The opinions of a Western Hockey League radio broadcaster
Thursday, May 14, 2015
16 and 3 adds up to Ed Chynoweth Cup!!!
2015 WHL Champions - Marissa Baecker
Shocked. Amazed. Elated. Those are just some of the feelings after the Kelowna Rockets series sweep of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League final. I believed the Rockets would win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, but like all of you, not in a four game sweep. The team just got better as time moved along. Credit to the coaches and players for coming together for the common good and peaking at just the right time. I remember all of the struggles that went on following the acquisition of Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey in January. Did the trades upset the apple cart? Was all team chemistry lost? I was thinking it. Maybe even the players were questioning it too? Regardless, they came together, put ego's aside and turned into a powerhouse team that wouldn't be derailed, even against their playoff nemesis, the Portland Winterhawks.
A quick thought on what that playoff series win over the Winterhawks meant. It meant a ton for the players and for the entire organization. In fact, some thanks must be given to the Winterhawks for pushing the Rockets the way they did in the six game series. By playing with pace and skating with a high degree of tempo, the Western Conference Championship series prepared the eventually Western Conference Champions for the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Rockets confidence sky-rocketed as a result of that series win and the mental edge of feeling unstoppable was clearly evident in the league final.
Leon. Oh, Leon. The German greeted me in the dressing room when I walked in after our broadcast concluded. I am not sure he expected me to hug him, but I did. Not one to often smile, Draisaitl was genuinely excited about winning the WHL title and celebrating with teammates who he had to get to know in a hurry when he made his Rockets debut on January 7th against the Vancouver Giants. Sure, Draisaitl got my vote for playoff MVP, but wasn't it obvious? He was a stud. A horse. A go-to-guy. Leon Draisaitl is what we thought he would be. Draisaitl did not disappoint and despite his small body of work (51 games regular season/playoffs), the 'Squirm'n German' will go down as one of the greats of all time wearing Kelowna Rockets colours.
I thought one of the special moments on the night was when I entered the Rockets dressing room and the number of former players were gathered inside congratulating the current team. Shea Weber, Josh Gorges, Chris Ray, Cam Paddock, Simon Ferguson, Michal Blanar and Brett Palin to name just a few. It was also nice to hug some of my favourite players that have been with the team for years and were unable to see their season end appropriately. Cole Martin is one such player who thanked me for what I've done. I haven't done anything outside of telling those who would listen how valuable the Texan was to the overall scope of the team. It was a great moment on a personal level as we then had a photo with my radio partner Gord McGarva holding the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Thanks to 'Tyson Time', Tyson Baillie for being the official photographer.
Who am I most happy for? Dan Lambert. It is an easy choice. Like Ryan Huska, as personable as they come, Lambo had pressure to deliver a winner after GM Bruce Hamilton stacked the deck with the acquisition of Draisaitl, Morrissey, Braid and Quinney. Lambert did a great job guiding the ship and undoubtedly would give credit to former coach Ryan Huska for helping shape the team for its successful playoff run. The St. Malo, Manitoba resident now has won the WHL title in four straight games as a player (1989 sweep vs. Portland) and now as a head coach (2015 sweep vs. Brandon).
Did Nick Merkley impressed NHL scouts in this WHL Championship series? The 17 year-old proved a point that he can take the rough going and can deliver with excellent play making and a tenacious forecheck. I am not sure if Merkley improved his stock for June's draft, but he didn't hurt it. Only Leon Draisaitl had more playoff points (28) than Merkley (27).
Nine shorthanded goals in the playoffs! What is that all about? The team had 13 during the course of 72 regular season games. Those nine (9) shorthanded goals in the playoffs are the most in over 20 years. The Calgary Hitmen had 8 in 1999 and Red Deer had 7 in 2001.
Jackson Whistle made 19 saves for his 4th shutout of the 2015 playoffs. That ties a team record set by Kelly Guard (2003) and repeated by Derek Yeomans (2005).
Rourke Chartier's 13 goals scored in the 2015 playoffs, matches the club record for goals in the playoffs. Jamie Benn and Mikael Backlund had 13 apiece in 2009.
Now on to Quebec City for the 2015 Memorial Cup. Funny how the Colisee (built in 1949) is where it all began for this franchise when they debuted there in the spring of 2003. Oh, Dan Lambert also played in that building in the early 90's as a member of the Quebec Nordiques.