Monday, March 31, 2014

In case you forgot about last years epic series

The Rockets are smaller than the T-Birds right?

Kelowna resident Justin Hickman - Shoot the Breeze
  • Do you like defencemen that can skate and score? You are in for a treat then when Kelowna Rockets captain Madison Bowey faces T-Birds speedster Shea Theodore. Theodore scored 22 times this season while Bowey found the back of the net 21 times. Theodore is a first round pick of the Anaheim Ducks while Bowey is a second rounder of the Washington Capitals. (Editor note: Theodore is a 1995 birth date, so will be a 19 year-old in hockey age next season).
  • Speaking of Theodore, he falls into the same category as Rockets blue liner Damon Severson. Both were snubbed by Hockey Canada for a chance at representing their country at the World Junior Hockey Championship. Theodore didn't even get an invite to main camp while Severson did but was a late cut after he was shipped back to Canada after the team trimmed its roster in Sweden.     
  • This playoff series will feature the top two rookies in the Western Hockey League. Sorry Saskatoon Blades newcomer Nikita Sherbak. The Russian is 18 while the two players featured here are both 16, in Kelowna Rockets Nick Merkley and T-Birds Mathew Barzal. Merkley had 58 points this season while Barzal had 54. The Seattle sharp shooter played in seven fewer games. The two were expected to be teammates for Team Pacific at the Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Cape Breton Nova Scotia, but Barzal got hurt. Team Pacific ended up winning silver. Both players can make an impact, which isn't usually the case at that young of an age. 
  • We saw former Okanagan Rockets alumnus Parker Bowles in a Tri City Americans uniform in round one. Now in round two against Seattle, another player who cut his teeth with the local midget team will be sure to make an impact. Justin Hickman played with the Okanagan Rockets during the 2009-2010 season. This season the 19 year-old had an excellent year with 22 goals. Oh, he also led the T-Birds in penalty minutes with 154. Teammate Jaimen Yakubowski technically had more pims, but 30 of those were picked up while playing with Lethbridge before being traded out west.
  • The T-Birds are trying to do something few WHL teams are able to accomplish They have just one 20 year-old on their roster in Mitch Elliott. Most teams take full advantage of using all three overage spots. The T-Birds are a veteran group though with 10 - 19 year-old's. The Rockets, by comparison have seven. 
  • How will the Rockets handle the T-Birds physical play? The reason I make that suggestion is the T-Birds were extremely physical against Everett in the opening round and two of the Tips d-man were hurt and couldn't play in game five. Players with a lack of courage will be exposed in this series. You won't have the open ice like you enjoyed in round one because the competition is stiffer. Failing to pay the price to make a play or having a reduced battle level in the corners or along the boards will show scouts that when it comes to the heavy lifting, either you've got it or you don't. 
  • The Rockets are smaller than the T-Birds right? That is the perception when you look at the two teams. But if you combine the weights of both, the T-Birds are just slightly heavier. The numbers don't lie. The T-Birds combined weight is 4046 pounds. The Rockets combined weight (excluding the goalies) is 4016. That is a difference of just 30 pounds. That statistic surprised me. 
  • The T-Birds are statistically taller, but this series doesn't involve a hoop and a ball does it?      
  • We will see if and when Myles Bell returns to the Rockets line up after suffering an injury in game four of an opening round series with Tri City. If the teams leading scorer is unable to play it obviously is a significant blow. But that said, did the Kootenay Ice throw in the towel when Tim Bozon suffered from Meningitis? Nope. Instead they picked up their play and scored buckets of goals in a first round series upset over the Calgary Hitmen.  
  • Jordon Cooke has to outperform Seattle goalie Taran Kozun in this series. Would you not agree that the 20 year-old Rockets veteran was better than Americans netminder Eric Comrie in game five?  Cooke made the bigger saves. Had Cooke been average, a game six would have been played a night later in Kennewick Washington.
  • Kozun is meeting the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs for a second consecutive season. The 19 year-old was a back up to Cole Cheveldave last season when the Kamloops Blazers beat the Rockets in four games in the Western Conference semi finals.
  • The Rockets had two-first round bantam picks play in an opening round series against Tri City. Rourke Chartier was a number one pick in 2011 while Nick Merkley is a first rounder from 2012. The T-Birds have four-first round picks in their line up. Mathew Barzal (2012), Ryan Gropp (2011), Jared Hauff (2010) and Branden Troock (2009) are on that list. Jesse Lees, the Rockets first rounder in 2010, didn't play a game in round one. Jason Siebert, the teams first pick in 2009 is no longer in the league.        
  • Congrats to Dillon Dube and the Notre Dame Argos for winning the Saskatchewan Midget AAA title on the weekend. Dube is the Rockets first round pick from 2013.   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rockets/T-Birds - Part Deux

