Sunday, December 20, 2015

Three wins on 'roady' not good enough for coaching staff

Courtesy Saskatoon Blades Hockey Club
  • The Kelowna Rockets learned several lessons as they concluded an epic six game in nine night Eastern Division road trip. Teams won't take pity on them even with five regulars out of the line-up. The Western Hockey League leaders also learned they aren't good enough to win unless a determined effort is evident throughout the entire line-up. Despite building up a 2-0 first period lead in Saskatoon Saturday night, the Kelowna Rockets found themselves on the losing end of a 5-3 decision to close out the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule. The Blades had more 'want' with four-second period goals for only their 5th home ice win of the season against a team that - on paper - should have skated away with a win, fatigue or no fatigue. Kelowna Rockets assistant coach Travis Crickard, on the AM 1150 post game show said, "I felt embarrassed the way we came out in the second period in the way we played. Was it the worst period we have played all season? The answer was yes, probably top three". The Rockets ended the road trip with back-to-back losses for the first time this season after losing the previous night in Prince Albert by a 3-1 score. The team ends the Eastern Division road trip with 3 wins and 3 losses after winning three of first four games on the road trip through Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
  • Cal Foote was ejected from the game in the second period after receiving a 5 minute major and game misconduct for a check to the head. The Blades would go on to score a power play goal - the game winner - with 5 seconds left in Foote's penalty while Justin Kirkland was also serving a penalty. The coaching staff suggested after the game that Foote's penalty didn't play a major momentum shift in the game.
  •  Tyson Baillie scored twice in Saturday's loss, but what became clearly evident on the road trip was the hockey clubs inability to find secondary scoring. Baillie scored five goals on the road trip and collected points in five of the six games (5+4=9). Line-mate Dillon Dube also had five points in six games (2+5=7) while Kole Lind, the third element on that line collected six points (1+5=6) in the six games. From there, the drop off was clearly evident.
  • Crickard added on the post game show, "Our record, I could blame on fatigue, but I was really disappointed in our players willingness to grind out games and grind out wins." Crickard was referring to the teams success last season prior to Christmas on a similar trip to Alberta, where the team was winning despite making a trade with the Prince Albert Raiders that saw Austin Glover and Jesse Lees leave the team after the first game of the road trip. Other players were forced into new roles and the team was able to, as Crickard suggested, grind out wins."When I think of this trip and the body of work from some of our players, especially depth guys who are put into roles that give them the opportunity to show the coaching staff, show their team-mates what they can do for the team, I just saw a bunch of guys that were happy to throw on a Kelowna Rockets jersey".   
  • The team scored 16 goals in the six games, with the Baillie, Dube, Lind line scoring half (8) of those goals. Justin Kirkland, a 19 year-old forward looking at signing an NHL contract, had three points during the trip (2+1=3) while 20 year-old Cole Linaker, after scoring once and collecting an assist in the opening game against Regina, failed to earn a point in the five remaining games. Lucas Johansen, who sits 8th in team scoring, had points in four of the six games (2+3=5) and was a consistent offensive contributor on the road swing. Johansen had a solid trip despite battling the flu bug.
  • This was a chance for third and fourth line players to pick up the slack with Rourke Chartier, Nick Merkley, Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf attempting to make their respective major junior teams for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships. Tanner Wishnowski had just two points (1+1=2) with his lone goal in Swift Current coming into an empty net. Tate Coughlin had just a single assist on the trip. It was unfortunate that players that had the opportunity to step up didn't.     
  • The team was held to one goal in three of the six games. That is rare for a hockey club that at one point lead the league in goals scored. The Rockets lost 5-1 in Brandon, fell 3-1 in Prince Albert and earned a hard fought 1-0 win in Moose Jaw thanks to Jackson Whistle's first star performance.
  • Of the 16 goals scored in the six games, four were on the power play and two were empty net goals (Baillie/Wishnowski). The power play went a respectable 4/22 (18%) while the penalty killing unity allowed 5 goals on 24 kills. 
  • Mitch Wheaton, playing the first game against his former team-mates since being traded to the Blades this summer, collected two assists in Saturday's win. That wasn't bad for a player who had just 6 assists in 32 games heading into a clash with his former team.
  • The Rockets participated in the 4th 'Teddy Bear Toss' of the season in Saskatoon Saturday night. They were also treated to the same event in Regina and Brandon on the road swing. The Rockets also had a similar promotion against the Portland Winterhawks back on December 5th.
  • Despite the 3-3-0-0 road trip, the team remains in first place in the WHL standings with 25 wins in 35 games. The Rockets have the most wins (25), fewest losses (9) and most points (51) which is good enough for a three point lead on the upstart Lethbridge Hurricanes.
  • The team concludes a portion of their schedule where they play 7 straight games on the road when they visit the Kamloops Blazers December 27th for the 'unofficial' second half of the season. 

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