|Lambert was a rock star with the media|
- So close, yet so far away. Those are the lyrics from a song written by Daryl Hall and John Oates. That phrase may best describe my feeling after the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 overtime loss last night in the Master Card Memorial Cup final. My belief was the Western Hockey League champions were the better team Sunday at the Colisee, but you often see in sports one team with glorious chances and is unable to score and the other is able to capitalize. It happens. It reoccurred in the championship game Sunday and the Oshawa Generals are Memorial Cup champions for the first time since 1990. It leaves an awful feeling in your gut because the Rockets were so close. I believe just one more goal would have done it for Dan Lambert’s crew. A Tyson Baillie goal (Baillie had two glorious chances) or Nick Merkley’s breakaway opportunity in the third period would have likely sealed it for a team that played so well. Honestly, a loss would be easier to take had the final outcome been 4-1 or 4-2 with an empty netter. It would have still left an empty feeling, but it would have been likely easier to swallow. That is what I’m trying to convince myself into believing anyway.
- So much hard work goes into building a champion. So many games are played and so many miles on the bus are spent in order to become the only two teams standing in the Memorial Cup final. My hope was to witness a smiling, puffy eyed Dan Lambert hugging Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey on the ice surface in jubilation after a thrilling win of major juniors hockey’s top prize. I wanted Cole Martin, Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey, Chance Braid, Leon Draisaitl and Tyrell Goulbourne (despite being injured) to end their junior careers with a win in their final game. It would have been a great way for those six to cap of their careers in the Western Hockey League.
- This blog post can’t be all negative. Why? It was a terrific season. As mentioned, this was a glorious ride to a WHL title. There were so many thrilling moments. There were so many great goals. There were so many obstacles to overcome. It was not a smooth path towards being a goal away from winning it all. It was that bumpy ride that made it so rewarding. The 53 win season. The massive trades for Draisaitl and Morrissey. The high expectations for the team that followed and the injuries to Rourke Chartier, Josh Morrissey and Justin Kirkland. Who can forget the loss of Jackson Whistle to an appendectomy and the fear that back up’s Michael Herringer and Jake Morrissey couldn’t carry the mail? It all went down yet they just kept winning.
- Leon Draisaitl came as advertised. The 19 year-old is a big time player. The German was named the WHL Playoff MVP and then turned his game up further by being named the Memorial Cup MVP. While not on the NHL stage yet, Draisaitl yearns to win. The Oilers first round pick was emotionally upset after Sunday’s loss, which again punctuated the point that he cared. Draisaitl cared about his teammates. Draisaitl cared about Kelowna. Draisaitl showed his character, his composure during often lengthy painful interviews with the media and wasn’t afraid to show off his dynamic skills with the puck. Was he not the best passer in Rockets colours since Colin Long? What will always stand out for me after a 7-3 win in the semifinals was Driasaitl standing in front of the media and speaking glowingly about the play of Cole Linaker, Chance Braid, Rodney Southam and a cast of teammates characterized as foot soldiers. Terrific player? Yes! Terrific person? Without a doubt.
- Jackson Whistle. Outside of Draisaitl, was the 19 year-old not the best Rockets player at the Memorial Cup? Whistle was solid throughout the tournament and showed how mentally strong that aspect of his game has become. Whistle was often bad mouthed by outsiders who thought he wasn’t good enough to lead the team to a WHL championship. Many went as far to suggest Bruce Hamilton should have gone after an Eric Comrie or Tristan Jarry to solidify the most important position in hockey. Egg was thrown in his face after being pulled in the first three playoff series before closing things out in a four game sweep against Brandon in the league final. If Whistle heard the naysayers, he did a tremendous of blocking it out in order to perform at the ultimate level.
- Not like I had any doubt that Dillon Dube will be a tremendous player, but this kid is going to be a stud. The 16 year-old isn’t ordinary. Could he be as good as Nick Merkley at the same age? Injured for the majority of the season, Dube made an impact every time he was on the ice and the future is so bright for the likable player. Dube isn’t as aggressive as Merkley when hunting down pucks, but is shooting ability/accuracy and offensive awareness is above average. I think he would make a great captain down the road.
- Nick Merkley’s stock for June’s draft must have taken a turn for the better following his showing at the Memorial Cup. Named an all-star in Quebec City, the 17 year-old never quit…not once. Merkley is a hunter. The Calgary resident takes great pleasure in three things; hunting down pucks, setting up teammates and laying body on an opponent. What a gifted player, who is now off to the NHL Combine in Toronto.
- Dan Lambert. What a rock star he was this week with the media. Were any of the four coaches at the Memorial Cup as relaxed and cordial with the press than Lambert? He was a delight. In fact, he was better than Ryan Huska, and Huska is a dream to deal with. The St. Malo Manitoba resident’s ability to speak fluent French only made him more of a media darling. Lambert was often seen smiling and joking around with the media, which in my view carried over to his teams’ demeanor in the pressure packed tournament. Never uptight outwardly, I think it allowed his players to play a calm, controlled game even when they experienced rough waters during its WHL playoff run and experience at the Memorial Cup. Unlike Ryan Huska, who spent seven years behind the Rockets bench as head coach, Lambert won’t be waiting long before getting a pro opportunity?
- How will I view the 2014-2015 edition of the Kelowna Rockets? Regardless of the outcome at the Memorial Cup, they will go down as one of the best teams the organization has ever iced. That tends to happen when you win a WHL title, but they had the ability to play at a high tempo with outlandish skill, solid defence and incredible coaching. While coming away empty handed from Quebec City, the 2014-2015 Kelowna Rockets played 101 games (pre-season/regular season/playoffs/Memorial Cup) and came within a whisker of winning it all. They gave themselves a chance, which all CHL teams ultimately wanted when the puck dropped back in September.