Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Things that make me go hmm...

  • The WHL handed down a one game suspension to Winterhawks forward Brendan Leipsic. The punishment fits the crime. While some Portland fans wouldn't even acknowledged it was a spear - trust me it was. I often wonder if some consider an infraction to be serious if one player collapses to the ice in distress. The fact is in this situation, Goulbourne is not a diver. He wouldn't have crumbled to the ice after the spear was applied. I can't say that about others who I won't name on this blog entry.
  • Moving on. By my count the Kelowna Rockets will lose five players from this years squad when they take the ice for the 2014-2015 season. Myles Bell, Jordon Cooke and Marek Tvrdon will be joined by Ryan Olsen and Damon Severson who are both signed players by Winnipeg and New Jersey respectively. Last season the team lost four players....five if you throw in Henrik Nyberg who left the team in November. The team should be strong again next season. 
  • The biggest change for the Rockets heading into next season is in goal. After two years as a starter, Jordon Cooke will move on allowing Jackson Whistle to assume the #1 duties. With Whistle taking over as the starter, who is the West Kelowna residents back up? Is Jack Morrisey ready to join the team full time? Morrisey was a 5th rounder from 2012.
  • One player I hope the Rockets land this off season is Colorado born defenceman Cal Foote. Foote is the Rockets second round pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. Foote is the son of ex-NHL'er Adam Foote.      
  •  The Rockets have just one pick in the first 66 selections in Thursday's WHL Bantam Draft. The team will pick last in the opening round, 22nd overall. After that, Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey will sit around and wait until selecting again in the fourth round. The Rockets don't have a second and third round pick after giving up a 2nd rounder to Vancouver for Marek Tvrdon and a third rounder to the Giants in the Jackson Whistle deal.  
  • This is what Lorne Frey had to say about the upcoming draft. "All we are trying to do is get four or five players in this age group that can possibly make our team. If we can do that we are pretty happy campers." 
  • The last time the Rockets picked last in the opening round of the WHL draft was 2004. That season they took Luke Schenn 20th overall. 
  • When the puck hits the ice in September, like this year, four 20 year-old's will return attempting to snag one of three spots. Cole Martin, Colton Heffley, Carter Rigby and Tyrell Goulbourne are the  four returnees. 
  • It will be interesting to see if and when the Philadelphia Flyers offer Goulbourne an NHL contract. They technically don't have to this summer considering the Edmonton product wasn't taken until the 2013 draft. 
  • The WHL will hand out its annual awards Wednesday in Calgary. Jordon Cooke is the Western Conference nominee for goaltender of the year while Nick Merkley is the Western Conference nominee for rookie of the year. At last years awards banquet, four Rockets nominees were shut out including Bruce Hamilton (Top Executive), Ryan Huska (Top Coach), Zach Franko (Sportsmanlike) and Rourke Chartier (Scholastic).   

Saturday, April 26, 2014

57 win season ends in five game series loss

  • The Kelowna Rockets didn't lose four straight games during the regular season. Unfortunately for the Western Hockey League regular season champions it found a way to lose four in a row when it counted most. The Portland Winterhawks scored four goals in the third period in a 7-3 win Friday night at Prospera Place, ending the Rockets season with a 4-1 series loss.   
  • The Rockets found themselves in an early hole falling behind 3-0 just 22 minutes into the game. But back-to-back goals from Tyson Baillie and Jesse Lees made it a one goal game heading into the third period. The back breaking goal came from Winterhawks d-man Mat Dumba just 59 seconds into the third period when the two teams were playing four on four. That early goal seemed to send the home team over the edge. Portland would end up scoring three more goals before Justin Kirkland ended the scoring to make it a 7-3 final.
  • The Winterhawks are defending champs for a reason. There top end players work hard and score  clutch goals. That high end finish is the best in the WHL. It takes them little to score goals. At times it looks effortless. Give them time and space and it is indeed effortless. The Rockets top players were just Ok in game five. 
  • Damon Severson would pick up two assists Friday night, giving him 18 points in the playoffs. The 19 year-old d-man, playing in his final game in the WHL, would lead the Rockets in scoring in the post season. You couldn't ask much more from Severson, who really brought it in the playoffs. The New Jersey Devils draft pick was the best 19 year-old on the Rockets roster. I thought Tyrell Goulbourne, Carter Rigby, Ryan Olsen and Colton Heffley struggled in this series. Why didn't they 'have it' at this time of the year has me scratching my head.
  • Prior to the WHL trade deadline, it looked like the Rockets needed to trade for a few older players in order to make a long push in the playoffs. I thought the team needed at least two older players with an upgrade on skill to compete against the heavier/skilled teams that challenge for a championship every year. In 2009 the Rockets made several significant changes. When you pick up Riley Grantham, Ian Duval and add to your skill level with Mikael Backlund, the chances of winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup increase dramatically.    
  • It was a shame that the Rockets leading scorer wasn't able to contribute in this series. Myles Bell was hurt in game four of the Tri City series in round one, suffering torn ligaments in his knee. Would Bell have made a difference? The Winterhawks would have had to key on him which would have taken the pressure off of others. It would have also helped his team mentally.    
  • With the score 7-2, I was hoping Jordon Cooke wouldn't be pulled in his final game in a Kelowna Rockets uniform. The Winterhawks kept coming in the third period and even threw out their top power play unit when they were up by five. Cooke finished the game despite surrendering seven goals on 41 shots. While game five won't go down as Cooke's finest moment, not many will forget his out of the world performance in game three with a 61 save effort.
  • Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier didn't find the score sheet in game five, but how consistently good were they in this years playoffs? Those two were the best forwards on a nightly basis. They logged huge minutes.  
  • The WHL has to suspended Winterhawks forward Brendan Leipsic for at least one game. The 19 year-old's spear on Tyrell Goulbourne in the third period was nothing short of cheap. In a 7-2 game, Leipsic has no need to spear Goulbourne unless he is looking for trouble. He obviously was. If he isn't suspended (he is a repeat offender) what type of antics does he pull off if he is losing a game in the WHL final?
  • No egg on the face for the Kelowna Rockets for bowing out in five games. The older players didn't compete to the level they needed to, but the team didn't lose to a lesser opponent. Had they fallen to either Tri City of Seattle in round one or two it would have been a tough pill to swallow. The only tough thing for Coach Huska to stomach was the compete level of some of his players.
  • The Rockets didn't give up 7 goals on home ice until game five of the Western Conference final.
  • Marek Tvrdon's WHL career came to an end Friday night. The 20 year-old had one assist in game five. While collecting 13 points in 14 playoff games, the Slovakian forward has holes in this game. With a low battle level for loose pucks, if that doesn't change in a massive way, Tvrdon will be hard pressed earning a top 6 role in the minor pros.
  • The crowds in this series were solid. All three home games in the Western Conference final were sellouts. Good on you Kelowna. 
  • Good luck to the Portland Winterhawks as they represent the Western Conference in the WHL final. Whether Edmonton or Medicine Hat provides the opposition, the Winterhawks will gives those two all they can handle.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cup half full or half empty?