  • So here we go again. Fantastic! After last seasons opening round playoff series where the Kelowna Rockets became only the second team in WHL history to come back from being down 0-3, I anticipate the T-Birds being more than just a little motivated in this second crack at the boys from the Okanagan. Seattle fans seemed to stomach the meltdown last season quite easily considering the Rockets were 50 points better during the regular season. I am not sure the T-Bird players felt the same way. Seattle was the underdogs and head coach Steve Konowalchuk played that card before the puck even dropped in game one. The 2014 playoff clash is different though and don't let anybody else tell you otherwise. The under dog moniker won't work for either team here. Sorry coaches.  
  • While separated by 30 points in the Western Conference standings this time around, make no mistake the T-Birds are a contender. They won 41 times in the highly competitive U.S Division. The division was the best in the WHL this season. Just ask any of the Eastern Division teams that went through there this season and got severely worked. And remember, the T-Birds played  the Portland Winterhawks 12 times - 6 at home and 6 on the road. Eliminate even half of those games and the T-Birds could be close to a 50 win team. This season the T-Birds were an impressive 4 and 2 in six home games against the Winterhawks.They were 0 and 6 in Portland and were out-scored 42-12.
  • The Rockets were 2-1-0-1 in the four games in the seasonal series against Seattle. The T-Birds were 2-1-0-1 against Kelowna. What? Yup, those shootout losses - one by each team - make the records of the two club identical. You can blame NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for that.  
  • The seasonal series means little. Why? The Rockets played a game in Seattle/Kent on January 26th with an inconvenient 5 pm start time after playing the night before at home against Lethbridge. The visitors were anything but fresh. From a Seattle perspective, they didn't have starting goaltender Taran Kozun in two of the four games after acquired the 19 year-old at the trade deadline. Those are just two reasons why the seasonal series means diddly.    
  • For what its worth the Rockets scored 72 more goals and allowed 67 fewer goals against than Seattle. The goals against is a little misleading considering goalie Taran Kozun wasn't around at the time when the T-Birds allowed 10 goals against in three games, in a pair of losses in Portland and in Calgary.   
  • The Prince George Cougars stole Todd Fiddler from Moose Jaw in what appeared to be a minor trade at the time. The same could be said when Seattle GM Russ Farewell acquired Taran Kozun from Kamloops. Farewell knew something few others did that Kozun could be a solid starting goaltender. I had my doubts but Kozun is no flash in the pan. The dude is for real. 
  • The Rockets need to win their home games in this series to have success. Sounds like an obvious statement, but they lost games #1 and #2 in last years opening round before managing wins in Seattle in games #4 and #6. This year winning in Seattle won't be as easy. The T-Birds were 23-9-1-3 at ShoWare Center, which is a 9 win improvement (16 more points) after struggling with a 13-15-6-2 record last season. Home ice should be massive in this series and the visitors will be hard pressed to win in the other teams building.   
  • This scheduling for the second round playoff series will move like Molasses considering the Indy 500 pace (I hate auto racing but will use the reference) set in the opening round with Tri City. In the five games against the Americans, the two teams completed the series in seven nights. By comparison this series, if it goes five games which I assume it will go longer, would be played in 9 days. Two additional off days are huge in the big picture. If it goes a full seven, it will be conducted over 13 days. 
  • More later, but for now a little taste of what's to come. The main course will arrive on Thursday with game one but before then a few appetizers over the next few days so check back.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Audio highlites from game 5

