|Brett Cullen Photo|
- I am not sure how the Prince George Cougars viewed Friday night's game against the Kelowna Rockets. I know one team was hoping it would be a measuring stick to see if indeed they have what it takes to play against the best in the WHL. The belief was there before puck drop, but at games end, it clearly showed the Rockets do indeed have the horses to win the race. On paper, the skill, determination and goaltending is there. But that's all talk right? The names on paper are worth nothing if they can't preform together. You have to prove it with your performance on the ice, and the visitors did that in a 3-2 win at CN Centre. While not without its warts, the Rockets used two goals from Kole Lind and a snipe from Reid Gardiner in the teams first win over the Cougars this season. Now 1-4-0-0 against PG, the Rockets are tied with Victoria for third place in the BC Division.
- I thought Michael Herringer's play early in the game allowed his team to find their groove. With the Cougars creating more scoring chances in the opening period, Herringer stood tall and got puck luck no less than once, as he kept the Cougars off the board with a 13 save effort. The Rockets were the more opportunistic in the opening frame when Dillon Dube's hustle along the end boards, while shorthanded, allowed the slick skating 18 year-old to send the puck to the slot where an awaiting Kole Lind was able to pump it home for the teams 10th shorthanded goal of the season. Nick Merkley's quick pass to Reid Gardiner, who fired a high shot over Cougars goaltender Ty Edmonds, allowed the Rockets to go into the dressing room up by a deuce.
- The second period couldn't have started any worse when Rockets defenceman Braydyn Chizen gave up the puck to Colby McAuley with what can only be described as a 'gift goal'. Chizen had the puck awkwardly go off his stick as he attempted to push it outside the blue line. As fate would have it, the puck went on McAuley's stick, who skated in on a breakaway, beating Herringer high to the glove hand side. The Cougars held the territorial advantage for the remainder of the period thanks to three straight trips the Rockets took to the penalty box. I thought getting out of the period 2-2 was a good result all things considered.
- It was down to one period. Would the Rockets hold on for dear life or would they show that they are a different team after the trade deadline that plays to win and pushes the pace? Instead of being passive, the Rockets seemed to play harder and smarter. They were crazy good on the fore check and had quick shifts and played the game about as tactically sound as I've seen this season. Plus, they were shooting pucks by recording 14 in the final frame while surrendering only five against. Eventually, Cal Foote (not Gordie Ballhorn despite what the score sheet says) would send a pass to an awaiting Kole Lind, who was alone at the side of the Cougars net. Lind waited for Edmonds to commit, and then fired a shot high to give the Rockets a 3-2 lead.
- In any game a few individuals stood out. I thought Calvin Thurkauf was money with the game on the line. The 19 year-old was a bull along the boards and no one could handle him. He chewed up massive amounts of time off the clock and the puck often looked like it was stuck on his stick. Thurkauf has rounded into such a good player and is one of the best power forwards we've seen in these parts since....do I dare say......Jamie Benn? Ok, don't get too excited with that statement. Benn was a special player and Thurkauf has much work ahead...but....but...Thurkauf possesses a great shot, plays with a burr under his saddle and is like a bowling ball crashing through everything, or anyone that stands in his way. He plays the power game to perfection. Thurkauf is riding a 10 game point streak, and right now, is the teams best forward.
- I still thought the Rockets didn't have everyone rolling last night. Without naming names, several players have me wanting more. While defenceman James Hilsendager was on the ice for both goals, at least he is noticeable out there by carrying the puck up ice or making a hit on the blue line. The fact is, the 19 year-old is doing something for the greater good of the team. That is needed from a few veteran players that just stood idly by.
- Two other players I thought were contributing were Rodney Southam and Devante Stephens. As an example, Southam was involved in a second period fight with Cougars Josh Anderson. Good for him for answering the bell. Stephens, like his team, got better as the game went along. I thought his back check in the second period to catch and strip the puck from Cougars forward Jansen Harkins on a quick developing two-on-one was a nice play. Again, another example of making a big play in an effort to help his team win. You don't have to make 10 outstanding plays to make an impact...but make one!!
- Michael Herringer celebrated his 100th appearance in the WHL with a win while Cougars Ty Edmonds had to put on the brakes in an effort to become the teams franchise leader in wins. The Rockets and Cougars meet again tonight at CN Centre in what will again feel like the playoffs, yet it is only early February.