  • Is your cup half full or half empty heading into game five of the Kelowna Rockets playoff series with the Portland Winterhawks? Down three games to one in the Western Conference final has the Rockets in a hole, but it isn't impossible to dig out of. Not for a team that won 57 times during the regular season. If this squad squeaked into the playoffs they would be done like dinner. Lets look at some areas of optimism heading into game five.
  • The Rockets must win the next three games in order to advance. Daunting when you look at the big picture, you have to remember that two of the final three games are on home ice. If I`m trailing in the series, it sure is nice to know no less than two of the games are in front of the home town crowd.
  • People across the WHL and the country anticipated this being an epic series. So make it that epic series that everyone envisioned. Fight back against the odds and show why those forecasting this series were right in the fact that it will be a fight to the bitter end.  
  • Despite being badly out-shot in game three in Portland, the Rockets should have been able to hold on for the win. A bad penalty by Marek Tvrdon late in the game allowed the Winterhawks to score with the power play to make it a one goal game before Brendan Leipsic sent the game into overtime. If the Rockets escape with the win in game three this series isn't 3-1. It is tied at two wins apiece.
  • Let's be honest here, the older players haven't been very good in this series and need to step up. If the older players were playing outstanding and still losing then you would have to be concerned. The Winterhawks have made life tough for those players, but it can be safe to say the Rockets older players haven`t made it nearly as tough on Portland's top guys. That needs to change tonight.
  • Tyrell Goulbourne, Carter Rigby and Colton Heffley should have one objective in mind tonight. All three should have no less than three significant hits. These three need to be hard on bodies and make clean-hard hits on the Winterhawks. These three have to play physical to be effective.    
  • What needs to change tonight is the Rockets must have fewer penalty minutes than the Winterhawks. That has to be a team goal. Is it coincidence that the Rockets had the exact same number of penalty  minutes as the Winterhawks in game one and won the game? If that happens, I can`t see why I am driving down the I-5 Saturday morning heading to Oregon State for game six.           

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stay out of the box!

