Sunday, December 15, 2019

Rockets don't cower with less than loaded lineup

  • 12 points up for grabs. 8 collected. Cha Ching! The Kelowna Rockets completed its longest road trip of the season in fine form Saturday night in Moose Jaw with a 5-4 overtime win. A loss against the Warriors would have stung. The trip would have only been regarded as partially successful had that happened, considering the team roared out of the gates with three straight wins (PA/Saskatoon/Brandon). Had the team lost three in a row to end the trip, the bus ride home, while still painful, would have felt twice as long. The good news was Kaedan Korczak didn't allow that to happen. The 18 year-old (turns 19 in late January) scored a massive shorthanded goal in the third period and then scored the game winner in overtime. The Rockets left Mosaic Place with a 4-2-0-0 record while claiming the final game of the road trip without five regulars in the lineup. One word - impressive.
  • Not once on this swing did the team play with a full lineup. A 2-1 win in Prince Albert had rookie sensation Pavel Novak serving the 7th game of an 8 game suspension. Since the 17 year-old dynamo has been serving his sentence, the power play has really gone flat. When he finally returned Tuesday in Brandon, the power play unit got kicked in the teeth again with the loss of Nolan Foote to the world junior's. It was believed Dillon Hamaliuk, who missed the opening two games with illness would return for the games in Manitoba, but the team sent out a news release saying the 19 year-old was fighting a virus and wouldn't play at all on the trip. Another blow and more adversity for a team who did get an injection of hope before the trip began when GM Bruce Hamilton made a significant trade acquiring 20 year-old forward Matthew Wedman. Wedman played in every game on the trip, providing some spark offensively while taking massive pressure away from several players that just aren't ready for prime time.
  • Novak had four points (2+2=4 in four games) on the road trip. That's impressive when you consider his age. I really like him. While quiet on the bus, his teammates love him and I think he really loves playing here in North America. I sit right across from him on the team bus and he often has a smile on his face. I'm glad that he is happy with his decision to play in Kelowna and that its met his expectations. Novak has far exceeded mine.  
  • Grinding through four games in five night's, the team suffered another blow Friday when 19 year-old Sean Comrie separated his shoulder after crashing into the end boards in a disappointing 4-3 loss to the lowly Regina Pats. The result at the Brandt Centre was the low point of the trip, where I thought the team looked as gassed as they did two days prior in a 3-1 setback in Winnipeg. Losing Comrie for the last game of the trip was a setup for disaster, or so many thought. Thankfully several players stepped up to earn their 18th win of the season. Take a bow Michael Farren and Alex Swetlikoff. 
  • Kaedan Korczak led the Rockets with 8 points in 6 games. The defenceman looked especially good in Regina and Moose Jaw, but those two teams are at the bottom of the Eastern Division standings. The second round draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights often dominated. End to end rushes were common place, and really for the first time since I saw him skate on WHL ice, the Yorkton, Saskatchewan product looked like a gifted offensive d-man. Last season he could sit back and watch Lassi Thomson let loose with the puck, but with the Ottawa Senators first rounder applying his trade in Finland, Korczak has accelerated his offensive play. Will it work against better teams is the question mark. Against weaker teams, Korczak was able, for the most part, to cover up high risk mistakes. I would think more caution will be needed against top end teams that make you pay for any misgivings you make that could be considered as high risk plays. In my opinion he was the best player on the ice in the final two games and looked the freshest physically. 
  • Alex Swetlikoff had a fairly decent road trip. Required to play bigger minutes, the 18 year-old had a three point game in Moose Jaw (1+2=3) and had several quality chances to score in Regina the night prior. With 22 shots on net in the six games, that's a great sign for a player who has equaled his point total from all of last season. The only thing he needs to do is play a more pissed off game. Play to your size. Nope, fighting is not what I am suggesting, but get involved physically and play a bigger man's game. At 6'4 and 190 pounds, that size is ideal in the centre ice position if he plays with power. My suggestion is watch Matthew Wedman. Play like Matthew Wedman. Be a mirror image. 
  • The goalies saw time between the pipes on the trip. Both had ups and downs. Roman Basran was solid in the opener in Prince Albert and was the first star in a surprising win in Brandon. Against lesser teams, the 18 year-old struggled by allowing 4 goals in back to back games against the Pats and Warriors. That said, a massive paddle save in the third period in Moose Jaw could have been considered a game saver. Cole Schwebius let in a softy against Winnipeg, but rebounded nicely with solid stops to keep the score close. I love Schwebius' mental resilience.  
  • Only once in the six games were the Rockets able to carry the lead into the third period. That happened in Prince Albert with a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes. In five games they either trailed or were tied (1-1 with Brandon in game three) going into the final frame. 
  • Is it any surprise with the players out of the lineup that 5 of the 6 games on the Eastern Division swing were decided by one goal? The Rockets have played in a WHL high 17-1 goal games this season. Without Kyle Topping, Liam Kindree, Dillon Hamaliuk and  missing leading scorer Nolan Foote for four games really hurt the teams ability to generate quality scoring chances. With Pavel Novak missing in action against the Raiders and Blades, it was easy to accept the team wasn't going to blow the doors off of anyone. 
  • The toughest part of the trip came at the conclusion of the overtime win in Moose Jaw. The team made a trade, acquiring 20 year-old Conner McDonald from the Edmonton Oil Kings for a first and third rounder. Considered an overpayment, the move had to be made to find a d-man who can quarterback the power play. Kaedan Korczak can play a role on it, but they need someone else to fill the massive void left by Lassi Thomson. McDonald is that guy after scoring 19 goals last season. The sad part was saying goodbye to good guy Carsen Sass. Sass wasn't flashy in anyway, but Rockets head coach Adam Foote paid tribute to the player who changed the culture of the dressing room in the short time he wore Kelowna Rockets colours.                 
  • So after copious amounts of time on the bus and kilometers under their belt, the team faces one last test before Christmas against the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday. No Nolan Foote. No Bowen Byram. After 18 days away from Prospers Place, it would be nice to see the team reward the fans with a win. Call it opening a Christmas gift early.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

COPIOUS amounts of time on the bus. How do you pass the time??