Sunday, March 25, 2018

Just when I thought I had seen it all

Kole Lind celebates after scoring twice in 9-7 setback
  • I've called many classic Kelowna Rockets playoff games over the last 18 years. Saturday night's 9-7 loss to the Tri City Americans will forever be etched in my memory, but for all the wrong reasons. I've witnessed the Rockets score 10 goals in a playoff game. They beat the  Vancouver Giants 10-1 in the 2003 post season. What I had yet to do, up until last night, was see the team surrender 9 goals against in post season. That all changed in game two of the Western Conference playoff series between these two teams, where no lead, and let me emphasis - no lead - was safe. The Rockets surrendered leads of 3-0, 5-4, 6-5 and 7-6. The game was lights out crazy. When the home team scored three goals in the opening 2:24, it appeared that the series would shift to Tri City tied at one win apiece, but the visitors had other ideas.
  • You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Rockets in game two. A quick power play goal from Kole Lind and then Kyle Topping's quick shot had the home town team up 2-0 just :51 seconds into the opening face-off. It was a great sign after being shut out for the first time this season in a game one - 5-0 loss. Cal Foote, who ended the game with 1+3=4 and was named the first star, made an impact early by firing home his first of the playoffs and the Rockets were in the drivers seat, or so we thought.
  • Down 3-0, Americans head coach Mike Williamson could have easily pulled starting goaltender Patrick Dea. But let's give the veteran coach some credit here. While he eventually did give Dea the yank after rookie defenceman Kaedan Korczak's softy to make it 6-5, Williamson attempted to allow his goaltender to find his footing. I like that. With the visitors ability to score, maybe he has more of a luxury to allow his starter to work out the kinks? Beck Warm, who came in relief, allowed only one goal the rest of the way. It was a different story at the other end when James Porter Junior was replaced after giving up 4 goals on 16 shots. 
  • I can't see why Porter won't start in game three, and to be honest, outside of the fourth goal that Nolan Yaremko fired home beating him to the blocker side, I thought the rookie goaltender had no chance on three of the four goals he surrendered. Porter's confidence shouldn't be shattered considering I didn't think his play was a massive factor in allowing the Americans back in the game.   
  • The Rockets are no strangers to giving up leads, specifically in the last month, so the meltdown didn't come as a complete surprise. When Carsen Twarynski scored a power play goal to make the score 7-6, it was at that point I was convinced the Americans would strike back. Heck, they had three times previous so why wouldn't they do it a fourth time? Sadly, as good as Brodan Salmond was in a sequence of making a nice save on Jordan Topping in the third period and shutting down Michael Rasmussen on a breakaway in the third period, three of the four goals he did allow, specifically five hole goals to Isaac Johnson and Morgan Geekie were back breakers. I will give you one softy, but I can't give you two. 
  • It was a strange game in the defensive zone. Often times the Rockets were seen running around as the Americans moved the puck around at will. It was especially ugly in the first period as Tri City stormed back with four unanswered goals and went into the first intermission up 4-3. I thought the defensive coverage was better in the second and third periods against a high octane team that can make you look silly. 
  • You have to hand it to the Americans top end players. Morgan Geekie and Michael Rasmussen have been instrumental in the opening two games. Both players have 4+3=7. Kole Lind, who always plays solid against elite competition, had two goals and an assist and did what only great players do. Sadly. Dillon Dube, who should be on the score-sheet in a game that consists of 16 goals had 0+0=0. That stat line can't exist.
  • A high 5 to Rockets forward Jack Cowell. I thought it was one of his best games in some time. I thought he was effective out there in limited duty. 
  • What is the deal with Isaac Johnson? What would be considered the equivalent to the Rockets Connor Bruggen-Cate, the 17 goal man this season has 3 goals and 5 points in the opening two games. That is awfully impressive for a lesser light.
  • How do you stop the Americans power play? Stay out of the box - please! The Ams are 5 for 6 on the man advantage and are either getting back into games (game two) or winning them outright (game one) that way. They are tearing the Rockets PK apart. The penalty killing unit has been one of the weak areas for the Rockets this season despite players doing all they can to sacrifice in an effort to block shots. It has been a weird season for that unit, which finished 18th among the 22 teams during the regular season. That said, the Rockets PK had to kill off the fourth most chances of any team in the WHL this season. That unit had a lot of time to practice their craft. 
  • The 9 goals the Rockets surrendered Saturday night is not a Kelowna Rockets franchise playoff record. The team allowed 10 goals against, in a playoff game against the Tri City Americans in 1996. The Rockets lost that game 10-4. 
  • I've been impressed with Kyle Topping. I think he has been better than his older brother Jordan in the first two games. I'd argue, Kyle, has been one of the best forwards for the Rockets in game one and two. Kyle looks engaged, is making a difference and isn't shying away from a Tri City team that isn't afraid to make body contact. If I'm Kyle Topping, I am busting my hump right now. The scouts are watching and now is not the time not to be playing your best hockey.
  • The Rockets have been in this situation before. Down two games to none is nothing new. The team was in a similar predicament in the 2013 post season when they dropped the opening two games on home ice, only to eventually win the series in 7 games.
  • Positives? The team looks as dynamic as ever in the offensive zone. Nolan Foote was lethal, Kole Lind is dangerous and I have no problems with what the team is doing on the attack. If that area of the game was going sideways, I'd be extremely concerned. This team can score. What they need is greater discipline and better defending.  
  • This series wasn't going to come easy. If anyone thought this would be a walk in the park, they clearly were not paying attention. The Americans were winners of 6 of their final 7 games of the regular season, so by no means were they coming in with a lack of confidence. Now it's time for the Rockets to do what the Americans were able to accomplish, with the road team nailing down two victories to send the series back to Kelowna for a game five on Saturday night. Hey, we've seen it all haven't we, so is it improbable for the Rockets to manufacture back-to-back wins at Toyota Centre? In junior hockey, specifically, anything can happen. Need an example. Re-watch game two! 
  • Thanks to Evan Cooke for helping me out on the broadcasts the last two nights. With Gord McGarva and Kent Simpson enjoying Spring Break, Evan slid into the colour analysts seat seamlessly. I can see him taking over my position in the broadcast booth in 20 years!

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