The 183 goals allowed were the fewest of any team in the WHL. It was the first time since 2003-2004 that the team led the league with the fewest number of goals. That season they allowed 125 goals against. Nick Merkley led the team in scoring with 20 goals, 70 assists and 90 points. Merkley’s 70 assists were not a franchise record though. Rory McDade had 70 helpers in 2000-2001. Colin Long had 69 in in 2007-2008. Marty Flichel has the franchise record with 79 assists in the 1995-96 season.    
 

Hot to Trot: Nick Merkley has points in nine of his last twelve games. The 17 year-old has 4+10=14 over that stretch….Madison Bowey has points in twelve of his last sixteen games. Bowey has 6+10=16 over that period….Leon Draisaitl has forty points (14+26=40) in his last twenty-four games…Rourke Chartier has two-two goal games in the playoffs…Joe Gatenby leads the Rockets with a +7 rating in the playoffs. Madison Bowey led the team in the playoffs last season with a +8 rating.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Friendship put on hold

Shoot the Breeze Photography
They are long time friends off the ice, but that is about to change as Tyrell Goulbourne and Brandon Magee meet in game one of a second round WHL playoff series between the Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals.
Goulbourne and Magee grew up together in Edmonton and have created a friendship over the years while playing hockey in the Alberta capital.
"He is definitely my worse enemy on the ice", Goulbourne said with a smile during practice this week. "He is a scrappy little guy and he knows how to get under your skin. I remember a couple of years ago we fought and his mom gave us crap for it. I don't think we will be fighting in this series but we are definitely going to be playing each other hard".
Goulbourne and Magee almost share the same birth date. Magee came into this earth on January 23, 1994. Three days later Goulbourne was born on January 26th.
The two were drafted in the 2009 WHL bantam draft. Magee was taken in the fourth round by the now defunct Chilliwack Bruins while Goulbourne was drafted by the Rockets in the fifth round, 21 players later.   
"We talk if we are in the same city. We might hang out. I don't think we will be doing it this week. Before the game we will give each other a few chirps. Other than that it is all business. We are not really friends on the ice.", Goulbourne added.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Loose but focused heading into Friday's affair


  • It was a loose group on the ice during a spirited practice Tuesday afternoon in advance of game one of the Western Conference semi final series between the Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals. But when I spoke to the player after the workout, all three of the individuals I interviewed had a certain confident air about them. That isn't a bad thing to have at this time of the year. I rather see that than an uptight group lacking confidence. With more players getting healthy by the day, this should be one heck of a series against two teams that know each other very well. Sure, small adjustments will be made, but at the end of the day it will all be about who wants it more that will advance to the final four.
  • Tyrell Goulbourne may have missed games three and four of an opening round series with the Tri City Americans, but he wouldn't miss a date with the Royals in round two for anything. The 21 year-old is looking forward to playing against an old friend, Brandon Magee, as the two buddies off the ice will have to put their friendship on the shelf for a week and a half as the two Edmonton residents face each other for the first time in a playoff series. Goulbourne has 37 games of playoff experience while Magee has 23 games under his belt.
  • You would be correct to assume that the 71 shots the Rockets registered in a game four opening round playoff win over Tri City a week ago today was indeed a club record. The old mark was 67 shots on goal in a 4-3 overtime win against the Vancouver Giants in the 2003 post season.
  • The Rockets are making their third consecutive appearance in the Western Conference semi finals. The team faced Seattle in round two last season with a four game sweep before facing the Kamloops Blazers in 2013 and being eliminated in four straight.  
  • I mentioned on this blog before how much I like Victoria Royals d-man Chaz Redikopp. Known at the WHL level as a shut down defenceman, that is a far cry from the type of player the Royals drafted in the first round in 2012. Redikopp scored a lot of goals while playing bantam at Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy, picking up 18 goals and collecting 59 points in 62 games back in 2011-2012.  
  • Madison Bowey is one of only two current Kelowna Rockets that were with the team during a second round appearance in 2011 against the Portland Winterhawks. Tyrell Goulbourne was just 16 at the time while Bowey played game six as a 15 year-old. 
  • Overtime hockey in the playoffs can be a lengthy affair. The longest playoff game involving the Rockets came April 22, 2003, when in double overtime, Tyler Metcalfe would score the game winner at the 18:58 mark in Seattle's 3-2 win. It just eclipsed a double overtime win for the Rockets against Vancouver on May 27, 2003. On that night, Ryan Cuthbert would score at 18:25 of double overtime in a 4-3 win. 
  • I was asked the other day about the Kelowna Rockets playoff record for most goals in a playoff series. The answer is easy because it didn't happen that long ago and it was very memorable. Geordie Wudrick would score eight goals in an opening round playoff series against the Everett Silvertips in a heart pumping game seven affair back in 2010.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Rockets and Royals clash in second round

Michael Herringer faces old team
  • It shouldn't feel odd, but the Kelowna Rockets are facing a BC Division team in the second round of the WHL playoffs. The playoff menu for the Rockets over the last few years has been mainly U.S Division cuisine, but that is about to change as the Western Conference regular season champions will attempt to feast on the Victoria Royals. For what it's worth - and it isn't much now - the Rockets were 5-2-1-0 in the eight games against the Royals this season. Those two regulation losses included a 6-3 setback at Prospera Place when Rourke Chartier, Justin Kirkland, Gage Quinney and Josh Morrissey were all out of the line up. I hate to make excuses, because frankly excuses are weak, but you have to admits those are four significant pieces of the puzzle out of the line up. Regardless, the Royals can win this series if the Rockets are not playing at their optimum level. They score significantly easier than the Americans. They are dramatically more determined in initiating body contact and will get a significant offensive contribution from the d-core, which includes Joe Hicketts and Travis Brown. Without question, the Rockets go up a weight class with this second round opponent.
  • It will be interesting to see how the Rockets respond to a much more aggressive opponent. The Royals have traditionally, under coach Dave Lowry, made it a point of hitting hard and finishing checks. The main target has been Rourke Chartier. My guess is the Royals believe Chartier is the head of the Rockets body, and if they can hit and wear him down, it has a trickle down effect to the rest of the team. Look for Chartier to be public enemy number one in this series. It was that way during the regular season, so I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case in this best of seven where the stakes are far greater.
  • Nick Merkley and Madison Bowey led the way for the Rockets in the seasonal series with ten points apiece and both will have to be equally as good in this round. Merkley had 4 goals and 6 assists while Bowey had two goals and 8 helpers. In a four game sweep over Tri City, Bowey scored three times.
  • Brandon Magee was the story for the Royals in a five game series win over Prince George. The 21 year-old had six goals in the five games and scored the overtime series clincher. Magee had 5+5=10 in the eight games against the Rockets during the regular season and it will be interesting to see who Dan Lambert has out on the ice to contain Magee's line. 
  • Magee and 21 year-old forward Austin Carroll are the likely candidates to stir the pot if the pot needs stirring. The two racked up a combined 89 penalty minutes between them in the eight game seasonal series. Rodney Southam was the most active agitator from the Rockets perspective including four fighting majors: two each against Austin Carroll and Ryan Gagnon.
  • The key players to watch out for in this series are Tyson Baillie for the Rockets and Chaz Reddekopp for the Royals. This is where Baillie shines. The 19 year-old sparkles in a series where it is tough in the trenches. Baillie is a proven playoff performer where the tougher the grind becomes the more determined he gets. Reddekopp, for my money, is severely underrated and is a physical forces back on the Royals blue line. The West Kelowna resident doesn't receive the positive press that he deserves because fellow blue liners Joe Hicketts and Travis Brown are more charismatic in the offensive zone. 
  • Michael Herringer earned his first career WHL playoff start and win in a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory against the Tri City Americans last Thursday. While Jackson Whistle will start in goal in game one, Herringer isn't a bad option considering his seasonal series success against the Royals. Herringer (pictured above), had a 4-1-0-0 record in five starts and posted a goals against average of 2.80. Whistle played in only three games and was 1-1-1-0. The 19 year-old had a goals against average of 3.60 and a save percentage of .872. Herringer is a former Victoria Royal. The soft spoken goaltender was a 9th round bantam pick.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Soft spoken forward makes noise in overtime

