Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Make it three

Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • The Kelowna Rockets haven't often rallied from a third period deficit to win. On BC Family Day, Monday afternoon, they accomplished the feat against the hottest team in the Western Conference. Facing a 3-2 deficit heading into the third period, Calvin Thurkauf and Reid Gardiner scored goals 24 seconds apart as the Rockets beat the T-Birds for a third consecutive time in a 6-3 win. Don't let the score fool you. This was a tight game and the T-Birds were in the drivers seat after a solid second period and a strong opening frame. But, with only 4 wins this season when trailing after two periods, the Rockets top line of Calvin Thurkauf, Nick Merkley and Reid Gardiner took over in the comeback bid. Should we expect it from that trio? Darn right we should. Thurkauf was the best player on the ice from start to finish and Merkley seemed to accelerate his play in the second period when he became an agitating force while hunting down pucks. Even Carsen Twarynski, riding a 12 game goalless skid, found the back of the net for his first with his new team in the third period rally. The win moved the Rockets back into the race for 2nd place in the BC Division with the Kamloops Blazers. Now four points back with two games in hand, the Rockets are in control of their own destiny with 15 games left in the regular season.
  • Calvin Thurkauf had two goals in the game and now has 27 on the season. That is 9 more than he had all of last season. The most consistent forward, in my opinion, night in and night out, Thurkauf also threw a thunderous hit that sent T-Birds forward Ryan Gropp into the Rockets bench in the second period. Thurkauf is playing a big man's game and is tough to contain. What I like most about his effort lately is his ability to stay OUT of the penalty box. In his last 13 games, outside of a fighting major that he really didn't want any part of, the 19 year-old has taken only two minor penalties. That's a significant change in mindset after taking 9 trips to the penalty box in 12 games from late November to mid January.
  • How good has Thurkauf been? In his last 22 games, dating back to December 3rd against Brandon, the Swiss forward has been held off the score-sheet four times.   
  • What is with the increased physicality? In the last four games specifically, I can count numerous solid hits by a Rockets team that, up until two weeks ago, would rarely step in the way of an opponent and lay a hand on a defender. And if contact was applied, it resulted in a penalty. The d-core, lead by James Hilsendager, is getting involved physically and are doing so without a trip to the penalty box. Cal Foote exploded on a unsuspecting Giants forward Friday in a lopsided 6-0 win. That uptake in the physical play should be applauded.    
  • No less than three of the Rockets six goals Monday afternoon came from the lip of the crease. Love it. Thurkauf's two goals were scored from that area as was Reid Gardiner's. Call them greasy goals, it is that area that needs to be exploited more often. Teams are too good at blocking shots and collapsing in front of their own net to score many goals from the perimeter.
  • Reid Gardiner impresses me with his ability to shoot the puck. It isn't selfish, it's smart. In a game where scoring chances were significantly lower than against the Vancouver Giants. Gardiner, like he always does, had a team high 5 shots on goal.  
  • It is interesting to watch the battle for playing time on the Rockets 4th line. Leif Mattson is playing so well, I can't take him out and make him a healthy scratch. For my money, Mattson is out-dueling Connor Bruggen-Cate, who has been a healthy scratch for three straight games. Mattson is riding a three game point streak and is trying to make an impact any way he can despite a team low 6 minutes of ice time. I also can't take Jack Cowell out of the line-up either. Cowell's confidence has skyrocketed and he is evolving into a nice player. Often weaker than his older, bigger opponents, Cowell battles and is again noticeable in his limited time on the ice.   
  • The Rockets played the game without 5th leading scorer Tomas Soustal. The Rockets are 6-1-0-0 without him. 
  • Could Ethan Bear score 30 goals this season? The Seattle d-man, for my money, is the best blue liner in the Western Conference. Who's better? Portland's Caleb Jones and Prince George's Brendan Guhle are in the mix, but Bear is more calculated in his approach in joining the rush and makes pin-point outlet passes to awaiting forwards that make you simply go, 'wow'.  He often stays back and rarely carries the puck up ice in an attempt to generate offense. Bear's shot is as good as you will find in the 22 team circuit. Bear was Seattle's best player in the three goal loss.
  • With three straight wins, and having played 4 games in 6 nights, the Rockets now get set for Spokane (Friday) and Prince George (Saturday). 
  • Before the game, Brodan Salmond was name the WHL Goaltender of the Week for his back-to-back shutouts against the Vancouver Giants on Friday and Saturday night. 

No comments: