Thursday, November 23, 2017

Road woes continue

Kailer Yamamoto - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • Dan Lambert isn’t afraid to show emotion.  He often expressed himself freely with overflowing joy or disappointment when guiding the Kelowna Rockets to a WHL championship in 2015. That’s why he was so likable. So, here he was Wednesday night at Spokane’s Veteran’s Memorial Arena facing his old team for the very first time as the head coach of the Spokane Chiefs. When the buzzer sounded at games end, Lambert shook the hand of assistant Scott Burt and calmly walked off the bench after a 6-2 home ice win. What couldn’t be detected was the 47 year-old’s satisfaction that he undoubtedly felt from within after beating his old team for the first time since leaving the organization for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres back on July 6, 2015. After two short seasons in pro, Lambert was relieved of his duties but quickly caught on with the Chiefs who had a coaching vacancy when they parted ways with Don Nachbaur. Facing your old team, whether it be a player or a coach for the first time is never easy, but Lambert knows another emotional hurdle awaits him when he visits Prospera Place for the first time on January 10th.        
  • The Chiefs were the dominant team in this one with the shot clock telling the story as the home team fired 46 shots towards Rockets starter James Porter. The visitors, looking at getting back in the win column on the road for the first time since a 4-2 victory in Victoria November 3rd, fired only 11 shots at the Spokane net and only 20 at games end. The Chiefs scored two quick goals in the second period and then sealed the game with two quick strikes late in the third period.
  • Despite being out-played territorially in the opening period and being out-scored 2-0, the Rockets rallied with two quick goals from Connor Bruggen-Cate and Carsen Twarynski :16 seconds apart. But if any momentum was to be gained, neither team was affected by it. The Chiefs would remain in relative control before scoring two late-second period goals to regain a two goal edge.
  • The Rockets welcomed Dillon Dube and Jack Cowell into the line-up Wednesday after both were unable to play in last Saturday’s 6-1 loss in Vancouver. Both were held off the score-sheet, but for a team that lacks depth, those two were solid additions with the team playing its third consecutive game without leading scorer Kole Lind.
  • I think it is safe to say depth, or in the Rockets case, a lack of depth has been clearly evident the last few games. If the big horses (Dube/Lind/Twarynski/Foote) are not galloping at full speed, it is really tough to compete against elite competition. I can’t see how the Chiefs can’t be in the elite category despite struggles on home ice where they have just 5 regulation wins in 12 games. I would say the best rookie this season has been goaltender James Porter and he is significantly ahead of those teammates that are considered to be first year players. Let's hope Lind, Eric Gardiner and Nolan Foote get healthy, allowing those first year players more time to find their footing.
  • Speaking of young players, I really liked what I saw from 17 year-old Chiefs forward Eli Zummack. The Kelowna kid seems to play especially good against the Rockets, scoring the 4th goal of the game late in the second period with one second remaining. Zummack is a second round pick of the Red Deer Rebels and was obtained in the Adam Helewka trade in January, 2016. I thought if the Roockets could get out of the second period only down by one they had a chance to rally, but not adhering to clock management essentially put the game out of reach for the visitors.  
  • While fighting is down in junior hockey, it is always nice to see some rough stuff. With the game 54 minutes old, 20 year-old defenceman Gordie Ballhorn dropped the gloves behind the Rockets net with Chiefs forward Jake McGrew. For McGrew, it was his first fight in the WHL. Ballhorn has only 8 fighting major to his credit, so while slightly older than McGrew, Ballhorn is my no means a pugilist. That said, it is nice to see an older player display some anger and frustration by taking it out on an opponent. 
  • While failing to gain ground on first place Victoria, the Rockets didn't lose any either to the third place Vancouver Giants. The G-Men suffered a 5-2 loss Wednesday night to the surging Lethbridge Hurricanes.  The Rockets face the Giants Friday at the Langley Events Centre with the two teams separated by only three points. The Rockets have played one fewer game. 

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