Gage Quinney - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • Dan Lambert had a hunch that Gage Quinney would be the hero in overtime. The Kelowna Rockets head coach channelled his inner Nostradamus to predict the 19 year-old forward would find the back of the net for his first ever playoff goal. Whether it was pure luck or a premonition, Lambert called it. Quinney went out and beat Americans goaltender Eric Comrie with 1:28 left in the first overtime, lifting the Kelowna Rockets to a 5-4 win and a four game sweep. Quinney’s game winner came on the Rockets 71st shot on net.
  • That’s right; the Rockets would fire 71 shots at Americans goaltender Eric Comrie. That total was built up after carrying a 16-0 shot advantage in the first nine minutes of the game before Tri City would finally get a puck directed towards Jackson Whistle. A seeing eye wrist shot from the side boards glancing off defenceman Cole Martin and then found its way past Whistle. The Rockets ended the opening period with a 20-7 shot advantage yet trailed 2-0. It marked the first time in the series that the Americans had scored a first period goal and the first time they had a lead after twenty minutes.
  • Despite the two goal deficit, Rourke Chartier got the ball rolling early in the second period to make it a one goal game, but again the Americans found the back of the net. A weak wrister from the blue line that Whistle had problems detecting ended up hitting the post before it was jammed in for a shorthanded goal. Head Coach Dan Lambert had no choice but to pull the veteran goaltender in favour of back up Michael Herringer, who made 11 saves, earned his first career WHL playoff win and saw his team claw back from a 4-1 deficit.
  • Did the change in goal make a difference? Madison Bowey scored a power play goal shortly thereafter and Rourke Chartier fired home his second of the game 36 seconds later. Entering the third period down by only a goal, Bowey scored his second of the game 37 seconds into the final frame and it was tied at four. Three goals in a span of 2:24 seconds had the visitors on even terms.
  • Game four started with a bang when Rockets designated tough guy Chance Braid dropped the gloves with Americans 230 pound forward Maxwell James. The two were jawing at the opening face-off and then elected to tangle just four seconds after the puck was dropped. The WHL frowns upon such actions, so Braid may find himself suspended for game one of the Western Conference semi final.
  • The Rockets eliminated the Americans in four straight games. It marked the first time the Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets have eliminated a U.S based team in the first round in a sweep in their 24 years in the WHL.
  • The loss for the Americans saw the end of the junior career for 19 year-old goaltender Eric Comrie. The classy Edmonton product is regarded as one of the elite netminders in his age group will now go on to pro hockey in the AHL with the Winnipeg Jets minor league affiliate. It was great to shake his hand after the game and congratulate him on a tremendous WHL career.
  • Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving took in Wednesday night’s game.
  • The Rockets now await the winner of the Victoria/Prince George series to see who they will face in round two. Game one and two are set for next Friday and Saturday night at Prospera Place. Tickets go on sale this morning.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tough night for goalies in game three victory

