Monday, May 4, 2015

Satisfying series win

  • Winning a Western Conference Championship and advancing to the Western Hockey League final is always special. It would be safe to say the Kelowna Rockets series win over an arch playoff nemesis like the Portland Winterhawks may have been the most satisfying of the four the franchise has claimed in the last thirteen seasons. The Winterhawks owned the Rockets in the playoffs....until now. After having their season end at the hands of the U.S Division powerhouse in three of the last four years, sending the WHL's only Oregon based franchise into an early summer was a massive accomplishment. In a game six, 8-4 win Sunday afternoon at the Moda Center, the Rockets returned the favour by winning the conference title in front of 85 hundred screaming fans that have seen their team advance to the league final four consecutive seasons. Instead the Winterhawks dreams of a fifth straight appearance were dashed when the Rockets rallied from a 3-0 deficit to score eight of the next nine goals in the series clinching victory. While it is an early exit for the Winterhawks, the Rockets will play on as they face the Eastern Conference Champion Brandon Wheat Kings in a clash of the top two team's during the regular season.
  • This was a strange game considering the Rockets surrendered three goals in the first 13 minutes of action. Starting goaltender Jackson Whistle was replaced for the third time in the playoffs and back up Michael Herringer seamlessly enters the game and leads the team to a series clinching win. Even down 3-0, you could sense the Rockets were in good shape if they stayed the course and stuck to a solid work ethic. Even down by three, the general vibe was the visitors had a chance to pull even. Madison Bowey found the back of the net with a shorthanded goal 12 minutes into the second period to tie the game. At one point they were down 3-0, now it was 3-3. 
  • The loss of leading goal scorer Rourke Chartier obviously did something to the psyche of the team. Tyson Baillie, who didn't make a peep in the first three games of the series by his standards, came alive and showed why the 19 year-old is such a great playoff performer. While Baillie was elevating his play, linemate Dillon Dube also took the opportunity with Chartier out to play a more significant role on the team's second line. Dube was lights-out terrific in both game five and six as the 'Golden Jet' (He was born in Golden BC) showed why Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey hit a home run when he picked the left handed shooting speedster 21st overall in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. Baillie and Dube's strong play in game five and six were possibly one reason why the series didn't go the distance. 
  • Gage Quinney was back in the line up in game six after sitting out four games with an upper body injury. The 19 year-old is a significant upgrade to the forward core, promptly collected two assists and was a +3 on the night.
  • The line I enjoyed watching the most in this series was Cole Linaker with Chance Braid and Tomas Soustal. This trio was hard to play against because of their size, strength and physicality. All three were exceptional. Braid and Soustal played with increased determination. Linaker was his typical no quit self. 
  • Leon. Leon. What more can we say about Leon Draisaitl? The 19 year-old had only one assist in game six, but what a horse in games five and six. Every time Draisaitl was on the ice, it was scary to see how he dominated play. If anyone questioned if Leon Draisaitl cares about winning a WHL title, the big German proved again he wants to win at whatever level he plays at. I thought the only part of his game that suffered was at the face-off dot, but let's be clear, he was massive in a game four win where he won several defensive zone face-offs to preserve a one goal victory. Draisaitl is the best European player this franchise has ever had. I may be going out on a limb, but the Oilers first round draft pick may be one of the best Rockets EVER! Draisaitl can cement that fact with a strong effort in the WHL final against Brandon. I have no doubt Draisaitl will rise to the challenge.
  • Madison Bowey had his best game of the series. The 19 year-old was physical ( how about the hit on Winterhawks 20 year-old Myles Koules in the first period?) and scored two big goals to get his team rolling. That is what you expect from your captain. I didn't think Bowey came alive with his best effort until late in the series, so that will have to change against Brandon. The same can be said for Josh Morrissey, who was as quiet as a field mouse in the first three games of the series. Morrissey did step up in overtime in game five where something seemed to clicked. You could see that Morrissey was playing with more pace and was picking his spots to rush with the puck. When he does that, he is strong at both ends of the ice.  
  • The series win was gratifying on so many levels. The team exorcised a demon and did it without Rourke Chartier and Tyrell Goulbourne. It was a big win for the rookie coaching staff, who must have been feeling the pressure and still have their feet to the fire to win a WHL championship. Winning three straight games over the Winterhawks, including two on the road, was satisfying for everyone involved. Of the four Western Conference Championships, this one is possibly the most gratifying because of the respected opponent that they were forced to take down. 
  • I loved watching head coach Dan Lambert high-fiving his players as they left the Moda Centre ice. 'Lambo' is a players coach and wears his heart on his sleeve. The expression of happiness was so refreshing. 
  • The fact that the Rockets rallied back to win in three of the four games was unbelievable. In game one they trailed 2-0 yet won 3-2. In game four they trailed 2-0 and again won 3-2. In game six they trailed 3-0 only to come back and win 8-4. 
  • Nic Petan will never play in the WHL again. What a sad thought that is. Petan was a treat to watch. You always hear about generational players making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL. Is Nic Petan a generational player from bantam to major junior? I think he is. His skill set was above average. I am so glad I had a chance to see him for so many years.  The 20 year-old is now the WHL leader in playoff games played - with 88. That is an amazing number!!
  • I appreciate all the feedback I received on Twitter over the course of Sunday's broadcast. We had lots of chatter about the game and I appreciate those that listened in. Twitter is a great indicator of how people care about the Rockets and their successes along the way. It is great to be in a city where the team matters and receives front page media attention. I hope the players realize that they are not only playing for their team-mates and families, but they are playing for a city that 15 years ago wasn't exactly known as a 'hockey hungry' centre.   
  • The Rockets now prepare to face the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL final. It is the team that they battled all season long in an effort to win home ice advantage if the indeed met in the final. While falling short in their quest for the Scotty Munro trophy, starting on the road shouldn't play much of a factor for a team that is considered to be better on the road than they are at Prospera Place. In the post season, Dan Lambert's crew has been good no matter where the ice surface is situated.


Casey Ludwig said...

What's your (unbiased) prediction for this series regan? I can't see the rockets winning more than a game. Brandon is just way too strong

PNWHockey said...

Even though the Winterhawks fell short this season. I know of no other team than the Kelowna Rockets i'd like to see in the WHL Championship Round now that the Hawks have been eliminated.

Anytime we can see two "class act" teams on the ice together; the Hawks vs. the Rockets always seems to be a "hockey event par excellence!" Great job to both teams.

Good luck to the Kelowna Rockets in the Memorial Cup. I will be cheering you from Portland.

And Thank You Regan for your honest assessment and commentary.

Once Again, Congratulation Kelowna!

John Fisher
Portland, Oregon


travisby95 said...

Is chartier out for the final as well?

Regan Bartel said...

I can't bet against a team I've seen all season. Brandon is good but so is Kelowna.