The opinions of a Western Hockey League radio broadcaster
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Sometimes you don't get what you deserve
You want the truth? The Kelowna Rockets didn't deserve to win last night's hockey game. Funny how it works. They did! In a game that can only be described as playing good enough to win, the Rockets used a pair of goals from Nick Merkley in the third period in a 3-1 victory over the Tri City Americans. The Americans could have won, or in a worse scenario, pulled out a point if they didn't struggle scoring. That and starting goaltender Jackson Whistle was good in making 25 saves. The game deserved to go into overtime, frankly, when Americans forward Morgan Geekie had a wide open net in the third period and shot the puck wide. Let's keep this game in mind when the Rockets play well and still end up losing. If you look at the glass half full at the end of the night, even good team's find a way to win when they play poorly.
Slow starts have not been a problem for the team this season. It has been common place that the Rockets come out quickly. It was the case Tuesday night where they fired 14 shots at Americans goaltender Evan Sarthou in the first period. My greatest fear was the Americans hanging around in a 0-0 game and possibly scoring the lead goal and then playing defensive hockey in an effort to squeeze out the two points. Nick Merkley hit the goal post on the Rockets first shot on net and Dillon Dube was robbed by the left pad of Sarthou on a shorthanded backhand to keep the game scoreless. Eventually, Kole Lind, who is the team's early candidate for rookie of the year, scored on a blown two-on-one with Dillon Dube late in the second period. Lind took the shot, the puck went off Sarthou's left pad and Dube shot it wide. Sitting behind the net, Lind promptly picked the puck up and skated in front of the net and fired it into the yawning gage.
Penalties. Way too many of them if you wear Kelowna Rockets colours. The undisciplined, lazy penalties are often times a killer. I hate to point fingers, but veteran Tyson Baillie was the greatest offender. A player of Baillie's ilk shouldn't be taking that many penalties per game. Baillie had three minor penalties in last night's win and has 30 penalty minutes this season, which is all most half of his total from last season when he played in 68 regular season games. In three of the last six games, Baillie has taken six minutes in penalties per-game. Fortunately, the penalty killing unit has been excellent, specifically last night where it killed off 7 of 8 opportunities.
Nick Merkley's one timer on the power play was as good as you are going to witness at the WHL level. Merkley passed the puck to Dillon Dube at the right face-off circle, who promptly passed it back to Merkley at the left dot where he fired it blocker side on Evan Sarthou. It stood up as the Rockets only power play goal and the game winner. Merkley's empty net goal was the 50th goal of his career.
Tate Coughlin doesn't like to hit...or so I thought. The 18 year-old forward took a charging minor after pasting Americans rookie defenceman Juuso Valamaki hard into the corner boards at the midway point of the third period. While I don't condone illegal play, it was nice to see Coughlin step out of his comfort zone and play in an abnormally aggressive manner. I am sure his team-mates fed off it too. Coughlin was also assessed a fighting major, which essentially was a wrestling match, but regardless, it was a positive step for a player who needs to bring a physical presence to the ice.
Best player on the Americans side? I sure like newcomer Juuso Valamaki. Logging a lot of minutes with an injury to Brandon Carlo, among others, Valamaki is poised with the puck and is a solid addition on the blue line. While Valamaki impressed, it makes me wonder about 20 year-old Brian Williams regression as a player. Williams was a force when he scored 36 goals as an 18 year-old but doesn't have the same pop in his game. A gifted shooter, Williams should have more than three goals after 13 games.
The Rockets stayed the night in Tri City before having an optional skate at Toyota Centre Wednesday before making their way to Portland, Oregon for two games this weekend against the Winterhawks.