Shoot the Breeze Photography

  • Eric Comrie deserves a Mulligan. So does Jackson Whistle. Both goaltenders were lights out terrific in game one and two of this opening round playoff series between the Kelowna Rockets and Tri City Americans. Many were wondering if these two could keep up the pace. Unfortunately for both of them, on the same night oddly, looked human in the Rockets 5-3 win. Comrie made two nice saves on Gage Quinney in the first period and had no chance on Riley Stadel's opening goal, but the 19 year-old didn't make the timely saves we are accustomed to seeing him make. Tomas Soustal's low wrist shot to the glove hand side was a stoppable puck and Tyson Baillie's power play goal through Comrie's legs in the third period is one the Winnipeg Jets prospect will easily deny. After being the best player on the ice in game one and two, sadly for the Americans, their last line of defense was mortal in the two goal loss.
  • After shutting out the Americans in game one and two, you knew the dam would break for Jackson Whistle. Named the CHL goalie of the week earlier in the day, Whistle was just average in the game three win. Like Comrie, the 19 year-old didn't make any outlandish saves to deny the Americans of glorious scoring chances. Whistle had no chance on the Beau McCue goal which ended his shutout streak at 154:14, but Jordan Topping's goal from the wing and McCue's second goal to make things interesting late in the game was a rising shot that should be stopped. The nice thing was Whistle didn't have to be terrific at his end because Comrie was just OK at the other end of the ice. 
  • No one noticed in the building, but Joe Gatenby was the Rockets top player. Gatenby's compete level was the best on the team. I would venture to guess he didn't lose a puck battle all night long. His teammates? I different story. I thought the majority of the team didn't have the compete for pucks like we witnessed in game one and two. Several times, American players were able to out muscle the visitors off the puck. It had nothing to do with making body contact and separating the man from the puck, but just more 'want' in getting it to win it outright.
  • Disciple, or a lack thereof was a real concern in game three for the Rockets. They allowed the Americans nine power play chances. Nine! That can't happen...EVER...in the playoffs if you want to win. Thankfully the Americans power play unit struggled and only manufactured one goal. Sure, some of the calls were suspect, but you have to avoid going to the penalty box that often. You have to play smart at this time of the year and two penalties by veteran players, who I won't mention, must be eliminated. Those two penalties are a tell tale sign of where the majority of the team was mentally last night.
  • The Rockets struck for two power play goals. Tyson Baillie's game winner was essentially a two-on-one off the rush, so while it counts as a power play goal, the team didn't exactly set up in the offensive zone and create the scoring chance from there. But after going 0 for 7 in the first two games, the Rockets will take any success they can get with the extra man.
  • I thought Tomas Soustal had a good game. I think Cole Lind played well. Chance Braid had some good shifts. Anyone who had determination and wanted to battle along the boards looked good in my opinion. Lind's assist on Braid's third period goal was a great example of wanting the puck more than the opponent and literally willing the puck into the net.
  • I will go back to the fact that if Comrie was as good in game three as he was in game one and two, the Americans may be a game away from tying this series. Fortunately the goalie struggled or the Rockets could be up in the series 2-1 not 3-0.
  • How did Parker Wotherspoon not get a game star for the Americans last night? He stood out like a sore thumb. Like Gatenby, he too won pucks, made great decisions and often rushed the puck up ice. You have to remember Wotherspoon is a 1997 born player. I thought he was the best American on the ice by a country mile. The score-sheet won't show it, but more importantly his play did.
  • A pretty decent crowd last night at the Toyota Center. A Tuesday game that saw just over 32 hundred fans on hand should put a smile on the face of ownership. 
  • Game four in the series goes tonight at the Toyota Center. The Rockets can wrap up this series in four straight games but the effort has to be better....and the team has left lots of room for it to be significantly better. Leon Draisaitl was extremely quiet outside of two grade 'A' scoring chances where he fired the puck directly into the logo of Comrie. If that line of Tyson Baillie, Leon Draisaitl and Gage Quinney can come alive in game four, I like the Rockets chances of advancing tonight to round two.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A day in advance. Game notes for game three