Tvrdon Tremendous

Marek Tvrdon - Shoot the Breeze
  • I think it is safe to say even Vancouver Giants head coach Don Hay would have liked Marek Tvrdon's strong play Friday night against the Tri City Americans. The 20 year-old Kelowna Rockets forward, who was often in Hay's doghouse in his days with the Giants, played at his optimum level with his new team leading them to a 4-1 win. With the victory the Rockets advance to the second round of the WHL playoffs, winning the best of seven series in five games. Tvrdon scored once in the second period to give the Rockets a 2-0 lead and then responded with a third period power play goal to give his club a 3-1 advantage. Tvrdon also set up Rourke Chartier and Mitch Wheaton with tremendous passes that failed to end up in goals. Tvrdon had a point in every game in the series. 
  • Tvrdon had these thoughts on the series. "It was a tough series. Every game was very close. It was a tough series but we finished it hard and we keep going to the next series".  Tvrdon spoke to colour man Kevin Parnell about the power play goal, which essentially put the game away. "It was a lucky goal. I take it and I walked out and nobody was there so I take it to the net, put it on my backhand and throw it at the net".       
  • The only better player on the ice other than Tvrdon was teammate Jordon Cooke. The 20 year-old goaltender made several solid stops, but none bigger than a save on Americans overager Philip Tot on a grade 'A' scoring chance when the Rockets were clinging to a 2-1 lead. Cooke finished the series with a goals against average of 2.01 and a save percentage of .935. Cooke was my MVP in the opening round.    
  • Jordon Cooke had this to say about his strong third period play. "It is do or die. I have to do my job. The team was doing theirs so at that point its my turn". Cooke also liked what he saw my teammate Marek Tvrdon. "It was a great pick up at the deadline. He had a great game. He is pretty much a pure goal scorer and it was nice to see him get those two goals tonight", Cooke added.      
  • The Americans played a solid game. Despite trailing 2-0, the visitors battled back with a power play goal from forward Parker Bowles and had several glorious chances to score in the third period. Goaltender Eric Comrie didn't have to be as spectacular as Cooke, outside of a solid stop on defenceman Madison Bowey in the first period when the game was scoreless.    
  • I have to mention Damon Severson's terrific play. The 19 year-old's urgency level was much better and he was interested in engaging in body contact. Severson is such a better player when he is physical. He is so strong and adding a physical element completes his game. I didn't think the New Jersey Devils draft pick was very good in game four where he was stick checking, not separating the man from the puck.  
  • Congrats to Carter Rigby for scoring his first career WHL playoff goal.  
  • We know Tyrell Goulbourne is tough. Now we know Americans d-man Josh Thrower can fight. What a tilt between the two, who danced in the second period with neither player giving an inch. Goulbourne threw 16 punches while Thrower threw 15 times. Thrower is only 17. Goulbourne is now 20.
  • Any time a team is eliminated from the WHL playoffs I think of the 20 year-old's that have their junior careers come to an end. In this case, former Rockets forward, now Americans overager Jessey Astles ended his time in the WHL on the same ice he started it. Astles came into the league at 16 making his debut in September of 2009 at Prospera Place against the Giants.    
  • The Rockets will play the winner of the Everett/Seattle series. The T-Birds lead that best of seven series 3 games to one. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Game Notes vs. Americans

Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets host the Tri City Americans in game five of this Western Conference quarter final. The Rockets have a chance to wrap up the series tonight with a victory leading the best of seven – three games to one. If a game six is necessary it will be played in Kennewick tomorrow night. This game is the 5th in 7 nights for both teams. The Rockets won game one (3-1), game two (3-1) and game four (5-3). The Americans won game three (4-3). The home team has won three of the five games in the series.

