|Shoot the Breeze Photography|
Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to the second round of the WHL playoffs. The Kelowna Rockets open a best of seven Western Conference semi-final series against the Victoria Royals. These two teams met last season in the second round with the Rockets winning in five games. These two teams met eight times during the regular season with the Rockets winning three games. Two of those three wins came in Victoria. Conversely, The Royals won three times at Prospera Place in Kelowna. Games 1 and 2 are tonight and Saturday in Victoria. The series then switches to Kelowna for games 3 and 4 next Tuesday and Thursday. The reason behind the off day between games 1 and 2 is a ZZ Top concert in Victoria and the delay between games 3 and 4 in Kelowna is because of a country concert featuring Gord Bamford and Joe Nichols at Prospera Place.
How did we get here: The Rockets advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs with a thrilling game seven - 2-1 overtime victory vs. the Kamloops Blazers. Tomas Soustal scored the game winner at the 7:07 mark of overtime. The team that scored the first goal won 6 of the 7 games in a series which featured three shutouts. It marked the 8th time in franchise history the Rockets have been forced to a game seven and it was the third consecutive win in dramatic game seven fashion. It was the first time the Rockets and Blazers were involved in a game seven finale. In total, the Rockets and Blazers played in 17 games against one another this season (8 in regular season, 7 in playoffs and 2 in pre-season).
The Matchup: The Royals earned the WHL regular season title and BC Division crown with 106 points this season. The Rockets had 100 points. The Royals had 50 wins. The Rockets had 48 victories. The Rockets had 27 home ice wins, one better than Victoria. The Rockets played in 28-one goal games (20-4-4-0) while the Royals were only involved in 19 (8-5-3-3). The Rockets leading point producers against the Royals during the regular season was Justin Kirkland (4+3=7) and Dillon Dube (4+1=5). Michael Herringer was 2-4-0-0 in six appearances with a goals against average of 4.13.
Broadcasters Notebook: In Michael Herringer’s four wins in the opening round, the 20 year-old posted a goals against average of 0.73 and a save percentage of .977…Tomas Soustal leads the Rockets in playoff points with 6 (3+3=6). Soustal had 6 points (4+2=6) in 19 playoff games as a WHL rookie last season….Soustal scored the Rockets lone goal in the 2015 Memorial Cup final against the Oshawa Generals…The Rockets are opening a playoff series without home ice advantage for the first time since 2012 when they opened on the road in Portland in a first round playoff series. The Winterhawks would win it in four straight games…In the Rockets two playoff appearances in Victoria last season the team won game three 4-2 before losing game four - 5-4 in overtime….The most games the Rockets have played in one playoff season is 24. The Rockets disposed of Vancouver in 6 games in round one. The Rockets used 7 games in a second round series against Seattle. The team eliminated Kootenay in 6 games in the Western Conference final and won the WHL crown with a 5 game series win over Brandon….Kamloops Blazers Head Coach Don Hay has felt overtime dismay before in the WHL playoffs against the Rockets. In the 2009 post season, Hay’s Vancouver Giants lost 5-4 in overtime in game six of the Western Conference final at Prospera Place. Mikael Backlund scored the game winner…Dave Lowry was the head coach for the Calgary Hitmen when they lost to the Rockets in the WHL final in 2009….The Rockets have won eight consecutive game 1’s. The last time the team failed to win the opening game of a playoff series was April 6, 2013 in a 4-2 home ice loss to the Kamloops Blazers in a second round playoff affair…The Rockets have been involved in eight sudden death game seven series. The team is 4 and 4 in those game seven’s…Did you know that Tomas Soustal is a twin? His 19 year-old brother, Michal, is a goalie in the Czech Republic…Rourke Chartier turned 20 on April 3rd….Rockets Head Coach Brad Ralph had 31+44=75 in 1998-99 with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.
Number Crunching This is the Rockets 80th game of the season….Devante Stephens is the only Rockets player to dress in every game this season…The Kelowna Rockets had a team record 71 shots on the Tri City Americans goal on April 1, 2015. The game four win ended up being a 5-4 final. Eric Comrie was named the first star….Jackson Whistle had back-to-back shutouts against the Tri City Americans in a four game sweep in last year’s opening round playoff series…Tyson Baillie has 53 games of playoff experience, the most on the Rockets roster…Baillie has 23+32=55 in those 53 games…Cole Linaker is next with 51 playoff games under his belt…Tyler Mosienko is the franchise leader in playoff games played with 81.