Monday, April 20, 2015

Rockets: More battle ready

Bjorkstrand/Chartier are two sharpshooters

  • Are the Kelowna Rockets built better to handle the Portland Winterhawks this season? Are they a heavier/tougher team to play against this time around? My belief is they are if you compare them to one season ago. Not only are they more skilled, but players like Tyrell Goulbourne, Rodney Southam, Chance Braid and Riley Stadel, who I suspect will be used as a forward in this series, give the Rockets more grit and sandpaper up front. It should make it harder on the Winterhawks defenceman to move the puck which means more turnovers in the Portland zone. The hope is the Winterhawks forward group will be forced into spending significant minutes getting the puck outside of their own blue line which will make them less dynamic at the other end of the ice.
  • Let's dig a little deeper here. In last years WCF, the Rockets were without 20 year-old Myles Bell. It's other 20 year-old, Marek Tvrdon, had two assists in the five game series. Nineteen year-old's Ryan Olsen, Tyrell Goulbourne, Colton Heffley, Carter Rigby, Damon Severson and Cole Martin combined for two goals in five games. That's right, of those seven players, only Martin and Olsen were able to score among those players. You can't win a playoff series against elite competition with a lack of offense coming from the 20 and 19 year-old age groups.
  • For the record, the Rockets best player in the Portland series a season ago was 19 year-old defenceman Damon Severson. A draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, Severson had five assists in the five games and was a respectable -1 competing against the best Winterhawks forwards.
  • It is safe to say that Shaw will likely cover the Eastern Conference championship series with the Calgary Hitmen and Brandon Wheat Kings. The Calgary market is just too large to ignore even though the Flames are still the main story in Central Alberta. So with Shaw handling that series, does Sportsnet cover this series, or in a worse case scenario,  only do the games when the Rockets are on home ice? If that's the case, advantage Portland. The Winterhawks aren't exactly a one line team, but it does allow head coach Jamie Kompon to use his top forwards; Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nic Petan, Paul Bittner and Chase De Leo more often. Games involving Sportsnet create massive stoppages in play during a period and can be a real equalizer for a team with not as much depth or likes to roll its top three lines extensively. 
  • This series features two rookie WHL coaches. Dan Lambert guides the Rockets while Jamie Kompon is behind the Winterhawks bench.
  • Dan Lambert has won as a player against the Winterhawks, now he wants to do it as a WHL head coach. Lambert was instrumental in helping the 1989 Swift Current Broncos to a league title that season against a Portland squad that consisted of Dennis Holland and Troy Mick. The Broncos would sweep the Winterhawks in four games with game three and four victories coming at the legendary Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
  • Only two players on the Rockets current roster are familiar with the 2011 playoff series between the two team's. Tyrell Goulbourne was only 16 while Madison Bowey played as an affiliated player at the tender age of 15. The Winterhawks had two elite forwards in that series named Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Johansen. Yikes, where they good!!
  • They will be arch rivals in this series, but will likely be future teammates with the Winnipeg Jets. Kelowna Rockets defenceman Josh Morrissey will face Portland's Nic Petan.  The Jets picked Morrissey in the first round in 2013 and then used their second round selection to pluck Petan with the 43rd overall.
  • If the Rockets coaches want to know how to slow down Oliver Bjorkstrand, it be best to call up the Edmonton Oil Kings and ask them how they did it in last years WHL final. In that series, the now 19 year-old had one goal in those seven games.

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