Game 4 Recap: Marek Tvrdon scored the game winner on the power play late in the second period in a 5-3 win. Tyson Baillie had a goal and two assists while Jordon Cooke was lights out with several solid stops. Justin Kirkland and Cole Linaker also scored as the Rockets roared out to a 3-0 lead. The Rockets were 1 for 5 on the power play. 
Game 3 Recap: Eric Comrie made 52 saves as the Americans earned a 4-3 win. Myles Bell, Marek Tvrdon and Justin Kirkland scored in the setback. The Rockets were 2 for 5 on the power play.
Game 2 Recap: Ryan Olsen scored the game winner in a 3-1 win last Sunday. Myles Bell and Joe Gatenby, with his first career WHL goal, also scored. Jordon Cooke was solid making 24 saves. The Rockets were 1 for 5 on the man advantage.
Game 1 Recap: Rourke Chartier scored twice in a 3-1 victory. Myles Bell scored the game winner in the second period on a power play blast from the blue line. Jordon Cooke made 32 saves while Americans goalie Eric Comrie earned third star status with 33 stops. Both teams were 1 for 4 on the power play.

Who’s Hot: Myles Bell has goals in three of the four games. Two of the three have been on the power play. Rourke Chartier has four points (2+2=4) in the first four games. Marek Tvrdon has a point in all four games.

This and That: The Rockets have killed off their last 13 penalties in this series (13 for 13)…Rockets have not played a playoff game on this date (March 28th) since the 2006 post season in a 4-3 round one loss to the Kootenay Ice…The Rockets have opened the scoring in two of the four games…The Rockets have out-shot the Americans in all four games….The Rockets have a power play goal in all four games…Americans forward Jessey Astles, a former Rocket, scored his biggest playoff goal during the 2011 run when he scored the game winner in overtime against Portland….The Kelowna Rockets are playing their 194th playoff game tonight…This is the 35th playoff series the Rockets have been involved in since relocating from Tacoma for the start of the 1995-96 season…Congrats to Rockets alumnus Colton Sissons for scoring his first career NHL goal last night against Buffalo. Sissons is a member of the Nashville Predators…The Kelowna Rockets first round pick in the 2013 WHL bantam draft is competing in the final of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League. Dillon Dube’s Notre Dame Argos have a two games to one lead on the Battleford Stars heading into game four Saturday night. A win and Dube is a league champion. 

Seasonal Series: These two teams met four times this season with the Rockets going 4-0-0-0, out-scoring the Americans 20-5 including 12-1 at home. Jordon Cooke played three of the four games but the Americans elected to start #1 goaltender Eric Comrie just once. The Rockets out-scored the Americans 9-0 in the first period in the four game series. The Rockets out-shot the Am’s in all four games, 186-83. This is the 5th time these two teams have met in the playoffs and the second time in round one. They have met in the playoffs in 2010, 2009, 2004 and in 1996.      

Rockets Award Winners: The Rockets handed out their team awards. Jordon Cooke was named the team MVP. Damon Severson was the Top Defenceman. Nick Merkley was named Rookie of the Year. Rourke Chartier picked up three awards including Top Defensive Forward, Most Sportsmanlike and Scholastic Player of the Year. Jackson Whistle was the Most Improved Player. Cole Martin was the Top +/- Player. Myles Bell was the Top Scorer for a second straight year.  

More League Love: Twenty year-old goaltender Jordon Cooke was named a 1st Team Western Conference WHL All-Star. Cooke was also named the Western Conference nominee for Goaltender of the Year. Teammates Damon Severson and Madison Bowey were named 2nd Team Western Conference All-Stars. Sixteen year-old Nick Merkley is the Western Conference nominee for Rookie of the Year.    

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cooke`s paddle save integral in Rockets win

The show stopping save by Cooke
  • Brian Williams couldn't believe it. Maybe even Jordon Cooke was shocked at what he had just done? The Kelowna Rockets goaltender made the save of the 2014 playoffs with the paddle of his stick when he robbed the Americans leading goal scorer in the second period. A shot from the blue line was tipped by Americans forward Justin Gutierrez, which then found its way to Williams at the side the net. Williams quickly fired the puck to the wide open goal only to see Cooke`s stick - the paddle - come from no where in desperation to bat the puck out of mid air. It was a stupidly ridiculous save that can only be appreciated on video. That save, while not appearing large at the time, was massive in the big scheme in helping the Rockets earn a 5-3 win Wednesday night and moving the team within one game of advancing to round two. 
  • Tyson Baillie now leads the team in playoff scoring after a three point effort in game four. Baillie scored his first goal of the playoffs in the third period to make it 5-2, but it was the two goals he set up that were the difference makers. Baillie set up defenceman Madison Bowey for the opening goal and was a factor on Marek Tvrdon`s game winning marker on the power play late in the second period.
  • Tvrdon should have five points in the four game playoff series. The 20 year-old should be credited with an assist on Justin Kirkland`s goal in game three. The score sheet should show a change in the next couple of days. Tvrdon had some bright moments which included a seeing eye pass to Madison Bowey in the second period, who one timed the puck and hit the post. That pass was as good as you will find at the junior level. It is that skill set that made the Detroit Red Wings take notice.      
  • The Rockets so called fourth line got into the act early with Cole Linaker receiving a nice pass from Carter Rigby and then firing it past Americans goaltender Eric Comrie to make the score 2-0. Colton Heffley also picked up an assist on the play. It was Linaker and Heffley`s first points of the series.
  • I really liked the Rockets power play, specifically in the first and second period. It looked lethal by creating great chances from either point shots or from in-tight chances on Comrie. The two power plays in the third period generated little with the team nursing the lead. A turnover at the Americans blue line resulted in a 3 on 1 shorthanded rush the other way which forced Cooke to bail out his teammates.       
  • The best forward for the Americans as the series has rolled along has been Justin Gutierrez. The 18 year-old has had his way behind the net and in the corners as the series has gone along. While standing 6`4, the Rockets d-men are giving him far to much respect considering he weighs just 185 pounds. By comparison, he is 5 pounds heavier than Rockets forward Rourke Chartier. Gutierrez is being treated like he weighs 220.           
  • Stick checking. I absolutely hate it. When defending you need an active stick but where has the art of separating the puck carrier from the puck with the use of good old fashioned body contact gone? The Americans opening goal by Brian Williams was an example of stick checking at its finest. In that entire sequence leading up to the goal, not one body check was delivered. It was way to easy for the Americans forwards to have their way in the Rockets zone. It looked like shinny.
  • The crowd at Toyota Centre was larger than game three, but Americans GM Bob Tory won`t like the fact only 2,189 fans took in the game. Poor playoff dates don`t help and many casual hockey fans are staying away when they saw the match up with one vs. eight. Again, while a miss match on paper, the games have been close and the Rockets have had to earn all three wins in this series. Nothing has come easy. 
  • Leading scorer Myles Bell was hurt late in the second period and did not return. No word on his status. At this time of the year do you really expect any word on the injury? The answer is no!
  • Game five is Friday in Kelowna. A win and the team advances to the second round for a second consecutive post season. A loss and it is back on the bus that night headed back to Tri City for game six Saturday night. 
  • Friday night`s game at Prospera Place (7:30 pm) will be the fifth game in seven nights for the two teams. This is where four line hockey should prevail but teams that face playoff elimination will likely be at their best and won't go down without a fight.   

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Not many witness Comrie's clinic

