Monday, May 1, 2017

Can't cry over spilled milk

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  • The Seattle Thunderbirds have ended the Kelowna Rockets season for a second consecutive year. A three goal second period led the T-Birds to their second consecutive Western Conference championship and another birth in the WHL finals. It is safe to say it was the Rockets worst effort of the playoffs Sunday night. Manufacturing scoring chances has been a hallmark of the team all season long and the 2017 playoffs were no exception - up until game six that is. While opening the scoring, the Rockets were only able to generate 4 shots on net in the opening period and stumbled mightily when T-Birds forward Keegan Kolesar was accessed a five minute major penalty for checking from behind on Devante Stephens. With the 19 year-old ejected from the game (the T-Birds leading playoff scorer), the Rockets were unable to set up in the offensive zone and wasted away a segment of the game that could have ultimately propelled them to victory. In my opinion, that five minute power play and lack of execution was the starting point of one of the roughest outings we've witnessed at Prospera Place this season. Unfortunately, it came at the most crucial time of the year. The T-Birds win the game 3-1 and advance to the WHL final against Regina with a 6 game series win.  
  • Hats off to the Seattle Thunderbirds. Losing their top defenceman, Ethan Bear, to injury in game three and hardly missing a beat is impressive. Racking up a 12 and 2 record in the 2017 playoffs with rookie goaltender Carl Stankowski is eye popping. At the end of the day, Stankowski out-dueled Michael Herringer plain and simple. The 17 year-old had to make bigger saves and was one of the reasons why the T-Birds had a fighting chance against a Rockets team, that I believe, had more depth when you compare the two team's on paper. But as we know, depth on paper does little. Playing the games with determination, no matter what the circumstances, is the true sign of a champion. Don't count the T-Birds out no matter what cards they are dealt. They are more resilient than many people believe, including me. I'm now a believer. It is no fluke where they are today.
  • If you can lose your top goaltender before the playoffs even start and play in the first round without Mathew Barzal and still advance, that indeed is something special. If you can sweep a second round series against the US Division regular season champions with a rookie goalie, hats off to you. If you can lose your best defenceman for three games in the third round and still knock off an elite team like the Rockets, is that not the mark of a champion? 
  • The WHL careers of Rodney Southam, Michael Herringer and Reid Gardiner came to an abrupt end Sunday night. I was glad that all three could receive a sendoff in front of the home fans. I also felt good for both Southam and Herringer that they had the experience of winning a WHL championship in 2015. Sadly, Reid Gardiner, who had not played past the opening round, failed to reach his goal. My hope is he did enough in these playoffs (A franchise record 15 goals) to earn a pro contract.       
  • Michael Herringer's time with the Kelowna Rockets was interesting to say the least. Filled with ups and downs, what type of situation would the team have been in had they not plucked him off waivers in September of 2015? He saved the day in the run towards the 2015 WHL championship by bailing out the team in series clinching games against Tri City, Seattle before coming into game 6 against Portland in the Western Conference championship to backstop the Rockets when starter Jackson Whistle was pulled after surrendering three goals. Herringer moves on following graduation, which creates a massive hole at that position. Is backup Brodan Salmond ready to take the reins as the full time starter? That answer will become clearer in four short months. 
  • The Rockets will lose, with my best guess, 7 players from this years roster. Reid Gardiner, Rodney Southam and Michael Herringer are gone to graduation. Calvin Thurkauf, Nick Merkley, Lucas Johansen and Devante Stephens are all signed players by the respective NHL teams that drafted them. If I were a betting man, of those signed players, Stephens may be the only one sent back to the WHL as a 20 year-old. Heck, T-Birds sharp shooter Ryan Gropp is a 20 year-old and was sent back as a second round pick of the New York Rangers. It does happen.     
