The opinions of a Western Hockey League radio broadcaster
Sunday, November 8, 2015
As Yogi Berra said, "Deja Vu All Over Again"
A 3-0 deficit. The Kelowna Rockets changing goaltenders after a tough start. The visiting team putting up eight goals at the Moda Center. A crowd in Portland which was over 10 thousand. Sound familiar? The stakes were significantly less than they were in game six of the Western Conference final in May, but the Kelowna Rockets followed a similar script Saturday night in an 8-5 win over the Winterhawks. The Rockets rallied with four goals in the second period and four more in the third in their 13th win of the season. Tyson Baillie and Kole Lind each scored once and added two assists in the character building win.
I'm not sure who gets credit for pulling starting goaltender Michael Herringer after giving up three goals on 11 shots in the first period, but the move paid off. Herringer had no chance on the opening goal, but I thought he was far too deep in his net when the Winterhawks made it 3-0. My belief is a goaltender has to make a significant save even if the team in front of him is flat. It didn't happen, and I have no problem with Jackson Whistle replacing Herringer to start the second period.
The Rockets lost forward Dillon Dube early in the first period when he was clipped by a stick in the eye from team-mate Joe Gatenby. The 17 year skated off the ice in panic and was quickly rushed to hospital with serious concern for Dube's vision. Without getting into detail, the end result showed no permanent damage to Dube's eye. The speedy forward stayed overnight in Portland and returned to Kelowna in the morning. Dube will not play in the Canada-Russia Challenge for the WHL against the Russian Selects, but honestly that means little in the big picture. The good news is Dube is OK and will return to the line-up in three weeks no worse for wear.
With the loss of Dube, I thought Calvin Thurkauf really elevated his play. The Swiss forward has 12 points in 18 games as a rookie. Thurkauf looks hard to play against thanks to his 6'1, 202 pound frame. Once he realizes he can play a power game on the North American ice, the points will come.
Rookie Kole Lind had a breakout game with a career high three points. Lind now has 12 points in 18 games. In assessing Lind's play, he creates no less than one ideal scoring chance for himself every game. Bank on it. Often times he is unable to finish, or the point totals would be even more impressive. The fourth round bantam pick can score, finding the back of the net 45 times playing midget hockey in Saskatoon two years ago. That doesn't necessarily translate into success at the WHL level though. That said, Lind is a nice complement playing on a line with Dillon Dube and leading scorer Tyson Baillie.
The best goal of the game came on a nice four way passing play, on the power play, to make the score 7-4. Joe Gatenby passes the puck to Lucas Johansen at the right face-off circle. Johansen feathered a pass to Tyson Baillie at the left face-off dot who promptly hits an awaiting Justin Kirkland on the back door for a picture perfect goal. It was Kirkland's first two goal game since February 7th of last season against the Kamloops Blazers. Kirkland also snapped a five game goalless streak.
Weird stat. Justin Kirkland has six-two goal games in his career. All six have come on the road.
Nick Merkley is back! While riding a modest four game point streak, Merkley has 5+4=9 over that stretch. Merkley is a threat every time he has the puck and is heating up at just the right time in an effort to play for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Tyson Baillie is riding an 8 game point streak and is two points shy of 250 for his career. Baillie had a career high - 10 - game point streak last season.
In the last three seasons, the Rockets are 5-0-1-0 in their last six regular season appearances in Portland.
The Rockets are 8-3-0-0 with Rourke Chartier out of the line-up. Impressive considering Chartier racked up 48 goals last season and many believe when he returns from injury he will be anointed the captain.