Shoot the Breeze Photography - Marissa Baecker
  • Eric Comrie put on a goaltending clinic Tuesday night at Toyota Center. To bad only about two thousand fans witnessed the heroic effort. The Tri City Americans goalie made 52 saves, including the first 34 he faced in the opening 40 minutes, in a 4-3 victory. Comrie's best save came in the first period when the game was scoreless. Comrie shutdown Ryan Olsen on a two on none with line-mate Tyrell Goulbourne. Goulbourne picked off a pass just inside the Americans blue line, skated in and promptly dished the puck to the left side of the net where Olsen was waiting with no one around him. Comrie niftly slid across to make the save to keep the game scoreless.
  • While Comrie was full marks for his first star status, Jordon Cooke was also dialed in at the other end of the ice. Despite seeing little activity in the first period, the Rockets 20 year-old made the stops he needed to make until the Americans exploded for three goals in a span of 3:23 of the second period.  
  • As bad as the Rockets were over that 3:23 span, they showed a lot of resilience in getting back in the game by scoring three times in the third period and almost pulling off the comeback. The key to the three goals was traffic in front of Comrie. In playing more desperate hockey to get back in the game, red shirted Rockets were winning puck battles and heading to the net for secondary chances. If shots weren't beating Comrie cleanly, bodies were in the 18 year-old's line of vision in an effort to make life miserable for the Winnipeg Jets draft pick. 
  • When was the last time the Rockets put up +55 shots on net in one playoff game? You don't have to look that far. In an opening round series against Seattle the Rockets fired 59 shots at Brandon Glover in a 5-4 overtime win. That 59 shot effort was also on the road.         
  • While Comrie was the story in game three, sadly you can't ignore the bad crowd. For those that showed up, pat yourself on the back, but it was the worst crowd I've witnessed in my 19 years of calling games at the Toyota Center.  Just 2,010 fans were on hand for game three. Playoff dates are tough at this time of the year for American based teams. Even last year against Spokane in round one, just over 3 thousand showed up at Toyota Center to watch arch rival Spokane face the Americans in a 2013 playoff match up.     
  • Isn't it interesting how Rockets forward Ryan Olsen has probably had the best scoring chances in this series but Comrie, for the most part, has had Olsen's number? The two are both Winnipeg Jets prospects and are both signed players. Does Comrie have the book on Olsen? But shouldn't Olsen have the book on Comrie?
  • Jets Director of Amateur Scouting Marcel Comeau took in last night's game to watch both Comrie and Olsen. I would imagine he liked what he saw from both players.  
  • Tri City forward Brian Williams didn't get any three star love last night but the 18 year-old was dynamite. The 36 goal man from the regular season just won't take no for an answer. It sounds like me when I was attempting to date my now wife of 18 years. When Williams has a scoring chance in tight on the goaltender he sticks around until the job is complete. Williams second period goal was one where it looked like Cooke had made the save but Williams literally willed the puck into the net. That goal, and another scoring chance he created in the third period where he didn't score, reminded me a little bit of Brendan Gallagher and how determined he was in getting the puck past the goalie.     
  • Myles Bell, Marek Tvrdon and Mitch Wheaton are the three players that have a point in every game in this series.   
  • While the Rockets power play came alive in the third period with two goals,  it was a lack of execution early in the game that bit them in the rear. The Rockets were granted three of the first four power plays in the game but came away empty handed. Even one goal at that crucial time would have made a world of difference.
  • Every play during a game is crucial. Despite having all the momentum in the third period and out-shooting the Americans badly, a miscue at the Rockets blue line allows Justin Gutierrez to go in all alone on a breakaway where he scores. That makes the score 4-2, but after Marek Tvrdon's power play goal with 1:03 remaining in the game, the Gutierrez goal becomes the game winner. It makes you scratch your head wondering how you can surrender a breakaway goal with under 3 minutes left in regulation time.
  • Game four goes tonight at the Toyota Center with game five back in Kelowna on Friday.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Gatenby and Myers have something in common

