Thursday, December 13, 2018

Rockets 1 and 1 record expected

Did I call my last WHL game in Cranbrook?
  • A win and a loss after two games. Could be better. Could be worse. To be frank, the results were expected. I anticipated a victory Tuesday night when the Kelowna Rockets opened a four game in five night Central Division road trip. In Cranbrook, the Rockets were fresh and were facing a team that hadn't tasted victory in 11 games. The Ice were susceptible and the visitors took full advantage. Facing a bottom feeder in the Eastern Conference, it was imperative to start the trip on a solid note and the team delivered by reaching the .500 mark for the first time this season. Leif Mattson scored twice on the power play and James Porter made 28 saves in the teams 15th win of the season.
  • So winning in Kootenay was expected, but any fool knows that a night later picking up two points in Lethbridge wouldn't come easy. In my opinion, it was the toughest game of the trip. Lethbridge bolstered their roster November 29th when they picked up two of the Regina Pats best players. It only aids a team that has scored the 4th most goals in the WHL this season. With only three wins in the second game of back-to-backs, I thought the Rockets had a fighting chance if they were able to capitalize on the few scoring chances they would receive in the game. Why would the Rockets have so few scoring chances? It all comes down to puck possession and the Hurricanes have the puck a lot. I recall no less than three quality scoring chances when the game was close but the visitors came away empty handed. The best chance, that I can recall, was Lane Zablocki receiving a terrific pass on right wing and skating in and firing the puck on goal. Truth be told, the about to turn 20 year-old likely had more time to go to the backhand but elected to shoot with Hurricanes goaltender Carl Tetachuk making the save.             
  • When you are playing against an above average opponent, little mistakes are magnified. While surrendering the opening goal just over two minutes into the game, the back breaker was Hurricanes forward Jake Leschyshyn's shorthanded goal from just inside the blue line. It was a wicked wrist shot, but one from long range that Rockets goaltender Roman Basran would typically make. In this instance, the puck blew past him blocker side. It was a tough goal to surrender when the Hurricanes are able to manufacture quality chances on their own. In essence, it was a gift goal and put the Rockets in a tough spot down 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes. 
  • The Rockets had their chances to get back into the game with the power play. The problem is they often missed high and wide of the net. I get that the shooter is trying to score with pin point accuracy, but I find the percentages are low at this level to find the target. Why not dumb it down and fire it on net, let the goalie make the save and hunt down rebounds? A good example was the Rockets opening goal in Kootenay Tuesday night. Take the shot and then swarm the net. It is such and old technique that still has relevance today. On the first power play chance of the game, the Rockets ended up surrendering a shorthanded goal against. Ouch!  
  • Positives? For a fifth consecutive road game the team did not allow a power play goal against. The Hurricanes were 0 for 3 last night. In 17 road games, the team has surrender only 9 goals against. That is a whopping success rate of 89%. Only Prince Albert is better while shorthanded on the road. The Rockets have killed off 21 consecutive shorthanded situations. 
  • More positives? James Porter. I am not sure what is going on with him but I like it. The 18 year-old has been terrific. In his last 6 appearance he has stopped almost everything directed his way. Now owning a save percentage of .903, which to me is a far more impressive number than goals against average, Porter has allowed just 10 goals in his last 6 appearances. The coaching staff have been very hesitant in declaring a number one goaltender this season, so doesn't it only make sense to ride the guy with the hot hand? Right now that guy is James Porter. It will be interesting to see if he starts Friday in Calgary. 
