Sunday, December 17, 2017

Impressive road trip, all things considered

  • Despite losing three consecutive games in the middle of a 6 game in 9 night Eastern Division road trip, the Kelowna Rockets finished strong with back-to-back wins in Prince Albert and Saskatoon Friday and Saturday night. Here is a recap of a few observations from both games and the fact that the team played two games without Kole Lind and four games without top flight forward Dillon Dube and captain Cal Foote.  
  • In the Rockets 7-3 win in Prince Albert Friday night, the question heading into the game was how mentally fragile was Kole Lind after being released from Hockey Canada's world junior team? After receiving the devastating news late Thursday night, the 19 year-old was back with his club team trying to come to grips with what hit him like a 10 tonne truck. Lind, who has pro written all over him, bounced back with a tremendous game, scoring three times, all on the power play in the lopsided win. If Lind was sulking after Team Canada's snub, he wasn't showing it externally as he took his anger out against the Raiders. Lind's presence on the ice was a huge boost for a team that had lost three straight games and were desperate for a win to salvage the road trip.
  • The Raiders, playing their last game before the Christmas break, looked like their minds were on other things, generated only 10 shots on rookie goaltender Roman Basran through the opening two periods. The Rockets put the game away with three-third period goals with rookie Wil Kushniryk earning an assist on Connor Bruggen-Cate's 6th goal of the season to go along with a goal he scored in the second period. Speaking of rookies, defenceman Libor Zabransky had a career game with 4 assists and used this road trip as a coming out party for the likable 17 year-old rearguard. 
  • Rookie Kyle Pow earned his first career point, collected an assist on Kushniryk's second period goal and was involved in a late dust up with defenceman Austin Crossley.
  • I was interested to see 18 year-old Raiders goaltender Ian Scott in action. A 4th round NHL draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it has been suggested the Calgary resident is the best at his position in the WHL in his age group. I assume it was an off night for Scott, who fills a good portion of the net with his 6'4 frame and has been on Hockey Canada's radar. Scott was yanked in the third period after giving up 7 goals on 26 shots.
  • After a 7-3 road win against the Raiders, would the Rockets have enough jam to beat the Blades in Saskatoon in the final game of the extensive road trip? Opening up the scoring for only the second time on the trip, the visitors looked sharp through 40 minutes before lagging in the third period. Kyle Topping scored twice in the victory while Kole Lind collected four assists and was involved in his first fight of the season with Blades forward Tyler Lees. Rookie goaltender James Porter Junior, who looked out of sorts in his previous starts out East, was at his best with a 39 save shutout performance and was named the first star. 
  • As mentioned, while Porter was sharp, the Rockets were significantly more opportunistic against a Blades team that look like they struggle scoring goals. While generating 40 shots on net, several times over passing and missing the net proved to be the home teams worse enemy. Carsen Twarynski scored his team leading 24th goal of the season, which gave him a team high five goals on the Eastern Division swing. 
  • Kyle Topping's two goals against the Blades gave the second year forward three goals and three assists on the road trip. The 18 year-old has an impressive 36 points in 34 games this season.Think about that for a second. Did I believe the 11th round bantam pick would be a point a game player? Honestly, not this quickly. It isn't normal for 11th round bantam picks to produce that frequently.  
  • Jack Cowell responded with his first goal in 18 games to open the scoring. I am not sure what has happened to Cowell's game, but after being so good in training camp and pre-season, the 18 year-old just doesn't play with the same energy and determination he did earlier this season. Cowell had me excited when he scored three goals in his first two games, but since then his name rarely hits the score-sheet. Failing to shoot the puck is likely a reason why. Up until Saturday's game against the Blades, where he fired four shots on net, the Winnipeg product hadn't shot the puck that much since delivering five shots on goal in Portland way back on October 15th.  Let's hope the Christmas break rejuvenates him.  
  • Libor Zabransky again picked up an assist Saturday night. The Czech Republic resident ended the Eastern Division road trip with a +7 rating. I hope next Christmas I can proudly say he is attempting to earn a spot on his countries world junior team. I think Zabransky is a gem. 
  • Give forward Leif Mattson credit for playing through discomfort after getting blindsided at centre ice in a 5-1 loss in Swift Current Wednesday night. The clean but solid hit that had Mattson grimacing in pain as he made his way to the bench, the Stonewall, Manitoba product didn't miss the final two games in Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
  • The one player I was excited to watch in Saturday's match-up against the Blades was about to turn 17 year-old Kirby Dach. Regarded as a highly touted prospect and the second overall selection in the 2016 WHL bantam draft, it must have been a bad night for the well put together prospect. I was underwhelmed to be frank. Given significant ice time and given every chance on the power play, it was a rough night considering he was on the ice for three of the Rockets five goals. One of the five the visitors scored was on the power play while Dach was on the ice for Liam Kindree's shorthanded goal. Kindree, who has three more goals than Dach, spent a good portion of the start of the season off the power play and playing fourth line minutes. What does that say about Kindree's production?
  • It was terrific to see Blades 20 year-old Cameron Hebig on the ice healthy, after missing all of last season with what some had suspected as concussion like symptoms. After sitting out his 19 year-old season, the overager has a team high 26 goals.
  • The Rockets end the Eastern Division road trip with a record of 3-3-0-0. It could have been even better considering they carried a 3-1 lead into the third period against the Moose Jaw Warriors and made no less than two significant errors (breakaways) that resulted in a loss in Brandon. Heck, the only game they deserved to lose was Wednesday's 5-1 loss in Swift Current where the team just didn't show up.
  • Enter the Christmas break, the Rockets have 20 wins, the exact same win total after 34 games last season. The Rockets are in a two way tie for first place in the BC Division, despite at one point trailing the Victoria Royals by as much as 8 points. 

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