Sunday, January 21, 2018

Statement game? You be the judge.

Cole Tisdale
  • Would the Kelowna Rockets 8-4 win Saturday night over the Victoria Royals be considered a statement game? They may downplay the very thought, but it sent a clear message the team that made little to no movement at the Western Hockey League trade deadline are indeed pretty darn good. In a game against an opponent that was the most proactive in the BC Division at the trade deadline to bolster their roster, the Rockets showed the Royals it won't be easy to obtain a BC Division banner this season. Specifically five-on-five the Rockets were the better team. They worked harder. They skated better. They played quicker and most importantly the Rockets best players were indeed better on this night. It was a significant turnaround from the night prior, where the team suffered a 7-2 loss in Seattle and looked out of sorts from the opening face-off.
  • Fifteen year-old Cole Tisdale entered the Kelowna Rockets record books Saturday night with a 23 save performance. The eighth round bantam pick from 2017 became the youngest goalie in franchise history to start and win his first WHL game. Tisdale, who plays midget hockey in Lethbridge but was born in Nanaimo, BC, was all smiles as he accepted third star for his efforts. 
  • What I really noticed in the Rockets overall play was energy. Playing with significantly more jump, the teams passing was crisp, calm and calculated. I have to again add that the Rockets played fast. Very fast. The fastest I've seen them play in a long time. Maybe the Royals bring out of the best in the Rockets? All I know is it was one of the best efforts of the season against a very good Royals team that, on this night, couldn't match-up when playing even strength. Three of the Royals four goals came on the power play with the other coming on a third period penalty shot.
  • Who did I like? The big three of Dillon Dube (1+1), Cal Foote (1+1=2) and Kole Lind (1+3=4) all scored in the win. Those three have to get the motor running. They have to be noticeable and all three came through with flying colours. If those three are going, others follow and that's exactly what happened. Jack Cowell was good on the fore-check, Connor Bruggen-Cate played hard and Ted Brennan, for my money one of the most improved rookies this season, had a solid game.  
  • I thought Leif Mattson was very, very good. After struggling, much like his teammates in Seattle Friday night, the second year forward was smart with the puck, made simple plays and scored a huge second period shorthanded goal that proved to be the game winner. Mattson has 15 goals. A 20 goal season would be incredible for a player who has scored 11 of his 15 goals this season at even strength.
  • Nolan Foote's battle level was also higher, which translated into a two assist effort. The second year forward has 34 points, just one shy of his career high 35 set in his rookie season. 
  • The value of defenceman James Hilsendager can not be overstated. I think his value is much greater than many believe. Chipping in with two assists, his overall meanness on the blue-line and propensity to defend a teammate and knock an opponent on his rear-end should not be overlooked. I especially notice how valuable Hilsendager is when he isn't in the line-up! The same can be said for Gordie Ballhorn, who too played a significantly rougher/tougher game then we usually see from the defensive stalwart. Taking and receiving hits, I thought the 20 year-old was solid at both ends of the ice. Ballhorn plays like an overage should play. Low risk, quick passes and stepping up on opposing forwards in an effort to separate them from the puck.
  • Carsen Twarynski scored his 30th goal of the season. The 20 year-old is the first player to score 30+ goals since Kole Lind scored 30 and Calvin Thurkauf found the back of the net 33 times last season. How good was that trade with Calgary? Yikes! 
  • While some would suggest the Royals were playing without two top defenceman in Chaz Redikoop and Jensen Jensen, the Rockets were also playing without top six forward Erik Gardiner, leading rookie scorer Liam Kindree and  number one goaltender James Porter Junior. 
  • Since Connor Bruggen-Cate scored the 'Teddy Bear Toss' goal back on December 2nd, something has happened in his overall game. No longer just a solid checker, Bruggen-Cate has 13 points in his last 18 games. With four goals in his last four games, the 6th round WHL bantam pick is riding a career high five game point streak and has 16 more points than a season ago.
  • Kole Lind extended his point streak to 15 games with the four point effort. Remember, Kole Lind has points in 23 of his last 24 games. Incredible consistency. 
  • Cal Foote scored his 9th goal of the season, which is a new career high for the captain.
  •  The Rockets increased their lead on the Royals to three points in the fight for first place in the BC Division, but remain only one point up on Everett for first place in the Western Conference standings. The team opens an Alberta road trip on Wednesday in Lethbridge. 

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