Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rockets/T-Birds clash for Western Conference supremacy

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to the Western Conference final. This is the Kelowna Rockets third straight appearance. The Rockets eliminated the Portland Winterhawks in six games last season and were eliminated in five games by the Winterhawks in 2014. The Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds are meeting in game one of a best of seven Western Conference Championship series. These two teams met in the WCC in 2003, with the Rockets winning in five games. One game in that series went to double overtime with the T-Birds Tyler Metcalfe winning it. These two teams last met in the post season in 2014. The Rockets eliminated the T-Birds in four straight games in a second round series. The Rockets have five (excluding injuries to Jackson Whistle and Nick Merkley) while the T-Birds have 7 players still on their roster from the 2014 playoff series. During the regular season, these two teams met four times with the home team winning all four games. Game one and two are in Kelowna tonight and tomorrow with games three and four in Seattle/Kent on Tuesday (April 26) and Wednesday (April 27). Game five is back in Kelowna Friday April 29th.

Looking Closer: The Rockets beat Seattle 7-4 and 5-2 while the T-Birds were a 6-0 winner and earned a 2-0 shutout win at ShoWare Center. Justin Kirkland (2+3=5) and Tyson Baillie (1+4=5) led the Rockets with 5 points in the four games during the regular season. Rourke Chartier played in only three games but found the back of the net three times. Michael Herringer was 1-2-0-0 in the seasonal series with a goals against average of 4.03 and a save percentage of .894. Mathew Barzal led the T-Birds attack with 7 points (4+3=7) in four games. Scott Eansor and Ethan Bear each chipped in with 6 points apiece. Both power plays were just average. The Rockets were just 2 for 13 while the T-Birds were 3 for 17.  

Broadcasters Notebook: Michael Herringer was absolutely brilliant in a second round playoff series with Victoria. The 20 year-old goaltender (in hockey age he is still 19) had a sparkling goals against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .927. In the four games Herringer won in round two, the Comox, BC residents goals against average was 1.97 with a save percentage of .937. ..These two teams just don’t make many trades with one another. The last of significance was a one-for-one deal in November of 2005 when the Rockets dealt 20 year-old goalie Derek Yeomans to the T-Birds for 20 year-old defenceman Clayton Barthel. The two teams also made a deal in 2000 when the Rockets obtained Paul Hurd for a 4th and 6th round bantam pick…. Goaltender Michael Herringer has been named a game star in 7 of the 13 playoff games. Herringer has been the first star (2), the second star (3) and the third star (2)….10 of the Rockets 14 games in this year’s playoffs have been decided by a single goal… The Rockets were involved in 8 – one goal games in last year’s playoffs…The most memorable playoff series between the Rockets and T-Birds was in 2013 when Seattle won the first-three games games before the Rockets roared back with four straight victories. Five of those seven games that season went into overtime…The T-Birds team is built on the players drafted in the 2012 WHL bantam draft. Mathew Barzal (1st round), Keegan Kolesar (1st round) and Ethan Bear (2nd round) headline the list. The Rockets chose Nick Merkley in the 1st round in that draft, Joe Gtenby in the second round and Lucas Johansen in the 6th round. ..The Rockets are the only team from the four that competed at the 2015 Memorial Cup that are still alive in the playoffs. Quebec, Rimouski and Oshawa have all been eliminated.

Hot as a Pistol: Justin Kirkland has goals in four straight playoff games. The 19 year-old had six goals in a second round series win over Victoria…Kirkland has 16 career playoff goals…Rourke Chartier had 3+3=6 in the seven game series against Victoria including two goals in game five…Chartier has 24 career playoff goals…Tomas Soustal may be the biggest surprise in the 2016 post season. The second year forward has 5+6=11 points after recording just 4+2=6 in 19 playoff games in claiming the Ed Chynoweth Cup last season ….Tyson Baillie leads the team with not only 60 playoff games of experience, but also 26 goals and 60 career points. Baillie is the franchise leader in both goals and points in the WHL playoffs.

Incredible Comeback: It will go down as the greatest single game comeback in Kelowna Rockets playoff history. Tuesday night in Victoria, Justin Kirkland tied the game with a goal with .2 seconds left in regulation time and then Calvin Thurkauf scored at the 5:56 mark of overtime in a game seven 3-2 victory over the Victoria Royals. It marked the third straight game where the home team won, but the first time the Rockets won a playoff game (1-5) after trailing after 40 minutes. It also marked the first time in franchise history that the team was forced to play back-to-back game 7’s in overtime after eliminating Kamloops in round one.

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