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets have a 2-0 lead on the Tri City Americans heading into game three of this Western Conference quarter final series. The Rockets have out-scored the Americans 9-0 in the first two games. Game three is tonight with game four tomorrow night again at the Toyota Center. If a game five is necessary, it will be played Friday at Prospera Place. The Rockets are coming off a 3-0 shutout win in game two Saturday night. Jackson Whistle made 30 saves for his second consecutive shutout in the post season. Leon Draisaitl had a goal and an assist while Rodney Southam and Tyson Baillie added singles. The Rockets fired a series high 45 shots on net and were 0 for 4 on the power play. These two teams collided four times during the regular season with the Rockets going 3-1-0-0. The Americans have the bragging rights of being the first team to beat the Rockets with a 5-2 victory on October 18th. It snapped the Rockets 10 game winning streak to start the season. In two games at Prospera Place during the regular season, the Rockets were a 4-0 (October 22nd) and a 7-1 winner (January 14th). In the only other game, in Kennewick, the Rockets earned a 4-1 win. Overall, this is the 6th time these two teams have collided in the playoffs (1996, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2015). This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history. Since the Christmas break the Rockets are 27-8-2-1.

Playoff series scoring breakdown:
Period:         1     2    3   Total
Rockets:      2     3    4     9
Americans   0    0    0      0

This and That: The difference in scoring between these two teams is significant, but specifically on the blue line. The Rockets had 215 points from defenceman this season while the Americans had 114 points. That is a 101 point difference…Leon Draisaitl has scored in both games in this playoff series…Rockets defenceman Madison Bowey and Americans defender Justin Hamonic has a few things in common. Both were born in Winnipeg. Both played midget hockey for the Winnipeg Wild and both are captains of their respective teams for a second consecutive season…The Rockets are 0 for 7 on the power play in this series…Rodney Southam’s game winning goal in game two was his first career playoff goal….Tyrell Goulbourne has a fighting major in back-to-back playoff seasons. The 21 year-old fought Americans forward Maxwell James in game two and also tangled with former Am’s defenceman Josh Thrower in game five of last year’s opening round playoff series…The Rockets have out-shot the Americans 31-11 in the first period in the first two games of this series…The Rockets won the most road games of any team in the WHL (27)…Nick Merkley and Cole Linaker were the only two players to play in all 72 regular season games this season… The Rockets were held to just one goal seven times this season. Kamloops (road), Seattle (road), Edmonton (road), Calgary (twice – once on road and once at home), Regina (home) and Prince Albert (home) have turned the trick against the highest scoring team in the Western Conference...Justin Kirkland has missed 17 straight games with a LBI…Josh Morrissey is missing his 12th straight game tonight with a LBI…The Rockets are facing a U.S Division team for the seventh time in the last eight playoff series. The only exception was against the Kamloops Blazers in a second round series back in 2013…Tyrell Goulbourne has a team high 37 playoff games under his belt…Madison Bowey has 32 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season …Cole Martin has 31 playoff games on his resume…Rodney Southam was named the Rockets unsung hero of the year at the teams year end awards banquet…The Rockets averaged 41 shots per game in last year’s opening round playoff series against the Americans. In the first two games of this series the team is averaging 37.5 shots on net…In total the Rockets have 317 games of playoff experience in the lineup this evening…Veteran d-man Mitch Wheaton has been cleared to play and could see action.

Rockets 2014-2015 regular season recap: The Rockets finished in first place in the Western Conference with 53 wins and 112 points. The 53 wins and 112 points was the second highest total in franchise history. The team scored 305 goals, the second most in the WHL. The 183 goals allowed were the fewest of any team in the WHL. It was the first time since 2003-2004 that the team led the league with the fewest number of goals. That season they allowed 125 goals against. Nick Merkley led the team in scoring with 20 goals, 70 assists and 90 points. Merkley’s 70 assists were not a franchise record though. Rory McDade had 70 helpers in 2000-2001. Colin Long had 69 in in 2007-2008. Marty Flichel has the franchise record with 79 assists in the 1995-96 season.    