  • Five on five the Kelowna Rockets were OK. Down a man was a different story. Too many trips to the penalty box cost the Rockets dearly last night in a 5-1 loss to the Portland Winterhawks. Nic Petan scored three times on the power play in the largest margin of victory so far in this series. Petan's three goals were part of five straight for the Winterhawks, who have a three games to one lead in the Western Conference final.
  • What was the turning point in the game? You could pick two. In my opinion it was Petan's second goal of the game on the power play to give the Winterhawks a 2-1 lead. Captain Madison Bowey took a penalty you just can't take at this time of the year. In an attempted to check a Winterhawks forward, Bowey punched the unsuspecting player in the back of the head. It was a needless penalty that put the Winterhawks on the power play. Petan scores and it was all down hill from there. Up until that point the visitors were in an excellent position.
  • The other turning point you could consider was Oliver Bjorkstrand's shorthanded goal to make the score 3-1. Damon Severson lost the puck at the Winterhawks blue line and the 50 goal scorer stole it and beat Jordon Cooke on a backhand breakaway. 
  • The Rockets best forward was again Nick Merkley. How can Merkley be the teams best forward? Rourke Chartier wasn't far behind. It is because they work, skate and compete unlike many of their  older teammates. The older players have to watch Merkley and mirror what he does. If everyone on the roster competed a hard as the shy unsuspecting Calgary resident, without a shadow of a doubt this series isn't over.
  • Corbin Boes, the Winterhawks goaltender, deserves some praise for his efforts. The 20 year-old had to make some solid stops in game four. The Rockets generated some real good looks but it was only Merkley that was able to beat him. The majority of the quality chances Boes saw were when the Rockets were playing five on five.
  • Boes out dueled Cooke on this night but I am not throwing the veteran Rockets goaltender under the bus on this night. It was BAD penalties that sunk his teams ship.  
  • The good news? After a 5-1 loss, some would say there isn't any. But there is. The Rockets were significantly better in their own zone. They were as good as the Winterhawks even strength. While facing playoff elimination, game five is back at Prospera Place Friday night.   
  • The crowds in Portland were excellent. Over 9 thousand at the Moda Center was impressive for a Wednesday night.  It was nice to see a lot of familiar faces.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Jordon Cooke's finest hour snuffed out in overtime

  • It looked like it was going to be Jordon Cooke's finest hour. Unfortunately it didn't exactly materialize after a heartbreaking loss in overtime. The 20 year-old goaltender single handily kept his team in the game before Taylor Leier's seeing eye wrist shot through traffic found the back of the net in the Portland Winterhawks 4-3 victory. It was without a shadow of a doubt Cooke's best game ever in a Kelowna Rockets uniform. The Leduc, Alberta product stopped three breakaways and several pin- point chances on the Winterhawks best shooters. Cooke made an incredible 61 stops and was named the games third star. At the end of the game, all could agree that Cooke was the best player on the ice.
  • For the second straight game the Rockets opened the scoring. Riley Stadel found the back of the net less than three minutes into the game and the hex was on. I say the hex because the team that has opened the scoring in all three games has lost.    
  • Outside of Cooke, I thought Rockets d-man Cole Martin had a strong game. The 19 year-old scored his first goal of the season to give his team a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. Martin was also tasked with  containing Winterhawks forward Brendan Leipsic. Leipsic, who was no shrinking violet on this night, was possessed when he had the puck which made Martin's efforts even more daunting. The only downside of Martin's play was the Winterhawks second goal pin-balled off him and into the net and the game winner hit him, or slightly changed directions off him, and found the back of the net in overtime. Those are bad bounce plays which can't be avoided.  
  • Brendan Leipsic has clearly been the best player in this series for Portland. On Tuesday night it looked like he should be playing in the NHL.  
  • Despite the significant territorial advantage the Winterhawks had throughout the game, the Rockets had a 3-1 lead with 5:10 left in the third period. But the dreaded two goal lead evaporated again when the Winterhawks struck for back-to-back goals in a span of 1:41. 
  • As hard as it is to believe, the Rockets had the best chances to score in overtime. Marek Tvrdon stole a puck in the right corner inside the Winterhawks zone and promptly took it to the net untouched. In a one-on-one situation with Corbin Boes, Tvrdon fired a shot that hit the 20 year-old goaltender in the chest. Had Tvrdon held onto the puck longer and came further across the net he likely would have scored as Boes would have been out of position. 
  • How do you bounce back from giving up 118 shots in the last two games? We are about to find out in game four tonight. Clearly the Rockets needed more puck possession and simply more territorial play inside the Winterhawks zone. If Portland is allowed to use its speed like they were in game three, Jordon Cooke will be needed to stand on his head for a second consecutive night.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good Morning Portland!

  • It is great to be back in Portland. Anytime you can stay in one of the best hotel's in the league (Crowne Plaza), play in one of the best facilities (Moda Center) and watch two of the best teams in the WHL collide in a playoff match up, I can't for the life of me find a negative. Ok, I have one negative and it is only minor. The trip from Kelowna to Portland is a lengthy one.
  • The team arrived in Portland Sunday while Doyle Potenteau, the Kelowna Daily Courier's beat writer, and I made the trek Monday with the use of our radio station vehicle. You can't miss us on the streets of Portland. We have radio signage all over our  Ford F-150 pick up and stand out like sore thumb. Thanks to Winterhawks Director of Media and Public Relations Graham Kendrick for taking care of us when we park at the Moda Center.
  • I will be honest, I am glad that games three and four are at the Moda Center. The building has such a pro feel to it. The score-clock/video board is nothing short of outstanding and the fans make it a great place to call a game. Let's hope the Rose Buds make an appearance too.
  • The crowd for game three should reach over 9,000. Game four's atmosphere is expected to be equally as electric.   
  • In the 2011 playoff series between the Rockets and Winterhawks, Jessey Astles would score the game winner in overtime in a game six win. The Rockets also won the opening game of that series with a 5-1 win.
  • Who starts on goal for the Winterhawks tonight? Corbin Boes came into game two and was steady after Portland GM Mike Johnston pulled starter Brendan Burke after giving up a goal to make the score 3-1 Kelowna. I anticipate Burke being back in goal for game three. The 18 year-old has carried the mail this season and you can't kick him to the curb despite two less than solid starts.
  • Both teams had a morning skate at the Moda Center. The Rockets had a full complement of players on the ice while the Winterhawks didn't put Derrick Pouliot, Nic Petan and Matt Dumba on the ice to name a few. Those players log a significant amount of ice time.   
  • I took the time this morning during the Winterhawks morning skate to talk with Head Coach Mike Johnston and Assistant General Manager Matt Bardsley. It was nice to just sit down a talk hockey 'off the record'. t

Sunday, April 20, 2014

So, we are back to square one!

