Thursday, March 30, 2017

A 1-0 win never felt so good

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  • The Kelowna Rockets effort Wednesday night in game four of their opening round series with the Kamloops Blazers was eerily reminiscent of what we witnessed in a game one - 4-0 victory. The Rockets dominated territorial play for the opening 40 minutes, but needed several late saves from goaltender Michael Herringer in the 1-0 win. Dillon Dube scored the game winning goal early in the second period and probably could have had three goals in the game if not for the heroics of Blazers netminder Connor Ingram. Dube was the best skater on the a game where the score was not indicative of how lopsided the play indeed was. Despite owning the puck the majority of the night and creating an abundance of scoring chances, the Blazers put a massive scare into the visitors with the goaltender pulled and time ticking down. That's where Michael Herringer was at his game saving best. The 21 year-old, who did his best Rodney Dangerfield routine, 'I don't get no respect', made his sharpest save of the evening when he shut the door on a wrap-around chance from Blazers captain Collin Shirley. The win moved the Rockets within one game of advancing to the second round.
  • The Rockets passing was crisp from the get-go, a clear indication that the team was locked in mentally. The Blazers passing was erratic, much like we witnessed in game one. Like he has done all season long, Connor Ingram allowed his team a chance to send the game into overtime by making a series of solid saves. At games end, Ingram deserved a star, but Herringer also deserved some love for his efforts. Unfortunately, Herringer was not allowed to make the victory skate on the ice with his stick high in the air to the delight of the 40+ fans that boarded a charter bus to cheer on the visiting team. For those wondering, we gave Herringer a star on our AM 1150 broadcast as he earned his second shutout of the series with a 24 save performance. 
  • One of the great stories for the Rockets in last night's win was the effort of the penalty killing unit. Assistant Coach Kris Mallette takes great pride in that area of the game he is responsible for. It appears now, the personnel are taking as much pride in it as the competitive coach. The Rockets were 7 for 7 on the PK despite taking some unnecessary penalties in a game that allowed the Blazers just one shot to tie it. Check out this stat. The Rockets have killed off 19 of 20 penalties in this series. 19 of 20!  
  • While the power play had some good looks on only three chances, my belief was if they were to lose game four, that unit was to blame. When Blazers forward Nic Holowko took a high sticking minor penalty with about 8 minutes left in the game, the power play could have put the dagger in the Blazers hearts with a goal, yet they couldn't manufacture one.  With the players the Rockets are able to put out on the ice in that situation, it should put the fear of God into every opponent.  
  • Discipline. This is a tough area for me, because the team took seven minor penalties. That is way too many in a game that means so much. I didn't like Calvin Thurkauf's overaggressive cross checking penalty in the third period with the Blazers coming on and the Rockets protecting a one goal lead. That said, the entire team made Blazers agitator Jermaine Loewen a non-factor. They paid little attention to him and conversely Kamloops head coach Don Hay didn't use him much because of his ineffectiveness. That aspect of the teams' discipline should not go unnoticed.
  • One player I have failed to mention on this blog is defenceman James Hilsendager. Let me say that his evolution as a defender is really starting to catch my attention, When he was acquired in the Jonathon Smart trade with the Regina Pats earlier this season, my expectations were low for a player who's plus/minus stood out like the bald spot on the back of my head. Hilsendager did struggle by making odd decisions while defending in the first 20 odd games with his new team, but his improvement from December to now is off the charts. 'Jimmy', as the players and coaches like to call him, may now be a top 4 defenceman on this team. I honestly believe that. Cal Foote and Lucas Johansen have been wonderful, but Devante Stephens and Hilsendager are also standing out in this series. Hilsendager is clearly the best hitter of the bunch. 
  • I also liked Kyle Topping last night. He too has been a nice surprise with his steady play. While he doesn't get the power play time that rookie Nolan Foote receives, the 17 year-old is gaining the confidence of head coach Jason Smith.
  • The playoff win at Sandman Centre was the teams' first since 2009. Last season, the Rockets failed to win two games in that building, but won game three of an opening round playoff series in 2016 when the game was hosted in Kamloops' old Memorial Arena. 
  • With game five tomorrow night at Prospera Place, the Rockets look to end the series with a solid effort at Prospera Place. The home team has won three of the four games but scoring that all important first goal seems to be the difference between a win and a loss. 

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