Thursday, May 13, 2021

Saving the best for last

Alex Swetlikoff, like his team, finished strong  

It could have been ugly hockey.

The energy level could have been low.

It could have been a fight filled affair.

It was anything but.

The Kelowna Rockets brought it last night. So did the Victoria Royals.

Playing for nothing but pride with their respective gas tanks pretty much empty, the two teams were amazingly marvelous.

Showing junior hockey fans one last time why the WHL is such a great league, they played with proficiency, focused on purely one thing  - finishing strong. 

Essentially, no regrets.

While skating away with a hard-fought 3-2 win, the Rockets and Royals should be proud of what they were able to accomplish in the finale of this abbreviated season.

  • It was the final game in the junior careers of 20 year-old's Sean Comrie, David Kope and Dillon Hamaliuk. All three took the pre-game skate together before teammates joined them for warmup. While it was sad to see them unable to play this season with the potential for a successful playoff run, all three knew what they were getting into when the season started. Playoffs were not going to happen. I felt terrible for the overage players last year that had their dreams shattered when COVID-19 struck in March and ended hopes of winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup and playing in the Memorial Cup.
  • Roman Basran had a strong showing in goal. The 19 year-old's best save came on a glove hand grab. It came on a shot from Royals forward Graeme Bryks with time ticking down and Victoria goaltender Adam Evanoff on the bench for the extra attacker.  When I saw Basran as the starter, I wondered about his future with the team. Is this the last time we see him wearing Kelowna Rockets colours? It doesn't take a 'hockey insider' to know it is one of either Basran or Cole Schwebius that will be released or traded this off season. You can't have two-20 year-old goalies claiming two of three overage spots.
  • How good was Jake Lee in this abbreviated season? Two of the three goals he scored were tremendous individual efforts. It was that type of deceptive moves with the puck that must have been evident when the Seattle Thunderbirds selected him in the first round of the 2016 WHL bantam draft. Lee finished strong, recording a career high 9 shots on goal in last night's one goal win.
  • The Rockets played the game without marquee d-man Kaedan Korczak. The 19 year-old was a healthy scratch as he travels today to join the AHL's Henderson Silver Knights.  The pride of Yorkton, Saskatchewan had little to prove this season. Signed by the Vegas Golden Knights, Korczak played 215 games in the WHL and will be regarded as one of the top defenceman ever to grace the Kelowna Rockets blueline. He won't be back next season. Pro hockey and pursuing an NHL dream is his next step.  
  • The Rockets ended the abbreviated season with a 10-5-1-0 record in 16 games. 
  • Trevor Wong was the leading scorer. Wong had 16 points in 16 games. Mark Liwiski had a team high 9 goals. 
  • The top rookie was Turner McMillen. The 18 year-old had 8 points in 16 games. 
  • Alex Swetlikoff finished strong. The 19 year-old made a bid to be in the conversation as a 20 year-old next season with goals in three straight games. 
  • It was nice to see Noah Dorey score his first career WHL goal. His bomb from the blueline beat Adam Evanoff after a clean face-off win by Swetlikoff. 
  • What did we learn over the 16 games? The future is indeed bright. The rookies, who I underestimated, really looked good. Coach Kris Mallette gave them every chance to succeed and they took full advantage. I would say the rookies impressed me more than the veterans. I am not saying veteran players didn't stand out, but I would suggest the vast majority of the rookies made significant strides in this developmental season.
  • I think Tyson Feist took a step forward in his evolution as a player. He seems to make better decisions with the puck and wasn't just this one dimensional player, who's best attribute up until this season, was being a physical force and keep the other team honest.  
  • Decisions, decisions, decisions. The Rockets staff have many in deciding who will be the three 20 year-old's next season. The 2001's are Mark Liwiski, Tyson Feist,  Jake Lee, Alex Swetlikoff, Roman Basran and Cole Schwebius. You can only keep three.      

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