Hot to Trot: Jackson Whistle has earned back-to-back shutouts in this series..Nick Merkley has points in seven of his last ten games. The 17 year-old has 4+8=12 over that stretch….Madison Bowey has points in ten of his last fourteen games. Bowey has 4+9=13 over that stretch….Leon Draisaitl has thirty-nine points (14+25=39) in his last twenty-two games.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Whistle matches Comrie in a game two win

Jackson Whistle has been a brick wall - Shoot the Breeze Photo 

  • Move over Eric Comrie, the guy 180 feet from your crease is no shrinking violet either. As good as the Tri City Americans goaltender has been in the first two games of an opening round playoff series against the Kelowna Rockets, Jackson Whistle has been no slouch at the other end of the ice. While the 19 year-old West Kelowna resident has no where near the same resume as Comrie, the undrafted goaltender has been equally as good in the first two games of this Western Conference quarter final series. Whistle made 30 saves Saturday night in the Rockets 3-0 home ice win, helping his team to a two-nothing lead in this best of seven playoff series. Whistle was the better of the two goaltenders over the final 40 minutes of play, making his best stop on Americans forward Vladislav Lukin on a breakway in the second period. Lukin received a pass at the Rockets blue line and skated behind the defense only to see his shot, between the legs of Whistle, denied by the veteran goaltender. Whistle seemed to struggle early in the game when his team out-shot the Americans 20-6 in the first period, but he made timely saves when it really counted. Surprisingly, in the building he was not named the first star but was clearly in the best player on the ice through the final 40 minutes of the hockey game.
  • Eric Comrie was without question the story in the first period. The Tri City Americans goaltender was peppered with 20 shots and allowed only one goal. For a second consecutive game the Rockets could have been up 4-0 without Comrie's exploits. The only puck that found the back of the net was a Rodney Southam one timer that beat the Winnipeg Jets prospect high to the blocker side. Comrie made several solid stops in the first period including a nice left pad save on rookie Cole Lind and a left toe save on Gage Quinney in an opening 20 minutes that was heavily tilted in the Rockets favour.
  • This game was in doubt until Leon Draisaitl fired a wrist shot home with less than five minutes left in the third period.  Draisaitl finished the game with a goal and an assist but for the most part was quiet in the second game of the series. The Edmonton Oilers first round pick fired a nice shot through a screen on a one-on-one situation with Americans defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon which essentially put the game away. The 19 year-old would set up Tyson Baillie for an empty netter with 84 seconds left in the hockey game.
  • The Americans had more glorious chances to score in this game in the final 40 minutes than they did in a 6-0 loss in game one. The best scoring chance happened on a two on none when Americans forward Justin Gutierrez received a pass at the Rockets blue line and was sent in on what appeared to be a breakaway. The 19 year-old forward must have been on a long shift because he uncharacteristically lumbered into the zone with the puck where a teammate, Beau McCue, joined him on the glorious scoring chance. Gutierrez elected to pass it off to McCue who returned the favour. The end result? A shot taken by Gutierrez that missed the net on a glorious scoring chance for the visitors. 
  • Jackson Whistle has now gone 120 playoff minutes without allowing a goal. This has never happened in Kelowna Rockets franchise history that a goalie has earned back-to-back playoff shutouts. Kelly Guard is the franchise leader in playoff shutouts with five. Whistle has two in two games.
  • A fight in the playoffs? Yep, it happened when Americans forward Maxwell James  was slashed in the neutral zone by Rockets 21 year-old Tyrell Goulbourne. James immediately threw his gloves down and started throwing punches at the unsuspecting Rockets forward. The Americans were accessed an extra two minutes for instigating but were able to kill off the penalty. The Rockets are now 0 for 7 on the power play in the first two games of the series.
  • The Rockets have now out-shot the Americans 31-11 in the first period. 
  • Former Kelowna Rockets forward Kris Schmidli attended the game. Schmidli was involved in the Leon Draisaitl trade. The PA Raiders also received 18 year-old Dalton Yorke and a first round bantam pick.
  • Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney attended the game.
  • Game three and four in the series are back in Tri City Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Energy on the ice and in the building