Riley Stadel celebrates - Shoot the Breeze 
  • The Kelowna Rockets need to bring an A grade effort to the table if they want to beat the Portland Winterhawks. In game two of the Western Conference final Saturday night, the home team would have struggled with a passing grade. After an emotional come-from-behind win in game one, the Rockets showed little raw emotion in a 5-3 loss. While building up a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, the jump and jam the team showed a night earlier wasn't there. On this night as the game went along, the Winterhawks got better while the Rockets battle level went in the opposite direction. 
  • Three Winterhawks goals in span of just over two minutes in the second period was the turning point as the Rockets stood around watching and literally not skating. Stick checking became common place after playing a physically determined game a night earlier. Brendan Leipsic's game winning goal was a defensive display of 'poke and hope' hockey which won't work against this highly skilled opponent. Anything that could go wrong - did - in that two minute and 10 second span of the second period including a big save. 
  • A clear indication that the Rockets weren't engaged in the game was when their best skater wasn't skating. Outside of a determined effort while killing off a second period penalty, Tyrell Goulbourne wasn't skating with the same determination and making contact with anyone wearing a red jersey. It could be argued that Goulbourne was one of the most affective players in game one.  Why? Because he was moving his feet and playing with a chip on his shoulder.
  • Game two had no where near the chippiness of game one. The officiating staff may have had something to do with that but the Winterhawks clearly played a calm and composed game and didn't agitate the Rockets. That clearly works in Portland's favour in my opinion. The Rockets play with more determination when the game gets greasy.     
  • When Nick Merkley is your best player that isn't a great indication of your teams overall effort. The 16 year-old is a dynamic young player, but he can't be your one stud in the Western Conference final. It has to be the older players that have to be accountable for bringing their level of play to where it needs to be in the third round of the playoffs.    
  • Don't score first. The team that has scored first or has carried significant leads has lost.
  • An interesting move by Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston when he elected to pull starter Brendan Burke after the Rockets made the score 3-1. Twenty year-old Corbin Boes entered the game cold and came up large on a Tyson Baillie attempt which would have made the score 4-1. If not for that Boes save on Baillie, would the game have changed as dramatically as it did in the second period?   
  • Outside of a Carter Rigby hit on Winterhawks d-man Josh Hanson in the first period, can you name one really good hit the Rockets applied in the game two setback?       
  • The Rockets have to play with emotion. They have to play with urgency. It causes the Winterhawks headaches and doesn't allow them to skate freely up the ice and in the offensive zone like they did in game two.   
  • The good news is the Rockets weren't very good...in fact below average and still were within a goal  until the 8:45 mark of the third period. In a game where few players brought their best game, the room for improvement is vast heading into game three and four in Portland Tuesday and Wednesday night.
  • Derrick Pouliot had a bounce back game for the Winterhawks. After recording a minus 3 in game one, the 19 year-old chipped in with two assists in a game two win.
  • The Rockets power play is 3 for 7 in the series (43%) while the Winterhawks are 3 for 12 (25%) with the man advantage.
  • Officiating was very good in game two. No one is going to like every call but they stayed out of it and let the teams play.
  • The crowd was outstanding. Six thousand 341 took in Saturday's game which bested game one's crowd of by 123 bodies.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lees scores first playoff goal at perfect time