  • The Rockets will have to fill three overage spots next season with essentially four players in the mix. Do you bring back Tomas Soustal to fill one of those spots? Soustal would also take one of your European spots, so it will be interesting to see what they do with that skilled, yet somewhat inconsistent player. Carsen Twarynski, acquired from Calgary at the trade deadline, could also fill an overage spot if he is not signed by the Philadelphia Flyers by June 1st. Gordie Ballhorn and James Hilsendager are the other 20's on the roster that also need to be considered. Hilsendager may be the most valuable of the bunch. The former Regina Pat was missed when he was hurt in game four and couldn't play in either game five or six. Hilsendager brings the most physicality on the blue line. Lots of interesting decisions to make. 
  • What type of team will the Rockets ice next season? I'm optimistic considering others also lose top end players. Look for Cal Foote and Kole Lind to be first round NHL picks this summer. Both of those players, the Rockets top defenceman this season and leading scorer, return in 2017-2018. How good is Nolan Foote going to be? The sky is the limit for the 16 year-old forward. Dillon Dube returns to the team as a 19 year-old and will undoubtedly play for Canada again at the 2018 World Juniors. I think Kyle Topping is just scratches the surface on his potential. Leif Mattson is an intriguing player. First round bantam pick Kaeden Korczak will be a nice player to watch. The team will likely make two selections in the CHL Import draft and hopefully those two player make an offensive impact.     
  • At the end of the day, this was a great season. Picking up 45 wins in the toughest division in the WHL was impressive. Collecting 95 points, especially when the team was without so many players at the World Junior Hockey Champjonships was a delight to watch. That Christmas road trip where the team, despite being short staffed, surprised even me at how hard they played under rookie head coach Jason Smith.  The overtime win against Regina, at home, was a fun game during a regular season which is often a grind. I really liked this group of players. All the guys were fun to be around.
  • Think about this for a second. The Rockets have played in four consecutive Western Conference championships. In those four seasons, the team has played a total of 360 games (regular season/playoffs combined). Has any other WHL team over that four year span played more?  
  • I will miss Lucas Johansen. Why? He was such a great interview. His calm, pro demeanour in our conversations made it feel like I was talking to a pro. Johansen spoke the truth without throwing anyone under the bus. I really like his personality. Reid Gardiner was also well spoken. In every conversation I had with Reid, he too pro written all over him. The way he spoke, the way he acted around his teammates and the way he prepared, had me believing he was going to be a difference maker when he arrived on the scene in early January. The 21 year-old delivered and set a new playoff franchise record in the process.
  • On this blog post, I want to thank Kent Simpson for his help on the radio broadcasts this season. Simpson knows the game, having played at a high level. He too wanted the team to win but wasn't afraid to call a spade a spade when a player made a mistake. 'Simmer' always brought a smile and a great attitude to the broadcast booth. I also want to thank Gord McGarva for filling in when Kent was away. McGarva was a rock star in game 6 specifically, when on short notice, he had to make some changes in his Sunday plans to be by my side to call the series clincher. McGarva's work on the post game show was exceptional, with great reaction from the three 20 year-old's at the conclusion of the game. I also want to thank you! Ya, you the reader of this blog and for those that listen over the winter to the radio broadcasts on AM 1150. I appreciate your ears at the other end of the radio.     