What a great photo by Marissa Baecker - Shoot the Breeze
  • There has been a lot of talk about Eric Comrie’s strong play in the first two games of this series, but let’s not forget Jordon Cooke’s efforts. While not tested as often, Cooke has been solid with a save percentage of .966. In his first full season as a starter, Cooke’s goals against average was over three in last years playoffs which was significantly higher than his regular season totals. In this year’s playoffs, Cooke wants to mirror his statistics from the regular season. The 20 year-old had the second best goals against average in the league over the 72 game schedule.    
  • Wouldn’t it be fun to have a skate off between Kelowna Rockets forward Tyrell Goulbourne and Americans speedster Lucas Nichols? Both are arguably the fastest players on their respective teams and I still can't determine who’s quicker. Without the puck, I will give Goulbourne the nod. With it, Nichols may make it to the finish line first. Regardless, those two dudes can fly.
  • For the record, Eric Comrie has two masks that he keeps with him at all times. The 18 year-old had his mask malfunction in game one and fortunately he had a back up with him in his hockey bag.
  • I’ve noticed two trends in the officiating in the first two games of this series. A punch after the whistle or any rough play will have the guilty party sitting in the penalty box. I don’t mind that. If crap is called after the whistle and only one player engages in it, I have no problem with that call. More times than not during the regular season even the player who gets punched also serves a penalty. I have also noticed that any contact with a goaltender, even minor in nature, has the skater serving a penalty for goaltender interference.  
  • Quiet coaches. If you have watched the first two games of this series closely, you have noticed that neither Rockets bench boss Ryan Huska nor Americans head coaches Jim Hiller are overly animated on the bench. Both are as competitive as they come but don’t believe they need to rant and rave on the bench and continually yell at the officials in order for calls to go their way. I can only imagine what it is like when Victoria’s Dave Lowry goes us up against Everett’s Kevin Constantine. Those two are the most animated in Western Conference.   
  • Joe Gatenby was all the smiles the day after I talked to him about scoring his first career WHL goal. Wouldn’t you? The 16 year-old scored his first goal in a playoff game, on home ice and against one of the best goaltenders in the WHL. Who was the last 16 year-old Rockets rookie to score his first career WHL goal in the playoffs? Tyler Myers. Myers, who now plays with NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, scored his first career goal in the 2006 playoffs in Cranbrook in game four of an opening round series against the Ice.
  • I wouldn’t have thought two games into the WHL playoffs that Gatenby would have more goals than teammate Madison Bowey. Bowey had 21 during the regular season.
  • Rockets second year forward Rourke Chartier has something in common with Americans forward Rodney Southam. The two won the Saskatchewan Midget League title a couple years back as members of the Saskatoon Contacts.   
  • Best late picks in the WHL bantam draft for both teams? I am not sure the Rockets scouting staff would have projected Damon Severson to turn into the player he did. Severson was a 9th round pick. On the other side, did Americans GM Bob Tory think Brian Williams would score 36 goals after taking him in the 8th round in 2010?     
  • The spring break allowed the Rockets to bring in 16 year-old goaltender Jake Morrissey this week for a few on ice workouts. Morrissey is the teams 5th round selection in the 2012 WHL draft.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Goalies a factor in Rockets game one win

Eric Comrie was good and Jordon Cooke was equal to the task
  • Tri City Americans goaltender Eric Comrie was solid. Kelowna Rockets crease keeper Jordon Cooke was equal to the task. The two goaltenders were the focal point heading into this best of seven series and played a prominent role in game one of this best of seven series. Cooke made 32 saves and Comrie made the same number in the Kelowna Rockets 3-1 win Saturday night, grabbing game one of this best of seven Western Conference Quarter Final series. Game two is set for Sunday afternoon at 5:05 at Prospera Place before the series shifts to Kennewick for games three and four next Tuesday and Wednesday night.       
  • Comrie was the busier of the two goaltenders in the early going as the Rockets came out hard in the first five to seven minutes by dictating the play. Leading scorer Myles Bell took a two minute penalty with about 7 minutes left in the first period and the Americans seemed to find their game after that. The visitors were equally as good as the Rockets, if not at times better in the second period, for the remainder of the game.    
  • Comrie experienced an equipment problem with his mask in the third period that took a significant amount of time to sort out. It had the Americans training staff hurrying back to the dressing room in an effort to repair and then eventually replace Comrie's mask. In the end it looked like they had to go with a second mask Comrie may have had with him? I know for a fact it wasn't back up Evan Sarthou's. Sarthou's mask has no design on it and it is simply white in colour like counterpart Jordon Cooke's. 
  • Everybody in the building couldn't believe the interference call assessed to Tyson Baillie after he was caught up in the crease with Comrie. It appeared Comrie was holding Baillie in the crease, and as the Rockets forward attempted to break loose, the Americans goaltender fell on his back and Baillie was sent to the penalty box. From there on out the officiating crew of Adam Griffiths and Sean Raphael were booed every time they skated onto the ice for the start of the second and third periods.    
  • Rourke Chartier played in just three playoff games last spring after getting hurt in game three of an opening round series against Seattle. The 17 year-old made up for lost time with two goals, not only opening up the scoring but also closing it with an empty net goal. Obviously it was Chartier's first two career playoff goals.
  • I thought Mitch Wheaton had a strong game on the blue line. Not only did he chip in with an assist, I really liked his shot block in the third period when he stood in the way of a point drive that appeared to strike him in the arm. It is obvious that Wheaton is 'in it to win it' as Randy Jackson on American Idol often tells the competitors after a strong singing performance. I thought Wheaton was the Rockets best defender.
  • I didn't notice him much in the seasonal series but Americans d-man Josh Thrower is a solid player.  Thrower made some sweet outlet passes and looked composed with the puck. The 17 year-old also plays an aggressive game like his older brother Dalton. I like Thrower and 16 year-old Parker Wotherspoon. They are two young guys that will anchor the Americans d-core for years to come.  
  • Tyson Baillie was back in the line up for the Rockets in game one. Playing with Myles Bell and Justin Kirkland, the trio didn't light it up but the chemistry between the three will only improve as the series goes along.    
  • The crowd at Prospera Place was solid. The weather outside may have played a factor in coming close to a sell out in game one. Just over58 hundred fans watched the game and had the privilege of buying a 50/50 ticket where someone in the building walked away with 20 grand. 

