Thursday, December 17, 2015

Whistle wins battle of the goatenders

Jackson Whistle kicking one aside in Moose Jaw
  • Often times, gutsy, greasy road efforts are rewarding. The Kelowna Rockets pulled off one such win last night in Moose Jaw. It makes any coach proud especially when players dig deep in order to win. With more than a handful of players ill, the Rockets played a smart, strategic game in a 1-0 victory over the home town Warriors. Playing without four regulars, the team received excellent goaltending from Jackson Whistle in the 27 save shutout performance. Dillon Dube had the lone goal, a power play one timer in the second period, and that's all the road weary Rockets would need. Blocking shots, playing smart and taking what the opposition gave them allowed the team to win for the third time in four attempts on this Eastern Division road trip. With two games left, tomorrow night in PA and Saturday in Saskatoon, the finish line is visible and the team needs to remain focused for 120 more minutes.
  • The game in Moose Jaw was all about a goaltending battle between Whistle and Warriors netminder Zach Sawchenko. I knew life would be tough for the Rockets forwards against Sawchenko, who really impressed me when he represented the WHL at Canada/Russia Series in Kelowna back in November. Sawchenko was at his best last night and made several solid stops, specifically with his glove hand.  He made many saves look easy when they weren't. You have to remember, Sawchenko is only 17 and is clearly a hopeful to represent Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships down the road. If I was a NHL team, I would draft him in a heartbeat. I think he is that good. 
  • Whistle isn't as technically sound as Sawchenko, but his battle level may be better. Whistle just makes saves including a laser beam that hit him in the mask in the second period off a wrist shot from Warriors leading scorer Dryden Hunt. Whistle now has 9 career shutouts and never disappoints when he is in goal. 
  • Forward Rodney Southam was hurt when he was hit by a third period slap shot from team-mate Justin Kirkland. 
  • Scouts I have spoken with on this road trip are watching Dillon Dube and Lucas Johansen like a hawk. Many are coming away saying they like both players, with many asking me about Johansen specifically. I think Johansen has been excellent on this road trip, and despite sickness, is getting better every chance I see him. Johansen also carries himself like a pro. Certain players have that mature, confident demeanor and Johansen has that in spades. A solid communicator, I can't see how scouts wouldn't come away impressed when speaking with him. As for Dube, the draft eligible player has had good jump on this road trip with 2+4=6 in the four games.
  • Jonathan Smart logged a significant amount of ice time in last night's win and didn't wilt under the pressure. I thought the 16 year-old handled himself wonderfully. That is one of the most interesting observations one came make on a road trip like this. You witness players either struggle with added responsibility or step up and play above expectations. Smart did just that last night. 
  • The game in Moose Jaw worked in the Rockets favour on so many levels. It took just two hours and five minutes to play. That my friends is a short and tidy game. For a team playing its fourth game in six nights, that is exactly the time line you are hoping for. The game featured very few scrums after the whistle and just four penalties. The Rockets power play had just one chance and scored. 
  • The Rockets are now 3-1-0-0 in the four games, having out-scored the opponent 12-11. 
  • The team will stay in Saskatoon over the next three nights, busing into Prince Albert for Friday's game and then returning to the 'Bridge City' to face the Blades Saturday night.  In Saskatoon today, the wind is blowing lightly making it feel colder than it really is. A temperature of -8 with little to no snow in the down town core is a welcome sign.      

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