Tyson Baillie had 3 pt night in win
  • Jesse Lees prefers to be a defenceman, but he is proving to be a pretty good forward. The 18 year scored his first career playoff goal six minutes into the third period lifting the Kelowna Rockets to a  5-4 win over the Portland Winterhawks in game one of the Western Conference championship series. Lees picked up a loose puck after Winterhawks goaltender Brendan Burke kicked out a rebound on a Tyson Baillie shot to give the home team their first lead of the game. Lees' goal was part of a remarkable comeback for the Rockets, who trailed 3-0 with just 7:41 gone in the opening period. 
  • Despite trailing 3-2 after 20 minutes, Rockets Head Coach Ryan Huska says they felt pretty good about the period. Trailing by two, the Rockets out-shot the Winterhawks 13-6. If the coach was believing it, the players followed his lead. Five of the final six goals in the game would be scored by the Rockets with Lees snapping home the game winner.
  • The turning point may have been no goal by the Winterhawks when time expired in the opening period. A puck hit a Rockets defenceman skate/leg and went between the legs of goaltender Jordon Cooke and into the net. Fortunately for the home team the buzzer had sounded before the puck entered the goal. Had it been a second earlier, the score would have been 4-2 instead of 3-2 heading into the intermission.
  • The Winterhawks lost only once in regulation time in 46 regular season games when leading after 40 minutes. 
  • My belief is the Rockets can be the better team five on five, but its the power play that levels the playing field. That is where the Winterhawks can tear you apart. The visitors were given five chances with the extra man which is flirting with danger. Oliver Bjorkstrand scored twice with the extra man and was on fire in the opening period. Oddly, I am not sure where he went in the final 40?
  • I thought it was a rough start for Jordon Cooke, but like his team, he seemed to get better as the game went along. Brendan Burke had to make two big saves in the third period when the Rockets took over and did his best to keep it a one goal game. 
  • It was an emotional, feisty affair. Did you expect anything less? Lots of stick work against two teams that wanted to establish early in the series that they won't go down without a fight. 
  • Nic Petan took a minor penalty for hitting Rockets d-man Cole Martin with a high hit to the head as time expired. Martin, with his face towards the glass in an attempt to pin the puck in the corner as time expired, was hit high by Petan as the game ended. The 19 year-old Winterhawks forward won't be suspended but let us remember that incident if a Rockets player makes a high hit on a Portland player in this series. No team is exempt from doing something that we as fans often consider careless.
  • The Rockets were the more physical team, but their was a certain control to the physicality. Outside of a charging penalty Tyrell Goulbourne took in the third period, the contact was hard and clean. Carter Rigby made the first big hit of the game when he sent Winterhawks defenceman Matt Dumba flying in the first few minutes.    
  • How about the crowd? Just over 62 hundred fans crammed into Prospera Place and made a lot of noise. It was the best atmosphere we have witnessed in that building in years. The white towels that were handed out were a huge hit.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is it Friday yet?

Shoot the Breeze Photography

Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets face the Portland Winterhawks in game one of the Western Conference Championship series. This is the third time in the last four seasons these two teams have met in the playoffs. Back in 2011 they collided in round two before meeting in round one in the 2012 post season. The Winterhawks won both of those playoff series. These two teams met four times during the regular season with the Rockets going 4-0-0-0. Overall, the Rockets out-scored the Winterhawks 28-10 in the seasonal series including 12-5 on home ice and 16-5 on the road. The Rockets out-shot the Winterhawks in three of the four games. Game two in the series is tomorrow night before shifting to Portland for games three and four next Tuesday and Wednesday night. Game five is back at Prospera Place on Friday April 25th. The Rockets are playing in the Western Conference final for the 6th time in franchise history and for the first time since 2009.

Seasonal Series Scoring by Period: 
Period:            1      2     3    Total
Rockets           9      9    10    28
Winterhawks   5      2     3     10

*The Winterhawks opened the scoring in three of the four games. The Rockets were 8/22 on the power play (36.4%) in the four games while Portland was 1/23 (4.3%) with the extra man. Jordon Cooke started all four games for the Rockets in goal while Brendan Burke played in three of the four games but was pulled in two of them.   

This and That: Combined, these two teams had a regular season record of 111-24-2-7. If you add their playoff records to the mix they are a combined 127-26-2-7….The Rockets advanced to the Western Conference final after a five game series win over Tri City in round one and a four game sweep of Seattle in round two…Damon Severson led the team in scoring in a second round series with Seattle with 4+7=11. Nick Merkley was next with 2+6=8….The Rockets are 8 and 1 in the playoffs. The Winterhawks are also 8 and 1…The Rockets have scored 14 power play goals in the 2014 playoffs.  The Winterhawks matched that total…The Rockets have won six straight games overall. The only loss (4-3) came in game three in Tri City in the opening round…The Rockets have allowed 8 goals in five home playoff games. That is an average of 1.6 goals against in the 2014 post season…Defenceman Madison Bowey signed a three year entry level contract with the NHL’s Washington Capitals April 2nd. The 18 year-old was chosen in the second round of the 2013 NHL draft – 53rd overall…The Rockets have killed off 37 of its last 41 shorthanded situations in this year’s playoffs.…The Rockets have a power play goal in all nine playoff games…The Kelowna Rockets franchise is playing its 199th playoff game tonight…This is the 37th playoff series the Rockets have been involved in since relocating from Tacoma for the start of the 1995-96 season…Jordon Cooke was named the VAUGHN WHL Goaltender of the Month for March. It is the second time this season that Cooke has been named VAUGHN WHL Goaltender of the Month, having earned the honor for September/October as well….Damon Severson was named the WHL Player of the Week on April 7th. Severson had three goals and four assists with a +3 rating that week…Four members of the Rockets have made NHL Central Scouting’s final list for this June’s draft. Justin Kirkland, Riley Stadel, Rourke Chartier and Tyson Baillie are cracked NHLCS prestigious list…Madison Bowey turns 19 on April 22nd…Rourke Chartier had 5+4=9 in his first 27 regular season games. In his final 45 regular season games the 17 year-old had 19+30=49…On this date (April 18, 2009) Ian Duval scored twice in the Rockets 4-2 win over the Vancouver Giants in game one of the Western Conference final. Mikael Backlund had a goal and two assists. Mark Guggenberger made 20 saves in the win…Neither one of these two teams were shut out during the regular season and were the only two teams in the league to do so…When these two teams met in the 2012 playoffs, Jordon Cooke was a back up to Adam Brown while Brendan Burke was a back up to Mac Carruth.   

