Monday, April 3, 2017

Gardiner delivers

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  • Reid Gardiner has never been to the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs. Not up until now. The 21 year-old sharp shooter made sure of that Sunday night by scoring three times in the Kelowna Rockets 4-2 win over the Kamloops Blazers. Gardiner scored once on the power play, scored the game winner with 1:57 left on the clock and then sealed the win with an empty net goal as the Rockets eliminated the Blazers in 6 games. It marked the second win at the Sandman Centre in this playoff series, after the Rockets managed to win just once in that building in five tries during the regular season.
  • Much like a game four 1-0 win, the Rockets were by far the better team over the first two periods before the Blazers rallied in the third. Typically, goaltender Connor Ingram held his team in there through 40 minutes and then the Blazers scored back-to-back goals 57 seconds apart to tie the score at 2. With the Blazers fans still jumping for glee over the home teams resurgence, Gardiner dashed their hopes just 17 seconds later as he received a perfect pass from Nick Merkley and fired a high shot over the glove hand side of Ingram. Looking like a prize fighter, the Rockets were dazed by the Blazers with a late third period flurry, but in the end, threw the knock out punch and sent the majority of the 41 hundred fans to the exits only dreaming of a magically ending for the home team in overtime. 
  • If you are a Blazers fans, you will point to a disallowed goal off a high stick from forward Devin Sideroff. A shot from the right point was deflected in by Sideroff, but video review overturned the call on the ice because the 19 year-old batted down the puck when his stick was over the cross bar. Had the goal counted, it would have been a 2-1 game with a significant amount of time left in the third period. If you are a Rockets fan, you could suggest that the home team shouldn't have hung their hopes on that single goal and should have done more in the opening 40 minutes, offensively, so a disallowed goal wouldn't play such a massive factor in the fate of their team. Outside of Devin Sideroff breakaway chance in the opening two minutes, how many quality scoring chances did they generate in the first two periods? Heck, they only had 15 shots on net heading into the final frame. 
  • The Rockets could have been up 4-0 after 40 minutes considering the great scoring chances they created. Reid Gardiner was shutdown point blank by Ingram in the first period and Kole Lind hit the goal post on what appeared to be a sure goal. On a good night, the Rockets create close to 20 scoring chances. The number must have been in that neighborhood in the game 6 win.
  • Who was the most dynamic skater in this series? Hands down it was Dillon Dube. His work ethic was excellent. The 18 year-old was dangerous with the puck in the offensive zone and promptly found the back of the net four times. I also thought his attention in the d-zone also improved significantly. Despite failing to score a goal in this series, Nick Merkley and Calvin Thurkauf were also every good in this series. 
  • I thought Lucas Johansen had a tremendous game back on the blue line. In game six, Johansen looked like a first round NHL pick, which he indeed is. Johansen was composed with the puck and made smart plays with it. I especially liked, when a passing option was unavailable, he softly chipped the puck to centre ice in an effort to get out of trouble. It was no surprise the 19 year-old was a +3 in the game. I also thought Devante Stephens had a bounce back game after struggling in game 5. 'Devo's' foot speed when playing against Devin Sideroff was on display. That foot speed is wonderful to watch. How about Cal Foote? I will say it here now. Cal Foote will be the Western Hockey League Defenceman of the Year in the not so distant future. Does he ever get beat one-on-one? Such a likable player.    
  • Kris Mallette take a bow - again. The penalty killing unit against the Blazers went 31 for 32. That is an astonishing, just north of 96%. That is a crazy number. The sacrifice to block shots and the overall battle level of that unit deserves a high five. Mallette guides that unit and has the players buying in with an effort we haven't seen in these parts for some time. 
  • Did Michael Herringer answer the bell for you in this series? I think he proved to everyone watching that he can carry the mail. The 21 year-old was locked in all series and had little to no struggles in his game. You could see how pissed off he was when he allowed the Collin Shirley backhand goal, which made the score 2-1. But looking at video, that was a heck of an effort from Shirley and the backhand shot couldn't have been delivered better by the veteran forward. Speaking of Shirley, why did it take him until the last three minutes of the game to become a dominating force? The last three minutes of the game was the best I've seen the Blazers captain play- ever.. 
  • I thought the Rockets discipline in game 6 was very good. While taking four trips to the box, I liked the way they handled themselves. The best example was Kole Lind. Lind was accessed a tripping penalty in the second period. Calmly and cooly, the 17 year-old accepted his fate and made his way to the penalty box. I think it shows good restraint and maturity on his behalf to
    skate to the box with little barking at the official. It looked good on him with that reaction.   
  • A terrific chat with Rockets assistant coach Travis Crickard after the game. He called me out about my criticism with the power play. I loved it. 'Crick's' and I have a great relationship and he was taking a friendly run at me, but honestly, he did a great job of explaining the challenges that a power play unit faces at this time of the year. It was radio gold and I appreciate all the coaches providing even just a little insight into their world so we can all learn something about the game. 
  • The Blazers organization was excellent to deal with. Despite having high end ownership with deep wallets, they have a blue collar, almost family-like approach to them. I like it. Head Coach Don Hay was always a pleasure to talk too and his insight, without being paranoid about what he may say, was open enough to share some of his knowledge with my listeners without exposing his game plan for all to see. I don't work for W-5. I am not an investigative reporter looking for dirt. Throw me a bone every once in a while with just a bit of meat on it. Hay gets it. 

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