Monday, December 19, 2016

Fatigued but with a faint smile

  • Unbelievable. No, I am not talking about the fact I was able to wear only two different dress shirts over a span of 10 days on the Kelowna Rockets epic pre-Christmas road trip, it is the fact the team preformed without three of their top forwards, on one occasion four of their top forwards, and managed to pick up 5 wins, one loss in regulation time and suffered a single loss in overtime. The team generated 11 out of possible 14 points on a trip that had them, at one point, playing 5 games in 7 nights. The team didn't miss a beat. Honestly, they could have won all seven games had it not been for some average goaltending in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. The Rockets were in every game they played and the team passed the character test with flying colours.
  • Where do we start when it comes to the success of the team on the road trip? Look no further to the bottom six forwards who made a significant contribution offensively. Riley Stadel, Leif Mattson, Jack Cowell, newcomer Erik Gardiner and defensive defenceman Brayden Chizen were examples of players that found their name on the score-sheet when they traditionally play a secondary role. Not on this road trip though. Head Coach Jason Smith had to play four line hockey, for the most part, in an effort to keep the teams head above water with the schedule that looked daunting when it came out this summer. Is the road schedule as tough when you experience it first hand? Harder! The only saving grace is, in sports, winning heels all wounds and it lightens the mood despite the long hours on the bus and the shortage of sleep. 
  • If one player benefited more greatly from the absence of the teams top forwards on this road trip it was Jake Kryski. The 18 year-old was given a chance to be a top six forward at the start of the season but really never found his way into the hearts of the coaching staff with his play, Often inconsistent, Kryski knew this seven game road trip was a chance to get back into the good books. That is exactly what he did. Kryski scored six goals on the road swing, with another coming in the shootout (they don't count statistically) for the game winning goal against the Edmonton Oil Kings. Kryski now has 8 shootout goals to his credit in his career and has the ability to fool goaltenders with his quick hands.
  • Michael Herringer has been a workhorse for the team this season and fatigue possibly started to show. The 20 year-old struggled in games in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat and was pulled in both in favour of Brodan Salmond. That opened the door for Salmond to start consecutive games while earning his first career shutout in a 3-0 win in Red Deer. The great part of the story is Herringer did bounce back with a great effort Sunday in a 2-1 shootout win in Edmonton. Herringer made several terrific stops and looked more like himself in the one goal win. The Comox, BC resident was money in the shootout stopping all three shooters he faced, including flaring out his right pad to stone Oil Kings forward Lane Bauer. Herringer is now 11 for 11 in shootout situations in his career.
  • Did Kole Lind do enough to solidify himself as the WHL Player of the Week? Lind had a terrific road trip, but had his 13 game point streak snapped against the Oil Kings Sunday night. Lind had 4 goals and 10 assists for 14 points on the 7 game road trip. Lind has 46 points in 35 games this season and is on pace for a 90+ point season. 
  • The Rockets have now played a Western Conference high 21 road games. Only Saskatoon has played more in the WHL with 22 games away from their own arena. 
  • Erik Gardiner auditions for the team with four games during the road swing. It would be safe to say the 17 year-old impressed. While collecting 1+3=4 in those four games, Gardiner's play away from the puck was equally impressive. The coaching staff used him on the power play and the penalty killing unit and he didn't look out of place in both of those areas. Will Gardiner be invited back for the second half of the season or return to the SJHL's Humboldt Broncos? My bet is, if they can make room for him, Gardiner will be making his home debut with the Rockets on December 27th. 
  • The second half of the season begins December 27th against the visiting Kamloops Blazers. This will be the fourth of eight meetings between these two teams that are separated by only two points in the standings. Of the nine games after the Christmas break, seven of them will be against BC Division teams, including back-to-back games in Victoria in early January.     
  • At the half way point of the season, the Rockets are in the mix in the Western Conference. Could they make their 4th straight appearance in the WCF? Prince George and Everett are the clear favourites and have been consistent all season long. Both have few holes in their game. But with six games left before the WHL trade deadline, you would think a trade for a quality forward would give them an even greater shot of challenging the Cougars, Tips and even the Blazers in the fight for first place in the conference. 

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