Who’s Hot: Nick Merkley is riding a six game point streak. Merkely has 2+9=11 over that periodDamon Severson is riding a four game point streak. The 19 year-old has 4+7=11 over that period…Marek Tvrdon has points in eight of the nine games in this year’s playoffs (5+6=11)…Rourke Chartier is riding a six game point streak. Chartier has 4+4=8 over that stretch….Jordon Cooke is 8 and 1 in this year’s playoffs with a goals against average of 2.34 and a save percentage of .929. Over his career, Cooke is 12-3-4 in 20 playoff appearances. The Leduc Alberta product has been pulled only once, in a second round series against the Kamloops Blazers in the 2013 post season.      

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Severson and Pouliot on opposite ends of the scale

Derrick Pouliot - Shoot the Breeze
  •  The Kelowna Rockets defencemen will have their hands full containing the speed of the Portland Winterhawks in game one of their Western Conference championship series. Mitch Wheaton knows it won't be easy when Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic are on the ice. “They are a really skilled team. They are a lot different than Seattle. They were more of a big, physical team that would fore-check us really hard. These guys will try to make plays around us and make us turn”. The Winterhawks scored the most goals in the WHL this past season.
  • Two calm and composed coaches meet one another when Rockets bench boss Ryan Huska faces Portland’s Mike Johnston. Yellers they are not. Will they be upset with the officials when things don’t go their way? Of course.  But, the two referees’ should have confidence in having dialogue with either coach and taking the time to hear them out.   
  • Kelowna Rockets Rourke Chartier has something in common with Winterhawks forward Taylor Leier. Both were born and raised in Saskatoon and played midget hockey with the Saskatoon Contacts.
  • The Kelowna Rockets will want to avoid one specific area in their playoff series with the Portland Winterhawks. The penalty box!  The Winterhawks had the best power play in the WHL during the regular season.  Forward Tyrell Goulbourne says his team will have to be disciplined. “Our penalty kill is going to have to be great.  The best way to defeat it is stay out of the box.” While Portland had the best power play during the regular season the Rockets had the top penalty killing unit. 
  • Portland defenceman Derrick Pouliot was the first player taken in the 2009 WHL Bantam draft. The Rockets first rounder that season was Jason Seibert. The top pick for the Rockets that year may have been Damon Severson (9th round) who was taken 191 players after Pouliot was picked. 
  • Did you know that the Spokane Chiefs traded their 9th pick in the 2009 WHL draft to the Rockets where they went ahead and selected Severson?
  • Games three and four will indeed be played at the Modo Center in Portland.  Despite the upgrades at Memorial Arena, the 262 million dollar facility is spectacular and is a great venue for hockey. I still think they made a massive mistake by changing its name from the Rose Garden, but money talk’s right? 
  • Good to see the WHL coming down hard on the Victoria Royals for their over the top aggressive play in game five of a playoff series with the Winterhawks. Brandon Magee was slapped with a 12 game suspension for his antics.  Stephen Hodges was given a five game suspension.  The Royals organization was also fined 10 grand. 
  • I am not sure the antics of the Royals, specifically on television, make the league look good in the eye of parents who are considering allowing their son to play in the WHL or go the college route. You have to predict your brand.     
  • I am really looking forward to Winterhawks radio callers Todd Vrooman and colour man Andy Kemper squeezing into the visitors broadcast booth at Prospera Place. Is it humanly possible? 
  • Interesting isn’t it that the Portland Winterhawks face the Kelowna Rockets in the playoffs and the Portland Trail Blazers face the Houston Rockets in the NBA post season.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hurry up and wait!

Shoot the Breeze Photography

The Kelowna Rockets will have to go through another U.S Division team in their quest for the organizations first WHL championship since 2009.
The Rockets open the Western Conference final Friday night at Prospera Place against the Portland Winterhawks. 
The regular season champions used five games to dispose of the Tri City Americans in round one before sweeping the Seattle Thunderbirds in four straight games in the second round.
The Rockets and Winterhawks were the only two teams in the WHL that scored over 300 goals during the regular season.    
Rockets' Head Coach Ryan Huska says the way they score goals is very different.  
"We have to have three or four whacks at things going in where as they might be a team that will make two or three passes and try to end up with an empty net type goal. So, similar in regards to the offenses but a little different in how we get it accomplished".
The Winterhawks are attempting to go to the league final for a fourth straight season and will have to go through three of the four BC Division teams to accomplish the feat.
Rockets forward Carter Rigby says despite the Winterhawks impressive resume they are confident they can compete against the defending WHL champions.
"You are going to have to play defense to win games too but we need to pressure them and get on them and hopefully get them to cough up pucks. They have good d-men but at the same time anyone who is going to get forced and hit is going to cough up pucks here and there and we just have to bury".  
Despite earning the Scotty Munro trophy as the top team during the regular season, players like 19 year-old Tyrell Goulbourne is hungry for a long playoff run.    
"With this group, I know we all want to go far. Everyone has a passion for this game and everybody is excited to move forward. We are confident and want to play. We want to play all the way through May." 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Well, well...look what we have here!!

