- Will Joe Hicketts play? That is the biggest question heading into the second round playoff series between the Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals. The Western Conference player of the year was hurt in game one of an opening round series with Spokane and appeared to injure his knee or foot. Hicketts missed the remaining five games of the series. Does one player make that much of an impact? When the 19 year-old plays the type of minutes he does and is regarded as the Victoria Royals most valuable player, it is a significant loss for the Western Hockey League regular season champions. The Royals still have depth both at forward and defence to compete, but Hicketts puts them over the top.
- Assuming Hicketts can't play, what does that mean for the Rockets? It means you must take advantage of his absence early in the series. I've often seen players start a playoff series hurt only to appear out of nowhere the deeper it goes. That is why it is extremely important to take advantage of a Hickett-less Royals team in game one and two, assuming again, he is unable to play.
- The biggest thing the Rockets must do in this series is match Victoria's work ethic. That is my number one key. In the eight game seasonal series, I would say the Royals have outworked the Rockets for significant stretches. The Rockets can't win on skill alone. They have to realize that. The Royals know it. It has been hammered into their head from day one by coach Dave Lowry.
- Goaltending is always pivotal and it will again be the case in this series. Michael Herringer plays against the team that drafted him in the 9th round in 2011. Herringer wasn't able to put back-to-back solid starts together against Kamloops, but was solid in games 1, 3 , 5 and 7. Does the schedule maker play a positive factor in dealing with Herringer's dilemma? The first four games are played over 8 days with a day break between game 1 and 2 and games 3 and 4. Problem solved?
- It doesn't look like the Royals are exactly happy with what is happening in their crease. Griffen Outhouse has played in three of the six games, but it was veteran Coleman Vollrath that started the first three against Spokane in the opening round. Vollrath didn't play after a game three loss as Lowry elected to sit his 20 year-old in favour of Outhouse, who played his midget hockey with the Cariboo Cougars. Outhouse is from nearby Williams Lake, which is Carey Price territory.
- Regardless of who the Royals have in goal, Vollrath nor Outhouse will be able to match what the Rockets faced in round one against Blazers MVP Connor Ingram. Vollrath and Outhouse are no slouches, but Ingram was crazy good. The 19 year-old's quality stops had onlookers shaking their heads. That said, how tough will it be for the Rockets goal scorers to get quality shots on the Royals net? I'm thinking the Royals play a more committed, structurally sound defensive game than the Blazers so manufacturing those quality - in tight shots - will be harder to generate from a Rockets perspective.
- The Rockets were not very good at home against the Royals this season. Or should I say the Royals played very well at Prospera Place? With three wins in four games, the Royals love coming into Kelowna and laying a licking on the home town team. The Rockets have had success in Victoria too. With two wins in four games, I can't see why the defending champions can't come into that building and win not one, but a handful of games. Home ice during the regular season was not an advantage. In the eight games, the road team won 5 times.
- The mind games have started. Royals Head Coach Dave Lowry told the Victoria media this week that his team is the underdogs. Interesting. The Royals had more points and wins than the Rockets, had the most wins of any team against the Rockets this season and have home ice advantage. The only way the Royals would be considered the underdogs is if Joe Hicketts is out for the entire playoffs and Jackson Whistle and Nick Merkley miraculously appear in the Rockets line-up in game one. If that happens....only then will I take Lowry at his word.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
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