Saturday, April 30, 2016

Out of gas

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • It wasn't meant to be. After 186 games over the last two seasons, the Kelowna Rockets simply ran out of gas in a third round playoff series with the Seattle Thunderbirds. While being swept in four straight games in the Western Conference final, the team didn't quit and could have won game four. The Rockets had four chances (being fair, three as one was for 7 seconds) to score on the power play in overtime in game four and couldn't generate a goal. The T-Birds took two....two....too many men penalties in overtime and the visitors couldn't make them pay. I knew the Rockets fate was sealed when they didn't generate even a single shot on net on their 7th and final power play of the game. With T-Birds forward Andreas Schumacher in the penalty box for high sticking, fatigue was mounting for the defending WHL champions, who were playing in their 18th game of the 2016 playoffs. If manufacturing a goal with an extra skater wasn't going to happen, the chances were slim to none it would occur at even strength. The Rockets were just 2 for 17 in the series. In overtime, it looked like their spirit had been broken after letting a 4-2 lead slip away late in the third period.  
  • Let's give the T-Birds credit here. They battled back three times from two goal deficits. The Rockets led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 and the U.S Division champions wouldn't go away. With a 4-2 lead with 1:15 remaining in the third period, Seattle would strike for two goals in a span of 1:12. It was a game where the T-Birds were not about to be denied.
  • Who was the best T-Bird in the series? You couldn't help but notice Mathew Barzal, but I thought Edmonton Oilers draft pick Ethan Bear was terrific. Bear was hard on pucks, has an incredible shot from the blue line and knows when and when not to join the play. Having that one lethal skilled defenceman that can generate offense from the back end is something the Rockets didn't have on their roster. You really need one dynamic d-man to quarterback your power play. Will Cal Foote evolve into that? I would pencil Lucas Johansen in that slot, but he doesn't have a heavy shot that Foote used sparingly in his rookie season.  
  • 76. The number of shots faced by goaltender Michael Herringer in game four. Herringer answered all the naysayers in the Western Conference final that he indeed has the ability to be a starter in the WHL. Consistently, inconsistent in an opening round playoff series against Kamloops, Herringer got better and better as the playoffs went along. The 20 year-old goaltender, who with his strong player has to be almost a slam dunk to return as one of three overagers next season, made 30 saves in overtime alone. Herringer was named a star in 9 of the 18 playoff games.
  • Justin Kirkland and Cal Foote tied for the team lead in points in the series against Seattle with four. Kirkland found the back of the net three times and collected an assist. Foote has to be a surprise with four assists.      
  • Let's give this group of players a lot of credit for how hard they fought. Over the last two seasons, many of the core players had played in 186 games (regular season/playoff/Memorial Cup) and did so without first half MVP Jackson Whistle and last seasons leading scorer Nick Merkley. Despite losing those two key players and not adding to its roster at the trade deadline, the team was one of four standing when the Conference finals began. It was an impressive display of how committed they were to one another. They played hard for each other despite the cards being dealt against them. Two epic overtime game seven series showed this group was playing with pride. That shouldn't be forgotten. 
  • Let's be honest, the team limped into the playoffs and weren't exactly playing their best hockey. The team ended up with a record of 12-14-1-0 in their final 27 games (regular season/playoffs), so to think they made it as far as they did with that - win a game, lose a game formula - is mind boggling. Of those final 27 games, 17 were decided by a single goal, so it shows their was a fine line between winning and losing. 
  • Nineteen of the 23 players on the Rockets roster will return in 2016-2017. Can they make another long run towards the Western Conference championship series for a 4th consecutive season? I can't see why not. The team will also add Cal Foote's younger brother Nolan to the mix next season. Nolan Foote was the teams first selection in the 2015 WHL bantam draft.
  • The game four loss officially ended the WHL careers of Jackson Whistle, Tyson Baillie and Cole Linaker. All three leave as WHL champions. Baillie leaves as the highest scoring player in Kelowna Rockets playoff history and is third-all time in games played in a Rockets uniform. Baillie will go down as one of the best to ever wear Kelowna Rockets colours. Whistle and Linaker have committed to playing for the University of Alberta Golden Bears next season.  

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