Sunday, February 5, 2017

Rockets are for real. Just ask the Cougars

Brett Cullen Photo
  • Was it a statement weekend for the Kelowna Rocket? The coaches were non-committal in saying yes, but back-to-back wins against the best team in the Western Conference likely caught the attention of others, and more importantly, proved to themselves that they are a legitimate threat in the final 6 weeks of the regular season. When it was time to show up, the players did just that in back-to-back wins at CN Centre. Saturday night's 5-1 win was even more impressive as the entire roster were making huge contributions in teams 30th win of the season. Reid Gardiner had two goals and an assist while Kole Lind had a goal and two helpers. Nick Merkley had a two goal game and continues to thrive with line-mates Calvin Thurkauf and the aforementioned Reid Gardiner. How about goaltender Micheal Herringer? Yikes, was he good. More on him later.
  • After earning a 3-2 win Friday night over the Cougars, could the Rockets have a repeat performance and knock off the first place team in the Western Conference again? Could they play better than the night before? They sure did. The Rockets best players were indeed at their best and literally overshadowed the Cougars top end talent. It wasn't even close. Kole Lind had 3+2=5 in the two games. Nick Merkley had 2+1=3 in the two games and is now riding a 5 game point streak (5+7=12). Reid Gardiner had three goals in the two games and is riding a four game point streak. Even Dillon Dube, who had 0+3=3, was a threat every time he was on the ice and looked like a world class player. Calvin Thurkauf made an impact despite what would be considered a quiet weekend with two assists. The 19 year-old was a horse and is riding a 11 game point streak after picking up an assist on Reid Gardiner's power play goal Saturday night to make the score 5-1. Quick outlet passes by the d-core and blocking shots were common place in what can only be described as two solid outings on the road.
  • Michael Herringer. Wow. What a great weekend. The 21 year-old was dialed in and made 57 of 60 saves, with the most spectacular coming Saturday night when he robbed Cougars forward Nikita Popugaev of a sure goal. The Russian had the entire net at the right side of Herringer to shoot at. Popugaev fired the puck on his forehand towards the goal only to see Herringer, in complete and utter desperation, use the blade of his stick to knock the puck out of mid-air for what is the save of the season by any Rockets goalie. This will be on the WHL Players of the Week. It is simply spectacular. That save just summed up Herringer's weekend. He was seeing the puck well, was quick with both his blocker and glove hand and was the goalie we witnessed in last years playoffs when he helped his team to the Western Conference finals.
  • The Rockets power play was really good in Saturday's 5-1 win. It struck for two goals on four chances and a picture perfect four way passing play had Reid Gardiner finished things off by scoring his second of the game. The power play was out dueled though by the penalty killing unit, which went 8 for 8 in the two games. 
  • The teams discipline in both games was much better. Particularly Saturday night as the game unraveled for the Cougars, who jawed with the Rockets top players in an effort to get them off their game. It didn't work. Prince George captain Sam Ruopp was leading the charge as he attempted to goat both Reid Gardiner and Kole Lind into fights. Thankfully both players didn't give Ruopp the time of day.
  • The Rockets and the Everett Silvertips are the only teams to beat the Cougars in back-to-back games in Prince George this season.
  • The Rockets hit the 30 win mark for the 10th consecutive season. Now riding a three game winning streak, the team closes out a three game road trip Wednesday in Kamloops.  
  • I thought both crowds were solid at CN Centre on the weekend. Friday saw just over 3 thousand while Saturday's game had 43 hundred take in the game. Unlike previous years where everyone seemed to huddle in the same area of seats in the arena, it appears the fans are more spread out so you don't see massive gaps of empty green seats. Visually it looks better.

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