Sunday, February 7, 2016

Character win against high powered Hitmen

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Tyson Baillie was in a goal scoring slump that your average WHL player would welcome with open arms. Baillie, if you haven't already noticed, isn't your average, run of the mill, junior hockey player. The 20 year-old snapped a season high five game goal scoring slump by finding the back of the net with :50 second left in regulation time, helping the Kelowna Rockets to a come-from-behind 3-2 shootout win over the visiting Calgary Hitmen. With Michael Herringer on the bench for the extra attacker and a face-off inside in the Hitmen's zone, Cole Linaker essentially won the face-off by pushing the puck forward, not backwards which allowed it to sit against the end boards. Justin Kirkland raced to the loose puck, sent it out in front to an awaiting Baillie who buried it past Hitmen goaltender Cody Porter.
  • While Linaker assisted on the game tying goal, the 20 year-old was almost the goat when he took a delay of game minor penalty with one second left in regulation time. Linaker took the puck behind his own net to kill off the final seconds of the third period, but instead of gently rimming the puck against the left boards, the dependable defensive forward saw the puck go off his stick and into the crowd. It was almost comical how it happened, yet few Rockets supporters were laughing at the time. It gave the Hitmen a power play in overtime, and without Michael Herringer's heroics, the Rockets would have walked away with one point not two.
  • I thought Cal Foote was terrific. In maybe his best game of the season, the 17 year-old logged a ton of ice time and made smart decisions with the puck, shot it and made strong defensive decisions against a Calgary team that is tough to handle with so many offensive weapons. The Hitmen have nine players with 10 or more goals. So do the Rockets, who many suggest have the most dynamic forwards in the Western Conference. 
  • While ending the night with a minus 1 rating, I thought Devante Stephens also had a solid game on the blue line. Why? Stephens, while still slight physically, played a physical game and was often seen skating the puck up the ice in an effort to relieve pressure. Stephens had two nice hits on Pavel Karnaukhov and Beck Malenstyn. The hit on Malenstyn is a clear message to others that the 18 year-old isn't afraid to throw caution to the wind in order to get a piece of an upcoming forward. I thought Stephens had a better than average game for a defender who has struggled for a good portion of the season.
  • Michael Herringer was terrific, which is a good and bad thing. It is great for the goaltender to be razor sharp, but does he need to be that spectacular in order for his team to win? The team is still giving up far to many quality scoring chances in my opinion. If Herringer is only average, the Rockets likely lose.   
  • The Rockets again moved past Lethbridge into first place in the WHL standing heading into Monday afternoon's home game against the Seattle Thunderbirds.

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