Thursday, March 16, 2017

Rockets upended by shot blocking clinic (Marissa Baecker photo)
  • The Everett Silvertips are the best shot blocking team in the Western Hockey League. Hands down the best. No one commits more to the craft than the team that skated into Prospera Place last night and earned a 4-1 win over the Kelowna Rockets. Don't be fooled. While Tips goaltender Carter Hart was named the 1st star, which to me is a bit of a head scratcher, it was the players in front of him that paid the price in stopping the home teams seven game winning streak. The numbers don't lie. The Rockets had 41 shot attempts after 40 minutes, but of those 41 shot attempts, only 22 reached the net. As the game went along, despite attempting to push the pace, the Rockets game became fractured and over-passing and second guessing when a shooting lane became available was common place. It all added up for a tough night for a team that has had a heyday in the offensive zone in the last month. Only Dillon Dube, the most consistent Rockets forward on the score-sheet, found the back of the net with his 20th goal of the season. Nothing changed in the standings for either team though. The Rockets remain two points back of Prince George for first place in the BC Division while the Tips are a single point back of Seattle in the fight for first place in the US Division.
  • Again, it was the easiest first star award Carter Hart is going to earn. Did he make a five alarm save in the game? A good indication is my voice at games end. It felt relatively fresh as I had no need to explode as the Rockets failed to storm the Tips net with shot after shot which created glorious chance after glorious scoring chance. It didn't happen. The Rockets ruled the outside of the ice, with pin point passing, but that is a non-scoring area and the Tips were allowing them all the room they needed. Getting to the inside/middle of the ice was a completely different story. It was like a no-fly zone for the Rockets, who couldn't generate much from that prime scoring area. Despite pushing the pace in the third period in an effort to close the 3-1 deficit, while territorial dominating, the Rockets had only 5 shots on goal. Five! The Tips had 10 and ended up keeping the highest scoring team in the Western Conference to under 30 shots on net. An impressive feat in itself. 
  • Scoring the opening goal is always a key, but my belief is scoring first against Everett is more important than against any other team in the WHL. When you are forced to chase the game and the Silvertips sell out on defense, it makes for a frustrating experience in order to claw back in the game. Again, no one defends better. Despite receiving 5 power play chances, which against the Tips is an astronomical amount against the least penalized team in the 22 team circuit, the unit generated only 4 shots on goal. That tells you how good Everett was in all areas of the game. 
  • How about James Hilsendager's first period hit on Tips forward Connor Dewar? Wow! The 19 year-old d-man delivered a clean hit on Dewar at centre ice, sending the 5'10, 170 pound forward sailing right into the Rockets bench. In my opinion, it was the best hit of the season, edging out a similar hit Calvin Thurkauf applied earlier this season when he too sent an opposition player into the Rockets bench.  
  • Reid Gardner had his 15 game point streak come to an end. 
  • A win would have moved the Rockets into a tie with Prince George for first place in the BC Division. It didn't happen. With two games left (both against the Vancouver Giants) the Rockets must win both, but more importantly, the Kamloops Blazers must beat Prince George at least once as those two BC Division rivals end the regular season with a home and home series. If the Blazers lose both, or the Cougars win both, it doesn't matter how the Rockets do this weekend. They will finish second. Well, that's not exactly true. If the Blazers would win both this weekend and the Rockets would lose both, Kamloops would overtake Kelowna and move into second place in the BC Division, which would mean the Blazers would have home ice advantage in an opening round series. Confused? The bottom line is all three BC Division teams have much to play for heading into the final weekend of the regular season.     
  • Heading into the final weekend, three teams in the BC Division are within striking distance of one another. Prince George has a two point lead for first place while the Rockets are only three points up on the third place Kamloops Blazers. This is the best race since the introduction of the BC Division in 2001-2002. That season, Kamloops finished 1st with a two point lead on second place Kootenay. The Ice earned second place with a slim 4 point lead over third place Prince George. 

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