Monday, April 6, 2015

Rockets and Royals clash in second round

Michael Herringer faces old team
  • It shouldn't feel odd, but the Kelowna Rockets are facing a BC Division team in the second round of the WHL playoffs. The playoff menu for the Rockets over the last few years has been mainly U.S Division cuisine, but that is about to change as the Western Conference regular season champions will attempt to feast on the Victoria Royals. For what it's worth - and it isn't much now - the Rockets were 5-2-1-0 in the eight games against the Royals this season. Those two regulation losses included a 6-3 setback at Prospera Place when Rourke Chartier, Justin Kirkland, Gage Quinney and Josh Morrissey were all out of the line up. I hate to make excuses, because frankly excuses are weak, but you have to admits those are four significant pieces of the puzzle out of the line up. Regardless, the Royals can win this series if the Rockets are not playing at their optimum level. They score significantly easier than the Americans. They are dramatically more determined in initiating body contact and will get a significant offensive contribution from the d-core, which includes Joe Hicketts and Travis Brown. Without question, the Rockets go up a weight class with this second round opponent.
  • It will be interesting to see how the Rockets respond to a much more aggressive opponent. The Royals have traditionally, under coach Dave Lowry, made it a point of hitting hard and finishing checks. The main target has been Rourke Chartier. My guess is the Royals believe Chartier is the head of the Rockets body, and if they can hit and wear him down, it has a trickle down effect to the rest of the team. Look for Chartier to be public enemy number one in this series. It was that way during the regular season, so I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case in this best of seven where the stakes are far greater.
  • Nick Merkley and Madison Bowey led the way for the Rockets in the seasonal series with ten points apiece and both will have to be equally as good in this round. Merkley had 4 goals and 6 assists while Bowey had two goals and 8 helpers. In a four game sweep over Tri City, Bowey scored three times.
  • Brandon Magee was the story for the Royals in a five game series win over Prince George. The 21 year-old had six goals in the five games and scored the overtime series clincher. Magee had 5+5=10 in the eight games against the Rockets during the regular season and it will be interesting to see who Dan Lambert has out on the ice to contain Magee's line. 
  • Magee and 21 year-old forward Austin Carroll are the likely candidates to stir the pot if the pot needs stirring. The two racked up a combined 89 penalty minutes between them in the eight game seasonal series. Rodney Southam was the most active agitator from the Rockets perspective including four fighting majors: two each against Austin Carroll and Ryan Gagnon.
  • The key players to watch out for in this series are Tyson Baillie for the Rockets and Chaz Reddekopp for the Royals. This is where Baillie shines. The 19 year-old sparkles in a series where it is tough in the trenches. Baillie is a proven playoff performer where the tougher the grind becomes the more determined he gets. Reddekopp, for my money, is severely underrated and is a physical forces back on the Royals blue line. The West Kelowna resident doesn't receive the positive press that he deserves because fellow blue liners Joe Hicketts and Travis Brown are more charismatic in the offensive zone. 
  • Michael Herringer earned his first career WHL playoff start and win in a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory against the Tri City Americans last Thursday. While Jackson Whistle will start in goal in game one, Herringer isn't a bad option considering his seasonal series success against the Royals. Herringer (pictured above), had a 4-1-0-0 record in five starts and posted a goals against average of 2.80. Whistle played in only three games and was 1-1-1-0. The 19 year-old had a goals against average of 3.60 and a save percentage of .872. Herringer is a former Victoria Royal. The soft spoken goaltender was a 9th round bantam pick.

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