Shoot the Breeze Photography

  • Head Coach Dan Lambert didn't want his team to play cute hockey. The players on the Kelowna Rockets roster delivered in an impressive 6-0 win last night in game one of a best of seven Western Conference quarter final series against the Tri City Americans. Not one goal will make the TSN honour role, but who cares! Outside of a three minute span of the second period, the Rockets were clearly the better team. They were first on pucks, finished hits and came in waves. Had it not been for Americans goaltender Eric Comrie's heroics in the first period, what would the score have been? Of the ten shots the Rockets had in the opening 20 minutes, were six of those quality chances? It was a terrific opening 20 minutes.
  • While Comrie will get much credit for keeping it close after one period, how about Jackson Whistle's save early in the second period with his team playing with a 1-0 lead? Whistle made a solid stop on Jordan Topping on a two-on-one in the visitors first solid offensive push of the game.
  • Tyson Baillie took a penalty eight minutes into the second period but Nick Merkley's shorthanded goal essentially turned the game back in the Rockets favour. Merkley's goal was one of two shorthanded goals the Rockets would score with Chartier's second of the game in the third period coming with Tyrell Goulbourne in the box for hooking.
  • Whistle earned the shutout in his first career playoff start. It marked the first time a Rockets goalie has earned a playoff shutout since Jordon Cooke made 25 saves in a 4-0 win in game four of a first round playoff series in 2013 against the Seattle Thunderbirds. It was the first home playoff shutout since Mark Guggenberger made 21 saves in the WHL final against the Calgary Hitmen in 2009.  
  • The best goal of the game may have been from Dillon Dube. It had nothing to do with how the puck was fired past Comrie, but more so how it was created. The Rockets hemmed the Americans inside their own zone for a significant amount of time. A gassed Justin Hamonic turned over a puck at the side of the net and the relentless forecheck made the Americans pay. 
  • Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley each had three point games, but anyone wearing a white, red, teal and black uniform had a solid game. Riley Stadel impressed me, as did rookie Cole Lind. Chance Braid took body. Tyrell Goulbourne had good energy. Again, it was hard to pick apart the home teams game.  
  • Few will agree with me, but I thought the officiating was terrific. They allowed the two teams to play! Knit picky calls could have been made but the two referee's called it both ways. I hate an overly officiated game. I actually detest it. I hate where one official blatantly makes calls against the team that is leading in order to keep a game close. I know they don't purposely try to do it, but sometimes it looks/feels that way. I give the tip of the hat to Ryan Benbow and Adam Griffiths. I thought both guys were consistent. Maybe its easy for me to say in a 6-0 game?
  • Leon Draisaitl, Gage Quinney and Chance Braid all won their very first WHL playoff games Friday night. All three were swept in back to back seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders.
  • Rookies Lucas Johansen and Tomas Soustal made their playoff debuts against the Americans. Johansen had his first playoff assist on Leon Draisaitl's second period goal while 16 year-old Cole Lind also earned his first playoff point on Madison Bowey's third period goal.
  • Dillon Dube scored his first career playoff goal in the 6-0 win. Dube played one post season game as a 15 year-old with the Rockets in last seasons Western Conference final. 
  • I thought the atmosphere in the building was excellent. Noise makers were distributed before the game and it made a significant impact. I thought the building was loud and alive. The music, for whatever reason on this night was excellent. It wasn't overbearing and the song selection was a home run. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rockets game notes vs. Americans

Dan Lambert coaches first career WHL playoff game
Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to the 2015 WHL playoffs. The Kelowna Rockets open the first round against the Tri City Americans. These two teams met in the opening round last March with the Rockets winning in five games.
These two teams collided four times this season with the Rockets going 3-1-0-0. The Americans have the bragging rights of being the first team to beat the Rockets with a 5-2 victory on October 18th. It snapped the Rockets 10 game winning streak to start the season. In two games at Prospera Place during the regular season, the Rockets were a 4-0 (October 22nd) and a 7-1 winner (January 14th). In the only other game, in Kennewick, the Rockets earned a 4-1 win. Overall, this is the 6th time these two teams have collided in the playoffs (1996, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2015). This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history. The Rockets head into the post season riding a two game winning streak after wins against Vancouver last weekend. Since the Christmas break the Rockets are 25-8-2-1.

