Monday, November 19, 2018

Lucky 13 to end the trip!

Panoramic view of Rockets dressing room in Edmonton
  • 13. Yep, the Kelowna Rockets manufactured only 13 shots on goal Saturday night in a 3-1 road win in Edmonton. Few teams are able to win a game that way, but the road weary Rockets did. Catching the heavily favoured Oil Kings off guard, Nolan Foote struck for two goals and added an assists as the team ended a stretch of 6 games in 9 nights on a high note. I honestly thought it was a pretty gusty effort for a team that sent a message by not dressing two 19 year-old forwards and were coming off a 7-0 loss the previous night in Red Deer. In what can only be described as solid team play, the Rockets did what is needed when they are both fresher physically and mentally. I though the commitment to shot blocking and getting into shooting lanes was tremendous. Timely scoring, with Nolan Foote finding the back of the net :36 seconds apart in the second period didn't hurt. I also thought Roman Basran was money when the Oil Kings pulled its goalie with over two minutes left in the game and the road team holding on to a two goal lead. I am not sure what this win in particular did to the teams psyche, but I'd review the video tapes and say to the players, "This is how we have to play".   
  • My only complaint in Saturday's win is the number of pucks directed towards the Oil King net. As you might expect, 13 is a season low for the Rockets. But that is getting very, very picky when you again take into account playing six games in 9 nights in five different cities. To be honest, I will take 13 quality shots over 30 from the perimeter that never have a hope and a prayer of going in. On this night, quality over quantity reined supreme for a team that hasn't enjoyed much puck luck this season.
  • Nolan Foote's two goals gives him 13 on the season. That is the exact same total he scored a season ago. With 13 goals in 21 games, the about to turn 18 year-old has two more goals than Jamie Benn did at that same age. In 2007-2008, Benn, already drafted as Foote has a late birth-date, scored 33 times as an 18 year-old rookie. Foote has the benefit of playing in his third season in the WHL, but you get the idea of what type of offensive numbers the soft spoken forward is putting up this season. I still have Foote scoring 30+ goals this season and I am sticking to it. At 19, like Benn, Foote has to be pushing the envelope on 50 you would think? That's next year country though. Let's enjoy him for the player he is now!
  • I was glad to see Leif Mattson shine offensively in Saturday's game. With a goal taken away and credited to Foote, the 19 year-old had three assists. It is only a matter of time before he snaps a 14 game goal scoring drought. What really matters is he hit the score-sheet on all three goals. If you are 19, specifically on this team, you need to produce scoring chances or do something that shows you are worthy of being in the line-up. If you can't, why not play younger forwards who can grow and mature and are willing to play the way head coach Adam Foote wants them to play? 
  • I am still a believer that the Rockets have to win the 2-1, 3-1 and 3-2 games.Tight, lower scoring games need to be the norm for this team to have success. Both wins on the road were 3-1 victories. The game in Prince George, which they should have won in regulation time, was a 4-3 overtime loss. If you ask head coach Adam Foote, he would suggest Sunday's 4-2 setback in Portland was also a gettable game. I thought too the team had a good chance of earning two points, which again was a great bounce back game after losing the previous night to the Winterhawks by a score of 3-0.
  • I sure liked the success the penalty killing unit had on the trip. In only one of the six games did they surrender two goals against. Not surprisingly it happened in the 7-0 loss in Red Deer. Facing two of the best power play units in the league (Portland/Edmonton), the team was 6 for 6 against Portland in game one, 4 for 4 in game two against the Winterhawks and 5 for 5 against the Oil Kings.
  • One thing that can be easily overlooked on this road trip is health. The team suffered no significant injures. That is tough to do, but the team came away with a bump and a bruise but no long term injuries. Knock on wood, that is big for any team, but specifically for one that has some depth issues.
  • While I don't play favourites, I have to admit 20 year-old Dalton Gally is really growing on me. Gally has it figured out. Mature beyond belief, his heart felt answers on pre-game interviews shows how intelligent he is, how much he wants to win and how great of a leader he truly is. A castoff of the Medicine Hat Tigers, I can't remember the last player acquired through trade that had these type of leadership qualities? Again, this is coming from a defensive defenceman who is dependable and isn't fooling himself on the way he must play to be effective. I think he has captain written all over him. The last defensive d-man to wear the 'C' on his jersey was Brett Palin. Gavin McLeod too was a nice choice when I first called games for the team in 2000-2001. In speaking to Gally after Friday's 7-0 loss to Red Deer he told me, "He was embarrassed". I just love the fact he cares so much. 
  • Gally was telling me that he routinely writes in a journal and gets his thoughts on paper. Gally first got the idea from mental performance coach Bob Wilkie. Wilkie, a former teammate of Dan Lambert with the Swift Current Broncos, is the president of I Got Mind. Check out the website at Gally says using the journal and having dialogue with Wilkie has really improved, not only his mental game, but his physical game. It almost looked odd to see Gally writing in his journal in the lobby of an Edmonton hotel while fellow teammates had their eyes glued, like any typical teenager, to their cellphones. 
  • They say a road trip like this can bring a team together, and despite a lack of  success on the ice, I have to agree. Many laughs were shared along the way. Whether its telling jokes on the bus, having lunch with teammates on an off day, or just chilling out in a hotel room, these are valuable times for a team that has seen vast changes under a new head coach.   
  • A quick tip of the hat, or is it a honk of the horn to bus driver Greg Link? Often forgotten by some, Link's work over the last 10/11 days was rock solid. A steady hand behind the wheel on that treacherous drive from Edmonton to Red Deer on Saturday must be tough on the nerves.We have the easy part of just sitting back and relaxing and seeing semi truck after semi truck sitting idly by in the snowy ditch. Outside of a change-over of drivers at 100 Mile House, with Mel Billings driving the rest of the way to Prince George, Greg Link was behind the wheel for the majority of the 3000+ clicks.   
  • Oh, before I forget, Rockets assistant coach Kris Mallette rolled the dice when he decided to get team accommodations at Delta Hotels by Marriott Edmonton Centre Suites. What an outstanding hotel. Home run. Do I dare say the best on the circuit? Much, if not all of the rooms have been renovated and the glass shower was amazing. They treated us like gold. I want to throw an endorsement out there if you want to stay in downtown Edmonton, only a five minute walk from Rogers Place. Stay there and reward yourself!
  • After spending 10 or 11 days on the road, it is great to be back home. It is nice to know 6 of the next 8 games will be played at Prospera Place. Sure, we have road games in Everett this Saturday and a one gamer in Tri City in two weeks, but sleeping in your own bed before a four game road trip before Christmas will be a nice reprieve. 

No comments: