Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rivalry renewed

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Can a team with 100 points during the regular season be an under-dog in the opening round of the WHL playoffs? That appears to be the case for the Kelowna Rockets. If you look on various message boards across the WHL, nearly 90% believe the Blazers will defeat the defending champions. Many predict it to be a close series, ending in six or seven games.
  • The Rockets and Blazers don't meet often in the playoffs, but when they do, the difference in skill level is usually one sided. In the 2009 post season, the Rockets rolled over the Blazers in a quick four games. The opening round series was a primer in earning a WHL title. In 2013, it was Kamloops that used four games to dispose of the Rockets. The Blazers would go on to the Western Conference final where they were upended by the Portland Winterhawks in seven games. This may be the first playoff series ever between these two organizations where they are evenly matched.
  • This is the 6th time these franchises have met in post season. They collided in 1992, 1999, 2002, 2009, 2013 and now in 2016. Of the five previous series, four have ended in four game sweeps. The Blazers (1992, 1999, 2013) lead with 3 series wins to 2. The Rockets won in 2002 and 2009. 
  • From a purely financial standpoint, this series should be a win/win for the respective ownership groups. Typically, it's a tough grind getting fans into the seats to watch first round playoff hockey with the weather warming up outside. That shouldn't be the case in this series, where the opposing teams fans will be clearly visible in the home teams arena. If you asked the owners of the Rockets and Blazers, they would love to see this thing go the distance.
  • Who has the advantage in this series? The Rockets have a better forward group. They possess a higher skill level while the Blazers forwards typically grind for goals. The Blazers have the advantage in goal where Connor Ingram is arguably the best goalie in the Western Conference. Ingram was the Blazers MVP.  I think the two defensive cores are at a virtual deadlock. Neither is overly dynamic offensively. The two defenceman to watch in this series is Lucas Johansen for the Rockets and Blazers overager Ryan Rehill. Johansen is the most gifted offensive d-man in this series while Rehill may be the most physical. No disrespect to Brad Ralph, but the first year head coach can't match what Blazers bench boss Don Hay brings to the table. The Blazers have the advantage in coaching. The Rockets have playoff experience out the wozoo. Question is, what is the desire to repeat as league champions? Who was the last WHL team to repeat as champions? Oddly enough it was the Kamloops Blazers in 1994 and again in 1995. 
  • What does the seasonal series tell us? These teams are much closer than the standings would indicate. Had the Blazers not started the season 0 and 6, they would have likely been one of four teams in the Western Conference to reach 40 wins. This season only Victoria, Kelowna and Seattle hit the 40 win threshold. The separation in points was just 15, so a better Blazers start and that point total could have been cut in half. 
  • Blazers captain Matt Needham is from Penticton. Name the only Rockets alumni from that south Okanagan city? Answer: Carter Rigby.
  • Why are people anticipating a close series? The Blazers were 22-10-5-0 in 37 games since January 1st. The Rockets were 21-11-2-0 in 34 games over that same period. 
  • Gage Quinney. The Rockets traded him to the Blazers for a third round bantam pick. Will he come back to haunt his old team? Without question the 20 year-old will be motivated. Last season, Quinney played in 15 of the Rockets 19 playoff games recording 13 points. Quinney was hurt for the majority of the Western Conference final against Portland, playing in only two games.  
  •  They would like nothing better than to see him healthy and on the ice, but veteran goaltender Jackson Whistle will have to cheer on his team-mates when the Rockets open the 2016 WHL playoffs. The Rockets playoff fortunes will rest on the shoulders of Michael Herringer with Whistle unable to play after undergoing hip surgery. Whistle, who led the team to a WHL title last season, will now be used as a glorified cheerleader. "I will definitely be around for the playoff run. I am hoping to go to the away games as well. I want to be there talking to the guys one-on-one if they are getting down or if things are going astray. I want to help them get back on track and just be someone to talk and help them out anyway I can", Whistle added. How was the West Kelowna resident last season in the playoffs? The then 19 year-old lost only twice in regulation time in 19 games, posting a goals against average of 2.52 which includes 4 shut-outs. 
  • Three players in this series have father's that played in the NHL. Rockets rookie d-man Cal Foote saw his dad, Adam, play over 11 hundred games, primarily with the Colorado Avalanche. Blazers rookie Garett Pilon had his father, Rich, play with the Islanders, Rangers and St. Louis Blues. Kamloops forward Nick Chyzowski's dad, Dave, was a first round pick of the Islanders in 1989 and played a handful of games with the team that drafted him and the Chicago Blackhawks. 
  • Blazers forward Deven Sideroff was born in Summerland. Can you name the only former Kelowna Rockets player born in that Okanagan community? The answer: Mitch Chapman.


daryl said...

In my uneducated view the team lacks confidence in their starter in goal... Put the rookie in net and let's see how the boys respond. Look what they did to Vancouver in the final game. You can't win when your starter is allowing 4,5 and 6 goals in.Just an opinion...

Regan Bartel said...

Disagree. Herringer will be ok. I don't expect him to be Jackson Whistle. I just want to see play with confidence and make timely saves. The timely save, not the quantity is what matters. Putting Salmond in as a starter would not be wise. Letting him learn from the sidelines as Whistle did behind Jordon Cooke in the 2013 post season will benefit him down the road.

Darcy O'Heir said...

You have forgotten 2 tough Rockets alumni from Penticton... Stephan Sunderman and Gary Sylvester

Darcy O'Heir said...

Also, former 50 goal scorer for the Rockets.... Justin Keller grew up in Summerland. Although, he was born in Nelson. Mitchell chapman played his minor hockey in Summerland.... But was actually born in Salmon Arm.

g.k said...

I agree Regan you have to go with your best & right now Herringer is it!! It's going to be a struggle though!! Take away any teams #1 goalie & top forward & I think they would be in the same situation as the Rocket's!! I believe we will get by the Blazers in 6 or 7, but after that, missing those two players is going to cost us. But hey that's hockey!!

daryl said...

I hope your right... :) Go Rockets!!