Sunday, December 31, 2017

Fun in the fight for first

Shoot the Breeze Photography

  • If Victoria Royals leading scorer Matthew Phillips had the puck on his stick and Kelowna Rockets defenceman James Hilsendager was playing goal, you would undoubtedly put your money on the shifty, skilled forward to easily score. That exact situation presented itself last night in overtime in the Rockets 3-2 shootout win. Hilsendager made the biggest save of his WHL career when rookie goaltender Roman Basran misplayed a loose puck just inside the Rockets blue-line. With Phillips skating quickly towards it for a quality shot on goal, Basran skated dangerous out of his net in an attempt to play it. The 16 year-old wanted to shoot it up ice but missed it. Badly out of position, Basran watched in horror as Phillips picked up the puck and skated towards the wide open goal with only Hilsendager standing in his way.  Phillips fired it on net only to see the veteran defenceman get his leg on it in what can only be described as a crazy sequence of events in a highly entertaining game.
  • That was the best save of the game, right? With time ticking down in the third period, Royals goaltender Griffen Outhouse made a high-lite reel glove hand stop on Rockets forward Jack Cowell. Cowell found himself sitting all alone at the side of the net with the puck on his stick. With Outhouse focused on what was happening to his right, the veteran goaltender dove across in desperation and flared his glove out to make a miraculous stop on Cowell, who had a sure goal taken away. Lucky? Yes! Desperation 101? Without question. That save is WHL Plays of the Week worthy. 
  • I think both teams will be happy with the outcome. Playing short-staffed with players either injured or participating at the World Junior Hockey Championships, the game featured end-to-end action, great goaltending and a little bit of luck. Again, the entertainment value was off the charts for two teams that meet again in late January with hopefully their entire rosters available to them. I want Cal Foote to be on the ice. I want Regan Nagy to be available. Noah Gregor needs to demonstrate his speed and Dillon Dube has to be part of the equation. It only gets better from here with four games left between these two teams.  
  • The Rockets ran their home ice winning streak to a WHL high 12 games. Brandon had it's 10 game home ice winning streak snapped earlier in the day by Moose Jaw. The Rockets are 13-3-0-1 at Prospera Place this season. The Wheat Kings and Moose Jaw Warriors each have 16 home ice wins.
  • The Rockets also extended their winning streak to five games and have 11 wins in their last 14 games. Yes, they are 11-3-0-0 over that stretch with losses to Brandon, Moose Jaw and Swift Current. Two of those three losses came without Dillon Dube, Kole Lind and Cal Foote.
  • Kyle Topping scored his 14th goal of the season, matching his career high set in his rookie campaign. The second year forward has points in 6 of his last 7 games.
  • The Rockets lost forward Liam Kindree early in the game to what appeared to be a left leg or ankle injury. The rookie forward was grimacing in pain after going awkwardly into the end boards in the first period. Kindree needed to be helped off the ice favoring his leg and did not return. 
  • Leif Mattson opened the scoring with his career high 10th goal of the season. It was his first goal in 8 games. Can Mattson score 15 goals this season? I can't see why not. If he almost reaches the 20 goal mark, that is a terrific season for a player who doesn't benefit from massive amounts of time on the power play.
  • While scoreless in his last 7 games, forward Nolan Foote hit the goal post no less than twice in the win. Foote did find the back of the net in the shootout though, beating Griffen Outhouse with a nice snap shot to the glove hand side.
  • While Tyler Soy and Matthew Phillips each had a goal and an assist, which Royals forward impressed me the most? I thought rookie Dino Kambeitz was terrific. The thing that stood out for me was how hard it is to take him off the puck. I assume the 5th round bantam pick is built like a 10 tonne truck. He looks like an immovable object.
  • James Hilsendager likely doesn't get the credit he deserves. While his save in overtime was terrific, his physical play is such a key component on the Rockets blue-line. A first period hit by Hilsendager sent Royalas forward Spencer Gerth flying into the Victoria bench. I just love how Hilsendager never avoids contact with an opposing player.  
  • Connor Bruggen-Cate played in his 100th career game Saturday night against the Royals.
  • I really liked how the coaching staff used 16 year-old rookie d-man Kaedan Korczak in overtime. He played significant minutes and didn't look out of place. The dude can skate, defend and despite the lack of offensive totals this season, the high hockey IQ is clearly there. In fact, I thought it was Korczak's best game of the season, which included a chance to score his first career WHL goal when he was fed a puck at the right face-off circle in the third period but berried his shot into Outhouse's midsection. 
  • I like sportsmanship. The photo above is a clear indication of the class of Royals goaltender Griffen Outhouse as he greets 16 year-old rookie Roman Basran at centre ice. The photo was captured nicely by Marrissa Baecker/Cindy Rogers, who were both on their 'A' game last night with some outstanding photos. 
  • The Rockets closed out 2017 like they started it ...with a win. The team opens 2018 on Wednesday against the visiting Tri City Americans.

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