Let's begin

Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open the 2014 Western Hockey League playoff tonight when they host the Tri City Americans. These two teams met four times this season with the Rockets going 4-0-0-0, out-scoring the Americans 20-5 including 12-1 at home. Jordon Cooke played three of the four games but the Americans elected to start #1 goaltender Eric Comrie just once. The Rockets out-scored the Americans 9-0 in the first period in the four game series. The Rockets out-shot the Am’s in all four games, 186-83. Game two is tomorrow night before games three and four are back in Kennewick Washington next Tuesday and Wednesday night. This is the 5th time these two teams have met in the playoffs and the second time in round one. They have met in the playoffs in 2010, 2009, 2004 and in 1996.         

Scoring breakdown in seasonal series:
Period:        1     2    3   SO   Total
Rockets:     9     6    4     1     20
Americans: 0     1    4     0      5

Rockets Award Winners: The Rockets handed out their team awards last Sunday. Jordon Cooke was named the team MVP. Damon Severson was the Top Defenceman. Nick Merkley was named Rookie of the Year. Rourke Chartier picked up three awards including Top Defensive Forward, Most Sportsmanlike and Scholastic Player of the Year. Jackson Whistle was the Most Improved Player. Cole Martin was the Top +/- Player. Myles Bell was the Top Scorer for a second straight year.  

More League Love: Twenty year-old goaltender Jordon Cooke was named a 1st Team Western Conference WHL All-Star on Thursday. Cooke was also named the Western Conference nominee for Goaltender of the Year. Teammates Damon Severson and Madison Bowey were named 2nd Team Western Conference All-Stars. Sixteen year-old Nick Merkley is the Western Conference nominee for Rookie of the Year.    

Broken Record or Breaking Records? The Rockets set new franchise records for wins (57), fewest losses (11) and most points (118). Madison Bowey set a new team record for goals by a defenceman in a season with 21, breaking the old mark of 19 set by Tyson Barrie. Nick Merkley tied the team record for goals by a 16 year-old rookie. Merkley and Shane McColgan both put up 25 goals as 16 year-olds.     

This and That: The Kelowna Rockets are playing their 190th playoff game tonight…This is the 35th playoff series the Rockets have been involved in since relocating from Tacoma to Kelowna for the start of the 1995-96 season…Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert and Americans head coach Jim Hiller were both selected in the 1989 NHL draft. Lambert was taken in the 6th round by Quebec while Hiller was taken in the 10th round by the LA Kings…The Rockets tied the league record with 29 road wins this season…The Rockets were regular season champions for a third time. The team also captured league crowns in 2003 and 2002…Cole Martin lead the entire WHL with a +/- rating of +61…The Rockets were rated as the #1 team in the CHL Top 10 rankings for 12 straight weeks.  

Who’s Hot: Nick Merkley has points in twelve of his last 15 games. Merkley has 12+7=19 over that period. Marek Tvrdon has 21 points in his last 18 games (7+14=21). Damon Severson has points in 14 of his last 20 games…The Rockets are 48-6-0-4 in their last 58 home games dating back to last season. Rourke Chartier has 5+9=14 in his last 12 games…Chartier has 37 points in his last 36 games.