Saturday, April 18, 2015

Some kind of wonderful

Josh Morrissey - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Some kind of wonderful. That would best describe Josh Morrissey's performance Friday night in the Kelowna Rockets series ending game five victory over the Victoria Royals. The 20 year-old, who has often been injured since his acquisition in early January, showed why he is in elite status as one of the best defenceman in all of Canadian junior hockey. Morrissey's pinpoint shooting accuracy was on display in a 7-3 win last night, leading his team to a birth in the Western Conference final for a second consecutive season. Morrissey, who didn't dress for game three or four, scored twice and added three assists for a spectacular five point night as the Rockets wrapped up the Western Conference semi final series with a four games to one win. Morrissey was the most determined player on the ice, and unlike some of his teammates, the true professional showed no signs of fatigue after a long ferry/bus ride from Victoria in the early morning hours of Thursday morning. The more Morrissey played, the better and more dominant he became. The Winnipeg Jets prospects second period goal was the back breaker as the Rockets built up a 5-2 lead. That goal came on the heels of a Tyson Baillie power play tally after Royals forward Jared Dmytriw was slapped with a five minute major after defenceman Cole Martin was pancaked into the side boards. Fortunately, Martin returned a few minutes later but Dmytriw's night was through.
  • The Rockets start in game five was terrific, but after scoring the opening goal less than two minutes in, they flat lined. For whatever reason they stopped skating and taking the play to the Royals, who took full advantage by scoring two goals in 23 seconds and it felt like the series was headed back to Victoria for a game six on Sunday. But that is where head coach Dan Lambert made his boldest move of the WHL playoffs. In a 2-2 tie, Lambert, in consultation with his assistants, elected to pull starter Jackson Whistle and replace him with back up Michael Herringer. It worked in an opening round series clincher against Tri City, but would it work again? Whether the move was made to wake his team up or an indication he didn't like Whistle's body of work in the opening period, the move paid off in a big way. Not only was Herringer solid when called upon, but Lambert's team seemed to galvanise together and the commitment to defending improved and the execution in the offensive zone was stellar.
  • Herringer is now 2 and 0 in a relief appearance in this years playoffs. Whistle is 7 and 1. In my opinion the team can't go wrong with either goaltender. Whistle has proven that he is more than capable, so no goalie controversy is necessary. Herringer has proven that he can too carry the mail, so if Whistle falters, it sure is nice to know that the guy sitting on the bench with his mask off is more than just an average replacement. 
  • Leon Draisaitl had a solid series vs. Victoria. The 19 year-old had 2+9=11. The German had a three point night (1+2=3) in the game five win. Tyson Baillie scored in four of the five games. While he was relatively quiet in game five, the 19 year-old still found the back of the net in a clutch time of the game. That's what Baillie is - clutch. The goal he scored hit two defenders before bouncing in, but as ugly as that goal was, the dude just scores timely goals. Baillie had five goals and three assists in the series.
  • The Victoria Royals lost with class. I think that should be mentioned here. They played a tough, in your face series, but at games end and series end they didn't take things into the gutter. In fact, I hardly saw Brandon Magee in the third period outside of a late power play. Was that Dave Lowry's doing? Who's to know? Last season, Magee went off the handle in a series ending game against Portland and was suspended for 12 games for his actions. This time, Magee played with pride and conceded defeat in a mature manner. It was impressive to see how he took a step forward in his development as a person/player. Everyone deserves a second chance. Magee got his and proved in this playoff series that he is not only clutch for his team, but he learned from his mistake. 
  • The Rockets are off to the Western Conference final for a second consecutive season. The Rockets lost in five games last year to the Portland Winterhawks. Could the same two teams be headed for another rematch? The two rivals met in 2011-2012 (first round) and again in 2013-2014 (third round). The Rockets have lost those two series. Nothing is written in stone, but with the Winterhawks holding a 3-1 series lead on Everett, it looks more and more like they will fight again for the Western Conference playoff banner. The Rockets haven't won the Conference crown since 2008-2009.

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