|Tim Swanky Photograph|
- It isn't how you start a hockey game. Often times it is how you finish that results in a victory. The Kelowna Rockets opened a best of seven Western Conference championship series with the Portland Winterhawks last night with a 3-2 home ice win. The game didn't start well for the Rockets, who allowed the first goal just 35 seconds into the opening period. Despite trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes, they fought back with three unanswered second period goals in the teams sixth straight win on home ice in the 2015 playoffs. Game two goes tonight at Prospera Place with games three and four back in Portland next Tuesday and Wednesday night.
- The Rockets looked like a team that hadn't played in a week. Off since last Friday after a 7-3 win over Victoria to wrap up a second round playoff series, the home team came out of the gates slowly and made two significant errors which cost them goals. A turnover at the blue line allowed Oliver Bjorkstrand to blow one past Jackson Whistle before some fans even reached their seats. Winterhawks d-man Adam Henry then easily moved around Rockets captain Madison Bowey to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. At that point it looked like the home team was in a heap of trouble, which they were. The second period though, was a different story.
- Now the Rockets too had their chances in the opening period, but either made a bad decision with the puck or had no puck luck at all. Leon Draisaitl on a goal mouth scramble hit the goal post and Justin Kirkland, in a grade 'A' scoring area, had Winterhawks goalie Adin Hill at his mercy but elected to make a back door pass to Draisaitl which didn't create a shot on net.
- Again, as the game went along the Rockets found their game. Nick Merkley's pass to Madison Bowey for a shorthanded goal early in the second period was the turning point. With Josh Morrissey in the penalty box after taking a late first period penalty, a Portland goal on the power play may have been enough to allow the Winterhawks to walk away with a game one win. Instead, Bowey found the back of the net for the teams fourth shorthanded goal of the playoffs and it was a one goal game. Only 46 seconds later, Justin Kirkland would make good on his gaffe in the first period by scoring a nice individual goal by cutting wide on a Winterhawks d-man and then out-waiting Hill to the forehand. Rourke Chartier would score the game winner when he out-raced a d-man to a puck inside the Portland zone and then fired it off the crossbar. The puck eventually hit Hill's skate and just trickled over the goal line for the Rockets first lead of the game.
- Despite giving up a goal 35 seconds into the game, I thought it was a pretty solid game for Jackson Whistle. The veteran goaltender, like his team, appeared to get better as the game went along. That said, the 19 year-old was hardly tested in the final period where the Rockets surrendered only seven shots against. The attention to detail defensively in the dying minutes with a one goal lead was impressive. Even with the goaltender pulled, the Winterhawks really never had a dangerous scoring chance on goal.
- What kind of night was it for Leon Draisaitl? An uneventful one by his standards. Not only did he hit the post in the first period, but with Hill pulled for the extra attacker, the 19 year-old had a wide open net and fired the puck from the Winterhawks side of centre ice and missed the net. It wasn't a great night for Draisaitl, who was most noticeable at the face-off circle. I thought he and Josh Morrissey had just average games for two players that usually make major impacts over the course of 60 minutes. Quiet and steady may best explain their efforts in game one.
- While there was concern earlier in the week about a possible small crowd for game one, just over 58 hundred fans, two hundred shy of a sell out, took in the game. They were loud and chanted 'We Want a Ref' which quickly turned to 'Go Rockets Go' in the third period. Those in attendance were treated to a great game that saw little in the way of whistles and was completed in just two hours and thirteen minutes.
- The best Winterhawk? Adam Henry was really good on the back end for Portland but I still thought Chase De Leo was the best forward. I thought he showed a lot of jump and created some good scoring chances. Alex Schoenborn also had a good game as he was involved physically all night long.
- I thought Dillon Dube had a strong game for the Rockets. A healthy scratch in game five of a second round series with Victoria, the 16 year-old skated hard and made some nice plays in the offensive zone. To make room for Dube on the roster, the Rockets scratched Riley Stadel.