Thursday, March 23, 2017

Rockets/Blazers battle

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Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open the 2017 Western Hockey League playoffs against the visiting Kamloops Blazers. These two teams met in the opening round a season ago with the Rockets advancing with a game 7 overtime win. These two teams met 10 times this season with the Rockets winning four of them. The last two meetings in February were blowouts for both teams, with the Blazers winning 6-0 (Feb 8, 2016) and the Rockets winning 8-2 (February 24, 2017). Kole Lind had 3+6=9 in the seasonal series while Rodney Southam had 1+8=9 in the 10 games. Nick Merkley had 8 points (3+5=8) in eight games. Michael Herringer was 3-5-0-0 in eight starts, with-a-goals against average of 3.53. Rudolfs Balcers led the Blazers with 8+4=12 in 8 games against the Rockets. The two teams were separated by only 5 points after being 15 points apart heading into last year’s post season. In the big picture, the team has 18 wins in the last 22 games (18-3-1-0) while earning a point in 16 of their last 18 games (15-2-1-0).
Playoff Pondering: Nineteen year-old forward Nick Merkley and 20 year-old Captain Rodney Southam both have 40 games of WHL playoff experience under their belt. Merkley has 9+38=47 playoff points….Reid Gardiner may have played 290 regular season games in the WHL, but the 21 year-old has never gotten out of the first round. Gardiner has played just 14 playoff games and has 5+4=9 over that period…Tomas Soustal is the highest returning point producers from last year’s post season. Soustal had 5+7=12 in 18 playoff games including three of those goals coming in the opening round against the Blazers…Weird stat. Despite going all the way to the Western Conference final last season, the Rockets playoff record was a very ordinary 8-10-0-0….Justin Kirkland was the Rockets leading scorer in the 2015-2016 playoffs with 11+4=15 in 18 games…Michael Herringer played in all 18 playoff games a season ago, posting a goals against average of 2.44 and a save percentage of .928…The Rockets are attempting to advance to  the Western Conference final for a fourth straight season…The Portland Winterhawks went to the Western Conference final 5 consecutive seasons (2010-2015). 

Season in Review: The Rockets finished in 2nd place in the BC Division with 95 points this season. That was one point shy of Prince George in the fight for a BC Division banner. The team was 45-22-5-0, which was good for 6th place in the overall WHL standings. The team scored the third most goals in the WHL (283) and tied with Seattle for the 4th fewest goals against. The team scored 14 more goals and allowed 12 fewer against than in 2015-2016. The Rockets had the third best power play in the WHL and the 9th best penalty killing unit. Cal Thurkauf led the team in goals with 33. Kole Lind had a team high 57 assists while Lind was the scoring leader with 87 points.  Nick Merkley led the team with 12 power play goals. Cal Foote had a team high +39 rating. Rodney Southam had a team leading 121 penalty minutes.

Rockets Award Winners: General Manager Bruce Hamilton has been named the Western Conference nominee for Executive of the Year. Hamilton won the award back in 1991-1992 with the Tacoma Rockets and in 2002-2003. Forward Kole Lind was named a Western Conference 2nd team all-star. At the teams annual year end awards, Calvin Thurkauf was the MVP, Cal Foote was the Top Defenceman and Nolan Foote was the Rookie of the Year.  The Unsung Player of the Year was Devante Stephens while the Most Improved Player was Kole Lind. Lind had 46 more points than he had a season prior.

Reaping Reward of New Recruits: Reid Gardiner played in 28 regular season games with the Rockets after being acquired at the WHL trade deadline. The 21 year-old was held off the scoresheet just three times and collected 18+19=37 in 28 games. Carsen Twarynski, also acquired at the deadline, had 7+15=22 in 28 regular season games after his acquisition from the Calgary Hitmen.  If you follow the bouncing ball, the Rockets essentially obtained Twarynski for Joe and Danny Gatenby.     

That’s a fact Jack: Michael Herringer was named the WHL Goalie of the Week March 6th by posting a record of 3-0-0-0 with a goals against average of 1.10…The Rockets have now won 20 or more road games in five consecutive seasons. The last time they failed to hit 20 wins was in 2011-2012 when they won 15 games away from Prospera Place…The 56 shots the Rockets put up against the Vancouver Giants February 10th were a season high….The 15 shots the team surrendered February 22nd against the Edmonton Oil Kings was a season low…The Rockets have generated 30 or more shots in 28 of their last 32 games…Tomas Soustal has missed 8 straight games after being hurt March 1st against Prince George. The Rockets are 13-2-0-0 in 15 games when Soustal has been injured this season….The Rockets are 64-1-4-0 when leading after 40 minutes in the last two seasons….The Kelowna Rockets lost 10 of their first 21 regular season games. Since then, the team has 12 losses in the last 50 games… In the Rockets last 13 losses (regulation or overtime loss) the opposition has opened the scoring…The Rockets are 20-7-2-0 since the trade deadline 

Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150

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