Rockets 2014-2015 regular season recap: The Rockets finished in first place in the Western Conference with 53 wins and 112 points. The 53 wins and 112 points was the second highest total in franchise history. The team scored 305 goals, the second most in the WHL. The 183 goals allowed were the fewest of any team in the WHL. It was the first time since 2003-2004 that the team led the league with the fewest number of goals. That season they allowed 125 goals against. Nick Merkley led the team in scoring with 20 goals, 70 assists and 90 points. Merkley’s 70 assists were not a franchise record though. Rory McDade had 70 helpers in 2000-2001. Colin Long had 69 in in 2007-2008. Marty Flichel has the franchise record with 79 assists in the 1995-96 season.    

Season Series Sharpshooters: Rourke Chartier had 4+2=6 in four games against the Americans this season. Tyrell Goulbourne also had 4+2=6 in the four meetings. Leon Draisaitl had 2+2=4 in one game against the Am’s. Jackson Whistle was 3-1-0-0 in the four games with a goals against average of 1.50 and a save percentage of .938. The Rockets out-scored the Am’s 17-7. Eric Comrie played in three of the four games, posting a goals against average of 3.33 and a save percentage of .900.  

This and That: Rourke Chartier was named the Kelowna Rockets MVP. The 18 year-old had 48+34=82 in 58 games and led the team in power play goals with 14.…Madison Bowey was named the team’s top defenceman….Devante Stephens was named rookie of the year and most improved….Joe Gatenby was the scholastic player of the year…Madison Bowey and Rourke Chartier were named first team Western Conference all-stars. Nick Merkley and Josh Morrissey were named second team Western Conference all-stars….The Rockets won the most road games of any team in the WHL (27)…Nick Merkley and Cole Linaker were the only two players to play in all 72 regular season games this season….The Rockets owned the best power play in the WHL this season (26.2%) and scored a league high 90 goals with it…Only the Brandon Wheat Kings had more home ice wins (27) than the Rockets (26)…Dan Lambert is the Western Conference nominee for coach of the year. GM Bruce Hamilton is the Western Conference nominee for executive of the year….The Rockets are rated as the fourth best team in the final CHL Top 10 junior rankings….Kole Lind, Jordan Borstmayer and Brayden Chizen have joined the team for the remainder of the season. Lind and Borstmayer played for the Saskatoon Midget Contacts. Borstmayer is a third round pick from 2013 while Lind was the second to last player taken in the fourth round that year. Chizen was a 9th round bantam pick that year…The Rockets were held to just one goal seven times this season. Kamloops (road), Seattle (road), Edmonton (road), Calgary (twice – once on road and once at home), Regina (home) and Prince Albert (home) have turned the trick against the highest scoring team in the Western Conference...Justin Kirkland has missed 15 straight games with a LBI…The Rockets are facing a U.S Division team for the seventh time in the last eight playoff series. The only exception was against the Kamloops Blazers in a second round series back in 2013…Tyrell Goulbourne has a team high 35 playoff games under his belt…The Kelowna Rockets saw a four percent increase in attendance at home games this season. An average of 5 thousand 180 fans took in home games at Prospera Place….Madison Bowey has 30 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season…Damon Severson was the Rockets playoff scoring leader one year ago….The Rockets played in just one overtime playoff game last season. It was game three of the Western Conference final against Portland….Cole Martin has 29 playoff games on his resume…Four Rockets are making their playoff debuts. Lucas Johansen, Tomas Soustal, Devante Stephens and Tate Coughlin could see their first taste of playoff hockey…Defenceman Josh Morrissey turns 20 tomorrow. Happy Birthday Jo-Mo!!

Hot to Trot: Nick Merkley has points in six of his last eight games. The 17 year-old has 3+6=9 over that stretch….Madison Bowey has points in nine of his last twelve games. Bowey has 3+8=11 over that stretch….Leon Draisaitl has thirty-six points (12+24=36) in his last twenty games…Cole Martin is a +143 in his four year career.