Saturday, December 13, 2014

Gutsy win in hostile 'Tiger Territory'

  • Visiting teams' don’t often beat the Medicine Hat Tigers. They surely won’t leave the 'Gas City' with a ‘w’ without their top goal scorer and two world class defenceman absent from the line up. Or will they? The Kelowna Rockets may have been without the services of Rourke Chartier, Madison Bowey and newly acquired defenceman Josh Morrissey, but that didn’t deter them from producing a gutsy 4-2 win over a Tigers team, that up until last night, had lost only three times on home ice this season.  Tyson Baillie scored twice and Gage Quinney, making his Rockets debut, scored his first goal with his new team in the WHL leaders 26th win of the season. Jackson Whistle was typically tremendous, making several key stops and was full marks for being named the first star.
  • The penalty killing unit of the Rockets deserves a pat on the back for their strong play. The Tigers, while having the 15th best power play unit in the league, were awarded six chances on the evening. Tyrell Goulbourne led the charge with a shot blocking clinic. The 20 year-old blocked three significant blasts from the blue line while Riley Stadel got into the way of one that hit him in the hand. It was a great ‘sellout for success’ by that four man unit.
  • The Tigers have a good looking power play. With the five players they put out there the puck is moving around so quickly, it appears to be a well oiled machine. But if you really dissect it, you can zing the puck around the perimeter all you want but if you aren’t getting good looks/chances on goal, what good is it? The Rockets, for the most part, kept the puck to the outside with few secondary chances after a shot on goal was taken. Again, the shot blocking may have been the best I’ve seen all season.
  • The Rockets d-score found themselves in a heap of trouble when Riley Stadel had to leave the game after getting a shot off his hand. That meant five d-men had to ramp up their play and the results were impressive. Of those five d-men, Lucas Johansen and Devante Stephens are raw rookies. Stephens particularly stood out and ended the game with a +3 rating. The 17 year-old isn’t overly physical but makes smart decisions with the puck. What you need to watch out for is his speed. He could be one of the fastest skaters on the team. Watch him a little more closely and see how the undrafted player is rounding into form with the more ice time he receives.   
  • It was nice to see newly acquired Gage Quinney find the back of the net for the first time.  The 19 year-old sent a wrist shot on goal that powered past Tigers goaltender Marek Langhammer. Quinney must have felt out of place playing his first game with new line-mates and new systems. The coaches really liked what he brought to the table and is a definite upgrade to the centre ice position.
  • I thought Justin Kirkland play his most intense game of the season.  The 18 year-old’s battle level was significantly improved and he played with an edge in the game. Playing with an edge doesn’t mean getting into the face of an opponent after a whistle. What it means for Kirkland is a battle level that meets or exceeds an opponent when the two are fighting for a loose puck. Kirkland was charged with a cross checking minor when he aggressive battled for a puck behind the Tigers net. I didn’t like the call, it was soft, but if Kirkland fights for loose pucks like that, I will accept a visit to the penalty box every time.     
  • I don't want to say I told you so, but I mentioned before the trip started that two players, in particular, had to step up in an effort to have success. Isn't it funny how Tyson Baillie (2 goals) and Cole Martin (2 assists) were significant contributors on the score-sheet last night?  
  • I don’t want to get too picky here, but is the officiating worse in the Eastern Conference than in the West? I have found in the first two games on this Alberta road trip a lot of soft calls with many of them directed towards the visiting team.  
  • This was the final regular season game the Rockets will play in the iconic Medicine Hat Arena. In 2015, the teams next visit barring a playoff match up, will be in a brand new facility bordering Redciff. 
  • Following last night's game, the Rockets were off to Calgary where they will face the Hitmen Sunday afternoon. This game will be more of a level playing field as the Hitmen also have two players away at Team Canada's training camp. Losing Jake Virtanen and Travis Sanheim is the equivalent of  no Rourke Chartier and Madison Bowey. Translation? No excuses.

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