Sunday, April 19, 2015

Here come the Hawks!!!

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

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

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

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

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