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Hello Portland! Nice to see you again. For the third time in the last four seasons the Kelowna Rockets will meet the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL playoffs. The two teams met in a second round series in 2011 that went six games before clashing in a first round set in 2012 with the Winterhawks ending the Rockets season in four straight games. The Western Conference final in 2014 features the top two teams in the WHL during the regular season. The Rockets had just five more points than the Winterhawks thanks to 3 more wins and two fewer losses. 
  • In 2011 and 2012 the Winterhawks had home ice advantage. The Rockets have that luxury in this years playoffs where they are 5 and 0.
  • These two teams met four times during the regular season with the Rockets winning all four games. The Rockets out-scored the Winterhawks  25-10. Sounds lopsided right? Don't get to excited though. The Winterhawks were without Brendan Leipsic for one of the two games in Kelowna in October and Nic Petan, Derrick Pouliot and Taylor Leier were all playing for Team Canada when the Rockets visited the Winterhawks in Portland just prior to and after the New Year. That said, the Rockets did put up some big numbers in those four games and didn't show any mercy against the short staffed Winterhawks.   
  • While the Winterhawks are making their fourth straight appearance in the Western Conference final, this team is poised to do it again next season. This isn't an old group that the Winterhawks are going with this season. In fact, the teams 18 year-old's are really the story. Chase De Leo, Nic Petan, Alex Schoenborn and Oliver Bjorkstrand combined for 142 goals this season. Those four forwards were born in 1995. The Rockets have two forwards born in 1995. Tyson Baillie and Cole Linaker combined for 33 goals this season.
  • Goaltending has to favour the Rockets. Jordon Cooke is the Western Conference nominee for goaltender of the year and was especially good in round one against Tri City. Cooke was equally as good in games one and two of the Seattle series. The Winterhawks are going with 18 year-old Brendan Burke, who also had good numbers in an opening round series against Vancouver before backstopping the Winterhawks to a five game series win over Victoria in round two. Cooke and Burke have identical playoff records of 8 and 1, but the nod in goal in this series has to go with Cooke.
  • Playoff experience will favour the Winterhawks. Just look at 19 year-old defenceman Derrick Pouliot who has 73 games of playoff experience after long runs in the last three post seasons. By comparison, 19 year-old's Colton Heffley and Damon Severson have 34 playoff games under their belt.     
  • No team can match the Winterhawks fire power, so the ability to defend will be critical for the Rockets to have success. While Madison Bowey, Mitch Wheaton, Cole Martin and Damon Severson have to be strong in their own zone, the forwards can make life a lot easier by fore checking hard and making the Winterhawks play defence. Without a solid fore check and significant play inside the Winterhawks zone, the Rockets will only be able to slam the door shut for so long. The forwards play a vital role in taking pressure of the d-core by playing major minutes inside Portland territory.
  • For what its worth the Winterhawks scored 28 more goals during the regular season than the Rockets, who allowed 25 fewer goals against.
  • While the Winterhawks should have the advantage in the power play category, that may have changed heading into the Western Conference final. The Rockets have the best power play in the playoffs with 14 goals in 40 chances. The Winterhawks also have 14 power play goals but in 57 opportunities. The Rockets penalty killing unit was the story in a second round series with Seattle, killing off 20 off 22 T-Birds chances. The Rockets also owned the best penalty killing unit during the regular season. 
  • Who wins this series? Statistics don't really mean much at this time of the year. The fact remains that the team that wants it more usually gets it!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I didn't see this coming...not this quickly

  • Western Conference fans may get their wish. The Kelowna Rockets are on a collision course to meet the Portland Winterhawks in a seven game playoff series featuring the top two teams in the Western Hockey League during the regular season. The Rockets made surprisingly short work of the Seattle Thunderbirds Wednesday night with a 5-2 win, eliminating the 41 win team in four games. While the T-Birds opened the scoring for the first time in the series, it was the Rockets who battled back with four straight goals including two in a span of 2:03 in the second period for their 8th win in 9 playoff games. The Rockets now face the winner of the Portland-Victoria series with the Winterhawks holding a commanding three games to one lead in that Western Conference semi final series. 
  • I would have never envisioned the Rockets rolling over the T-Birds in four games. While separated by 30 points in the standing, Seattle was built for a long playoff run after making several roster moves.  General Manager Russ Farwell made a statement to the league that the T-Birds were going to make some noise in the spring by acquiring Sam McKechnie and Jamien Yakobowski – two 19 year-old’s – early in the season. The news got even better when highly coveted Ryan Gropp left the BCHL and joined them. Upgrading the goaltending position by obtaining 19 year-old Taran Kozun from Kamloops seemed like the final touch to a well molded team that everyone expected could challenge the top teams in the Western Conference. Despite bowing out in this series, T-Bird fans have to remember the future looks awfully bright for this team.     
  • Damon Severson took his game to a new level in this series. The 19 year-old had four goals and dominated at both ends of the ice. The New Jersey Devils second round pick had a goal and an assist in game four and pinged one off the crossbar when the game was scoreless. Clearly, Seattle goaltender Taran Kozun had no clue on where Severson was going to shoot the puck and the guessing game didn’t work in his favour. Severson look every part of a junior player on the verge of making his mark in the NHL.      
  • Marek Tvrdon didn’t make an impact in the first two games of this series but the Seattle air got him going with two significant efforts at ShoWare Center. The 20 year-old had two assists in a game three win and then scored the game winner in game four. Tvrdon’s goal saw the soft spoken forward fire a seeing eye shot short side over the shoulder of T-Birds goaltender Taran Kozun to make the score 3-1. It was Tvrdon’s 5th goal of the playoffs.    
  • The Rockets power play was lethal in this series with eight goals with the extra man. It ran with an efficiency rate of 42 percent. The penalty killing unit was equally good killing off 22 of 24 T-Bird power plays. 
  • The Rockets scored 22 goals in the four games. Seattle’s top point getters struggled with just 11 goals with veteran Brandon Trook and Shea Theodore failing to find the back of the net.        
  • It marks the 6th time in franchise history the team has advanced to the Western Conference final. The team first accomplished the feat in 2002 and then repeated it in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009 and now this season.       
  • T-Birds d-man Evan Wardley left the game in the second period with a leg injury and never returned. 
  • Word in the rink was Seattle forward Jaimen Yakubowski, who was hurt in game one, suffered a concussion after missing a hit and hitting his head on the dasher board.   
  • It was great running into Lindsy, Kelli, Carlee, Brendan, Molli and Tyler Ronish and the entire crew who diligently work the Chuck-A-Puck at T-Bird home games. They often harassed me (friendly banter) when I entered the T-Birds office where they would ask me if I would say ‘Pitter Patter’ or slur Roberts Lipsberg’s name. I told them I would ‘perform for them’ before game six but luckily that won’t happen.       

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shorthanded unit shines bright in game three win

  • The Kelowna Rockets penalty killing unit can take a bow. Without a shadow of a doubt its best single game performance of the season, the four man unit  - in two cases it was a three man unit - shut down the Seattle Thunderbirds on nine of ten power play chances in a 5-4 win. The Rockets took three consecutive penalties in the games first ten minutes which allowed the home team two-five on three chances. Instead of the T-Birds playing with the lead, something they haven't enjoyed the luxury of having this entire series, the Rockets found themselves up 2-0 after one period when it should have been the other way around.
  • The Rockets showed the T-Birds how to score on the power play when they responded on their first chance of the game. Damon Severson's point shot was tipped by Ryan Olsen, who deflected it past Seattle starter Taran Kozun. Tyrell Goulbourne would score 24 seconds later by skating hard on left wing and wiring a shot past Kozun's stick side. 
  • The T-Birds ended the night going 1 for 10 on the power play. Some of the penalties were justified while others were marginal. The fact that the visitors were able to win this game while playing 20 odd minutes shorthanded it pretty incredible. 
  • The best pass of the game goes to Madison Bowey, who fired a puck from the side of his own net to an awaiting Justin Kirkland at the T-Birds blue line. Kirkland skated in all alone on Kozun and nicely tucked the puck five hole on the 19 year-old goaltender. At the time it made the score 5-2, but a late rally by the T-Birds had the Kirkland goal standing up as the game winner.
  • I thought Jordon Cooke had his weakest showing of the series but still made timely saves, something Kozun has been unable to do. Cooke made a nice stop on Alexander Delnov in the first period when he was able to steal a puck away from Rockets d-man Riley Stadel at the T-Birds blue line. I think even Cooke will admit he should have had the Ethan Bear goal which made it 2-1 and would normally stop Justin Hickman's shot that made the score 5-3.
  • Marek Tvrdon took a bad penalty 6 minutes into the third period when he was assessed a double minor for high sticking. But the 20 year-old also made two terrific passing plays on goals from Tyson Baillie and Madison Bowey. It was Tvrdon's best game of the series. When the dude wants to play he can make some spectacular plays.
  • Seattle's Brandon Troock scored four goals in an opening round playoff series with  Everett. The Dallas Stars draft pick hasn't found the back of the net in the first three games.
  • Revealing stat of the series. Of the Rockets 17 goals, ten have been scored in the first five minutes or the last five minutes of a period. 
  • T-Birds Alexander Delnov has a goal in all three games in this series.
  • The most interesting nugget I got out of T-Birds head coach Steve Konowalchuk during our pre-game interview was he did not want to mention which players needed to be better in order for his team to get back in the series. Instead he preferred to simply say his offensive players need to be better. 
  • A solid crowd Tuesday night at ShoWare Center. The 2 for 1 promotion brought out over 5 thousand fans who were entertained until the final buzzer sounded. They saw the visitors build up a 4-1 third period lead before the home team battled back with three goals in the final frame. 
  • The Rockets are now 7 and 1 in the post season.
  • If you would have told me at the start of this series that the Rockets would have a 3-0 lead after the first three games I would have said you were crazy. 
  • The team is one win away from advancing to the third round. Game four is tonight at ShoWare Centre with game five set for Friday back at Prospera Place.