  • I almost felt guilty on the air last night advocating for a fight. What is the biblical saying? Blessed be the peacemakers. I usually don't do that, but the Rockets needed some type of energy and life in the game. Well, Erik Gardiner delivered in the third period when :36 seconds into the face-off, with the score 3-0, the 19 year-old fought a much larger player in Lethbridge d-man Igor Merezhko. The 6'5, 225 pound blue liner rarely fights. Gardiner would fall into the same class, so why is he steeping up while others don't? On a team void of toughness, it really shows how much Gardiner cares. Mark Liwiski and Dalton Gally are arguably the best at dropping the gloves. What I saw last night from Gardiner was enough to say, yep, the 19 year-old is part of my leadership group. He isn't getting there because he produces points. Gardiner wears a letter because of his heart and soul. It was Gardiner's 5th fighting major of the season. Oh, the Saskatchewan product shouldn't be leading the team in penalty minutes, yet he is. 
  • So with a win and a loss in two games on this trip, while the team hasn't gained ground, they haven't lost ground to Victoria and Kamloops in the fight for second place in the BC Division. Face it, you can hand the Vancouver Giants the BC Division regular season banner at Christmas. They won't be caught. With a slim three point lead on Victoria and the faltering Kamloops Blazers five points behind with three games in hand, the situation is looking bright for a Rockets team that needs to finish strong with games in Calgary tomorrow and Medicine Hat on Saturday.
  • Other quick notes. During my stop in Cranbrook, it was nice to touch base with 19 year-old Kootenay d-man Jonathan Smart. Always well spoken, Smart is now wearing an 'A' on his jersey as one of the older players on a team that boasts 11-17 year-old's on its roster. To think had Smart not asked for a trade out of Kelowna, where would he be today in his evolution as a player? At the time, the theory was a move out of Kelowna would allow the then 17 year-old to get more playing time in Regina. That appears to have backfire as the Pats eventually traded him to the Kootenay Ice. Sometimes waiting your turn and being patient as a younger player is indeed the best option.   
  • I was again impressed in my conversation with Kootenay head coach James Patrick. He reminds me a bit of Ryan Huska. Patrick is as engaging off the record as he is when a mic is put in front of his face. 
  • Speaking of engaging, I always like talking to Hurricanes GM Peter Anholt. There is just something about him. Is it his straight forward approach? Yet, he is also personable in any encounter I've had with him. He has a certain intensity about him too. It's weird, but I really like him. I think he is a great hockey mind. Need proof? Look at the trades he makes. All are calculated. Not without risk, all deals have a chance to backfire, but Anholt has the walnuts to pull the trigger. I admire that courage. I also think his interviewing skills are off the charts. 
  • Will the Kootenay Ice be moving at season end? My guess is yes. I believe I've called my last game in a building where so many classic games went down. The rivalry between the Rockets and Ice from 2000 until 2005 were nothing short of amazing. Both franchises had terrific teams and the players that battled on the ice were world class. Who can forget Shea Weber crushing Nigel Dawes at centre ice at Prospera Place in one of several sensational playoff battles. I remember the hit followed by the late Ed Chynoweth, situated in the press box, jumping out of his seat, stomping over towards Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton and the two getting into a shouting match. Oh, emotions ran high back then. That's the reason those playoff battles were so intense and memorable. 
  • I haven't spoke much about my relationship with Adam Foote on this blog. What I can say is I really like him. He treats me very well. I am in awe at his work ethic, yet I am not surprised at the passion he brings to the rink or his will and want to win. Selfishly, I want Foote to be a good interview for you the fans and in my opinion he has delivered with insightful comments. The other day I wanted to interview him before the game and I joked that, 'the darn media are always getting in his way of his pre-game preparations'. Adam Foote gets it. It is part of the gig to make time for the media and to answer questions, not only the home broadcaster but the visiting media too. Hey, we all must remember we are in the entertainment business.
  • The Lethbridge Hurricanes are using a large screen, the width of the arena on the one end where they are able to electronically advertise to the paying public. What I like most about that screen, is it enables the score-clock video monitor to be used, primarily, for just the action on the ice and replays. The team can still sell ads on the screen at the one end without detracting from the game itself. Love it.
  • I could go on and on with other stories from the road, but I am boring you right? We will talk to you on the radio Friday (5;30 pm) from Calgary. 

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