Sunday, December 13, 2015

WHL championship rematch disappoints

  •  The 2015 Western Hockey League final between the Kelowna Rockets and Brandon Wheat Kings didn’t live up to its hype. Sadly, the rematch didn’t either. After sweeping the Wheat Kings last May for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, would the rematch be a better indication of how these two teams are essentially mirror images of one another? Nope! Like the league final, Saturday night’s game was one sided, but this time the Wheat Kings looked, and were, the superior team. A dominant first period saw the short staffed Wheat Kings own the puck for essentially the entire period. Honestly, it was that bad and arguably the worst period by the Rockets this season. Fortunately, despite chasing the play, the visitors only trailed by two goals after the opening period.
    ·  The game was essentially over after the Wheat Kings scored its third goal, 2:27 into the second period. Head Coach Brad Ralph contemplated pulling starter Jackson Whistle after that goal, but didn’t hesitate when the Wheat Kings made it 4-0 two minutes later. This loss wasn’t on Whistle. The support the veteran goaltender received in front of him was not exemplary of a first place team. The commitment to protecting the front of the net looked average at best and the Wheat Kings exploited the fact with four tip-in goals. That’s right, no less than four of the five goals saw a Wheat Kings player standing in front of the net and able to get a stick on a puck that was in midair. Rockets forwards were slow in getting into shooting lanes and defenceman were unable to tie up sticks. It wasn’t pretty.
    · For a third consecutive game the Rockets were involved in a Teddy Bear Toss game. Unlike what we saw in Kelowna and Regina, the collection of the stuffed toys was lengthy and prolonged the inevitable result. At games end, it is best to just walk away from it and hope it is a one off.  With four more games left on this road trip, it is best to move on and put in a solid effort Tuesday against the Swift Current Broncos. 
    ·  As mentioned earlier, this game was a rematch of last season’s WHL final, but with massive changeover in junior hockey year after year, so many of the players that made an impact in May's series didn’t play in the rematch. In fact, 18 players that dressed for game four of the 2015 WHL championship didn’t play in last night’s rematch. Both teams were missing nine players’ aside.
    ·  The two best d-men wearing Kelowna Rockets colours were Cal Foote and Gordie Ballhorn. Outside of those two, it was tough to pick a player on the blue line that was above average.
    · Trailing 5-0, the Rockets appeared to get better in the second half of the game, but that may have been deceiving. With a significant lead, the Wheat Kings urgency level dropped significantly and the visitors managed to out-shoot them 26-16 over the final 40 minutes. That may have been the result of six power play chances where the team was unable to record even a single goal.  Oddly, the only goal they would score against Wheat Kings Jordan Papirny came when Lucas Johansen beat the 19 year-old goaltender with a wrist shot high over his right shoulder with eight minutes left in the game. The shorthanded goal was the team’s second of the season.
    · The goal that told me the Rockets were in a heap of trouble on this night was the 2-0 goal from Tanner Kaspick. The Wheat Kings forward was allowed three whacks at the puck at the side of the net with goaltender Jackson Whistle flat on his belly with his right leg flush on the ice. Whistle forced his leg to the right post but no one was able to a) push Kaspick away by plowing him over by initiating contact  b) tying up his stick so Kaspick was unable to will the puck into the net with no less than three pokes at it.  It wasn’t like the Rockets were outnumbered in that situation either. They had three players in the general vicinity but Kaspick was still able to score.
    ·  A positive? Rookie defenceman Brayden Chizen was in his first career WHL scrap. It was a positive sign for a player that is extremely rough around the edges. If Chizen can use his size and power to his advantage, he could be a tough player to play against. Like Zdeno Chara, who played one season with the Prince George Cougars in 1996-97, the defender was anything but smooth on his skates but in time turned into a pretty good player. Chizen just needs time and good coaching in order to become a formidable force on the Rockets d-core.   

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