Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hunting down the Blazers


It took them 40 games to do it, but the Kelowna Rockets have finally caught up to the Kamloops Blazers. The two teams find themselves tied atop the BC DIvision with 60 points after the Rockets 8-4 win Saturday night over the Prince George Cougars. The Blazers watched everyone fade in their rear view mirror by getting off to a tremendous start to the season with 14 consecutive wins. The Rockets, conversely, went 7-5-1-1 in their first 14 games and at one point saw a gap of 18 points between themselves and the defending BC Division champions. But a red hot November and more steady play in December, which include 9 wins in 11 games, and the Rockets find themselves on equal footing. In fact, the Rockets still have one game in hand on the Blazers, who have played 42 regular season games compared to Kelowna's 41.
With 31 games left before the real season starts - the playoffs - the Rockets have served notice that they are one of three teams with a legitimate shot at challenging Portland for a Western Conference regular season title. Two months ago, for the Kelowna Rockets, that was only a pipe dream.

The Rockets extended their winning streak to six games Saturday night with a six goal second period. The start was the key after coming out of the gates flat Friday in a 4-2 win. A night later, the Rockets gave the Cougars nothing in the defensive zone and scored twice for a 2-0 lead and an 11-4 advantage on the shot clock. It sent a clear message to a battered Cougars line up that this indeed could be a long night for them. While sluggish Friday, the visitors were a formidable foe in the finale of the weekend series.

Only four players failed to hit the score sheet Saturday night as the Rockets scored by committee with eight different goal scorers. Even rookie Justin Kirkland got into the act with his first career WHL goal. Not only did Kirkland score, but the wide eyed rookie notched the game winner.

Myles Bell collected his team leading 26th goal of the season and now is 3 shy of the league lead.

Dylan McKinlay notched two assists giving him 150 points in his WHL career.

Goaltender Jordon Cooke earned his 13th consecutive win. The 19 year-old was named the first star Friday when he was the main reason why his team was able to earn two points. Cooke was kept busy Saturday night too, but this time had more room for error as his counterpart at the other end, Cougars goalie Mac Engel, had a rough night giving up 8 goals.

Zach Franko did something his teammates have never seen him do. Fight. The 19 year-old dropped his gloves with 5'6, 150 pound Cougars forward Jake Mikitiuk in a second period scrap that didn't include many punches. It gave Franko the 'Gordie Howe Hattrick' and a few chuckles from his teammates, who watched on in amazement. It was Franko's first fighting major in 183 career WHL games. Before that scrap, the Winnipeg resident had just two penalty minutes this season.

The Rockets are now 6 and 1 against the Cougars this season. The seasonal series comes to an end at Prospera Place on March 14th.

Now that the NHL lockout is over, several WHL teams will lose players to pro training camps. The Rockets aren't one of them though. They've been informed that Nashville Predators 2nd rounder Colton Sissons and New Jersey Devils 2n rounder Damon Severson will stay put. Unfortunately for those two and Winnipeg Jets 6th round pick Ryan Olsen, they will have to wait until next October to participate in their first official NHL training camps.

Up next? The Rockets host Victoria Wednesday in a rematch of a hard hitting game between the two teams a week ago. The Rockets won the game 4-2, extending their winning streak on home ice to 15 games. Three players hat participated at the Under 17's in Quebec will return to the line up as Riley Stadel, Austin Glover and Rourke Chartier return to their junior team.

4 comments:

daryl said...

Hey Regan,

Great season so far... so nice to watch a team that is a contender again... was there a European that was possibly coming over after the Jrs tourny? If so, any rumors floating around? Any talk about Hank's return? Couple of good tests for the team this week! Victoria and Tricities are both good teams...

g.k said...

Regan why did the Rockets wait so long before deciding Chapman needed surgery, if his ankle wasn't healing properly they should have looked at other alternatives. I feel really bad for the kid, he never got a chance to finish his WHL career with the Rockets or any other organization. Good luck Mitchell you were a leader & a warrior that's for sure!!!

Regan Bartel said...

daryl: No euro from WJ. Girgensens isn't coming so don't be fooled into what others may tell you. Nyberg is close to two weeks away from returning.

g.k: They thought the injury would heal...then a setback and then another setback. Tough for him to compete at a high level considering he hasn't played all season. Would have been risky regardless to keep him considering it was a nagging injury.

Mitch Chapman said...

Appreciate the kind words.

Really enjoyed playing for the Rockets the past three seasons. Nothing but the utmost respect for all the coaching staff, players and management.

Regan:
Really going to miss your voice on those long bus rides...

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