Saturday, January 16, 2016

Small but mighty

Matthew Phillips - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • The smallest guy on the ice surface made the biggest impact. Matthew Phillips, who is all of 5'6 and 137 pounds scored once and set up line-mate Alex Forsberg for two others in the Victoria Royals 4-3 win Friday night over the Kelowna Rockets at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. The second round bantam pick was the best player on the ice as the Royals built up a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes before the visitors rallied with three-third period goals. The game winner would come from Phillips, who received a nice pass from Forsberg, before whiffing on a shot that beat Michael Herringer between the legs. Phillips was named the first star as the Royals moved within five points of the Rockets for first place in the BC Division.
  • This game was clearly won or lost in the second period. Despite a less than ideal start, the Rockets managed to exit the opening frame only down 1-0. The reason behind that was the solid play of goaltender Michael Herringer and the teams inability to get quality shots on Royals netminder Griffen Outhouse. While Outhouse saw 14 shots directed his way in the first period, many were from the outside or long range. When Outhouse was forced to make a save, the Rockets showed no urgency to get to secondary chances. The urgency level took a dramatic turn in the third period though with three goals, but by then the game was essentially out of reach. Had the team played a sharper game earlier, they likely would have in a worst case scenario earned a point in the standings. Instead they come away empty handed and see their lead for first place in the BC Division reduced and see them drop three points out of first place in the WHL standings. 
  • At the end of the day, the Royals best players were simply better. When leading scorer Alex Forsberg and line-mate Matthew Phillips lead the charge offensively, the Rockets need to counter with an equally impressive effort from the likes of Dube, Chartier and Merkley.  Of those three, Merkley scored in the third period while Chartier drew just a lone assist. 
  • Matthew Phillips is an impressive player. Now 23 goals in his first season, the 17 year-old broke the Victoria Royals rookie franchise record for goals in a season and he still has 27 games left to play.  
  • It was clearly evident that the Royals outworked the Rockets for the majority of the game. Joe Hicketts, who doesn't get enough credit for his strong play in his own zone, was a horse on the penalty kill when he essentially ran out the clock in the first period while stapling the puck along the corner boards with three Rockets attempting to poke it free from his skates. It is that type of work ethic, not skill, from an older player that can inspire a team. Hey, if the captain does it, so can I is the subliminal message that must be sent to his team-mates.  
  • I thought the Rockets received a solid contribution for fourth line player Tate Coughlin. Sadly, I don't state that often on this blog because of his indifferent play. But, Coughlin had an increased battle level and had a tremendous hit on Royals forward Ethan Price in the third period. That is what Tate Coughlin needs to do to play at this level and receive a regular shift.
  • A solid fight by Rockets rookie Gordie Ballhorn with Royals forward Ethan Price in the second period. Ballhorn didn't throw as many punches, but in my opinion it was quality over quantity in that spirited tilt. That was the Rockets first fighting major in 12 games. Rookie Brayden Chizen fought Wheat Kings Tyler Coulter back on December 12th.  
  • The Rockets have struggled on the road of late with losses in four of their last five games. The only win over that stretch was a 2-1 victory against Kamloops following the Christmas break.
  • Cole Linaker earned an assist, reaching the 100 point mark in his WHL career.
  • Michael Herringer has allowed 4 or more goals in three of his last four starts. This is uncharted territory for Herringer, who makes his 6th consecutive start in a rematch between the two teams at Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena.
  • The Rockets play both games without forward Tyson Baillie because of a death in his family.

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