Sunday, October 15, 2017

Well earned point in Portland

James Porter - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • If I was Jason Smith or Mike Johnston, I would have left last night's game between the Kelowna Rockets and Portland Winterhawks with a smile on my face. Smith's Rockets battled back from a 3-0 deficit and earned a point against one of the elite teams in the WHL. The Winterhawks, who have lost only once this season, extended its winning streak to five games in a 5-4 overtime victory. From a purely Rockets perspective, driving through the night, getting little in the way of sleep after losing the night prior on home ice to the Calgary Hitmen was impressive. Essentially, the night was spent on the bus in an effort to make the 8 hour trip to PDX. It isn't easy. Trust me, I didn't fly here. With a quick nap in the hotel, it was off to the rink for the 6 pm start. While I didn't like the Rockets start, nor the finish, if you told me before the weekend that overtime was in the cards in the first meeting of the season between these playoff rivals, I would have taken it. 
  • If you want to get picky, Smith won't like the sleepy start and the fact his team surrendered three-first period goals. He also won't like the number of penalties his team took and the three power play goals they surrendered. Johnston won't like the fact his team gave up a 3-0 lead and let the visitors back in the game. Are coaches ever happy? At the end of the day, it was a pretty darn toot'n good hockey game. Sorry, as a broadcaster, I will take entertainment over picture perfect execution.  
  • The Rockets have been a quick starters this season. I think it would be fair to say getting out of the gates has been a staple of Jason Smith's teams since taking over from Brad Ralph. Saturday night was the exception to the rule and the Winterhawks capitalized. Two power play goals and then an even strength marker from Henri Jokihrju had you wondering if a blowout was in the making. But just when you are about to question the 2017-2018 edition of the Kelowna Rockets, the offense was jump started when Winterhawks overage defenceman Keoni Texeira was accessed a 5 minute major for a head shot on Kole Lind. The game immediately changed. While the Rockets scored only once on the extended power play, the complexion of the game switched and the visitors had as good a chance of winning as the home team.
  • James Porter Junior was the Rockets starting goaltender Saturday night, and despite the stats line, the rookie goalie played pretty well. I often overlook the small errors made in a goalies game if you have the ability to rise to the occasion with a big save at a crucial point. Porter's biggest save came when he faced forward Brad Ginnell on a breakaway with the Winterhawks leading 4-3. If Ginnell scores, its lights out and not even a point in the standings is realized. Instead, Porter made that crucial stop and the Rockets Carsen Twarynski scores shortly there-after. Tied game! Porter's numbers won't wow you, (4.38 goals against average) but I think we see something impressive in the smallish goaltender that is very encouraging. 
  • You knew overtime wouldn't last long. Both teams sent out what looked like an all-star team in the three-on-three session. The Rockets had Cal Foote, Dillon Dube and Kole Lind on the ice. The Winterhawks countered with Cody Glass, Skyler MacKenzie and Henri Jokohrju. The Winterhawks gained possession of the puck and in a matter of :24 seconds it was over. MacKenzie made a nifty, in tight move and the Winterhawks skated away with a one goal win. 
  • This caught my attention last night. Of the teams I've seen this season, no one does a better job of placing a big forward on top of the opposition goaltender than the Winterhawks. Nobody. Every time a shot was delivered towards the Rockets net, a Hawks forward was in the grill of James Porter. The most effective at doing this was 20 year-old Alex Overhardt and 19 year-old rookie Kieffer Bellows. Of the goals scored by the Winterhawks, none were of the tick-tack-toe variety. Most of them were goal mouth scrambles with a willingness to jam the puck home. 
  • It was the first time I was able to watch Keiffer Bellows in action. A first round pick of the NHL's New York Islanders, having a big body in your line-up at forward is a valuable asset. While Bellows won't wow you with his quick skating ability, the Edina, Minnesota resident does some solid board work in an effort to win loose pucks. Like any player trying to adjust to the WHL, I think it is safe to say Bellows will get better as the season goes along.
  • Here is my theory on the Keoni Texeira hit on Kole Lind. It can't happen. Now that we have more information than ever before on what hits to the head can do, hockey must make changes to the way it is played. Indeed it has. We are a gentler game, built more on speed. The way the game is officiated has made it better and more importantly safer. My belief is Texeira can't step up and make that hit on Lind like James Hilsendager can't make contact the way he did against Cougars forward Cody McDonald last weekend. Trust me, I love open ice hits. I am somewhat old school in my approach to the game, but WHL defenceman, specifically, need to learn that even though an opponent is vulnerable, that hit can't be made with the likelihood of it being a check to the head. In the old days, it was 'tough titty' if you had your head down. Those days are over.              
  • For a second straight game the Rockets failed to open the scoring. In the first six games they did.  
  • The Rockets are 8-0-2-0 in their last 10 regular season games in Portland. An impressive mark to say the least. The last regulation loss in PDX was September 28, 2012 in a 1-0 setback. Cam Lanigan made 31 saves for the Winterhawks.  
  • These two teams play each other tonight at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in the rematch before meeting next weekend (Fr/Sat) at Prospera Place to conclude the seasonal series.  

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