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rockets worst enemy

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  • The Kelowna Rockets were their worst enemy Friday night at ShoWare Center. In game five of their Western Conference championship series with the Seattle Thunderbirds, the Rockets essentially gave two 'gift goals' to the home team in a 5-3 road loss. Reid Gardiner's uncharacteristic cross ice pass resulted in a breakaway goal from Scott Eansor and then defenceman Devante Stephens fumbled the puck at the T-Birds blue-line, allowing forward Sami Moilanen to skate in and beat Michael Herringer for another breakaway goal seven minutes later. With only 5 shots on net, the T-Birds and their fans were enjoying a 2-0 lead. That was a pretty good start for a Seattle team that really had nothing going on in the opening period. Heck, they were out-shot 17-8 and must have been shaking their heads in amazement at their good fortune. The Rockets did battle back with power play goals from Calvin Thurkauf and Nick Merkley, but then surrendered two goals in a span of 1:20 late in the second period and it was lights out. The fact is, this Rockets team is much better than they showed in game five. Now they find themselves trailing this series 3 games to 2 and facing elimination with the teams season on the line at Prospera Place Sunday afternoon (5:05 pm)
  • In a game dominated by penalty calls and power play chances, the Rockets were awarded several early power play opportunities. As the game went along though, it was the Rockets who had the tables turned on them as they made six consecutive trips to the penalty box. The crucial calls against Tomas Soustal and Lucas Johansen allowed Seattle to score two power play goals in 80 seconds and it was an uphill climb heading into the second intermission.
  • It was a rough night for the Rockets on so many levels. Giving up those two goals early in the first period was only compounded with Michael Herringer's inability to bail his team out. Herringer's success rate in shootout situations in flawless (career 17-17 in shootouts), yet he was beaten twice on backhand breakaway goals. At the other end, rookie Carl Stankowski made no less than four goal saving stops and, for a 5th consecutive game, received significantly more work than his counterpart at the other end. That needs to change, and change immediately if the Rockets season extends beyond Sunday night. Herringer must match Stankowski, save for save, in the game six rematch. But again, Herringer doesn't need to be spectacular, just steady. Stankowski, in this series, must be and has been excellent. 
  • Stankowski has faced 50 more shots than Herringer in this series. The Rockets have fired 175 shots at the T-Birds net in the first five games. Seattle has, on average, been able to generate just 25 shots per game on the 21 year-old goaltender.
  • A scary moment in the second period when forward Kole Lind was hurt after a scrum behind the Rockets net with T-Birds forward Keegan Kolesar. The two started pushing one another and a huge gathering of players saw Lind fall down, with a much bigger Kolesar landing on top of him. Shortly after the two fell to the ice, one of the referee's signaled for medical aid with Rockets athletic therapist Scott Hoyer running out quickly to investigate. You could see blood on the ice as Lind was helped to the dressing room. Thankfully, after a few stitches, the Rockets leading scorer from the regular season was back in the game for the start of the third period.
  • Seattle fans won't like me saying this, but honestly, would you rather I lie to you or speak the truth? With the loss of Ethan Bear following a game three injury to Seattle's marquee defenceman, this series has, or should be slanted significantly in the Kelowna Rockets direction. Prior to Bear's departure, it was a saw-off between these two teams to see who would advance to the WHL final. Bear's loss cannot be understated. Therefore, it stuns me that the T-Birds have the Rockets on the ropes after a game five win. It really does. When I look at the series as a whole, the Rockets have been the better team. I sincerely believe that. I will give the T-Birds credit for being extremely opportunistic. 
  • Bear took the pre-game warm-up Friday night and attempted to shoot the puck. The fracture in his left hand simply does not allow him to following through on a shot. It is sad to see such a great player unable to play in this series. I am all about 'best on best', but Bear's injury after blocking a Reid Gardiner shot is not a short term thing. 
  • Facing elimination, the Rockets will undoubtedly play their best game of the series on Sunday. With so many players having faced elimination squarely in the face, twice, in the 2016 post season, I expect a tremendous effort from the goaltender on-out in game six. Specifically, look for the three 20 year-old's to make significant impacts. I expect Michael Herringer, Reid Gardiner and Rodney Southam to step up, big time, with the prospect of their major junior careers coming to an abrupt end. This Rockets team is too good to go down without swinging.  
  • Nick Merkley, Dillon Dube and Calvin Thurkauf extended their playoff point streaks with goals in game five. Thurkauf is enjoying an 8 game point streak while Merkley and Dube have 7 game point streaks heading into Sunday's showdown.           

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Small goalie comes up large

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  • The smallest player on the ice made the biggest impact in game three of the Western Conference final. A generous 5 foot 9 and a slight 159 pounds, Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender Carl Stankowski made 34 saves in a 2-1 win. The rookie made several solid saves, including a skate blade stop against Calvin Thurkauf and point blank scoring chances on Tomas Soustal and Nolan Foote to name a few. Keegan Kolesar, the T-Birds best skater, opening the scoring essentially halfway through the second period and then potted the game winner with 20 seconds left in regulation time. For a second straight game, the T-Birds were able to win the game in the dying seconds. Ethan Bear scored a power play goal with 11.2 seconds left in regulation time in a 5-4 victory in game one. 
  • As good as Stankowski was last night, secondary chances by the Rockets were few and far between. When you record 35 shots on goal, you must get rebound chances, but the forwards were unwilling to get there in an effort to score a tap-in goal. Again, at this time of the year, style points don't count. I am sure the Rockets coaching staff were not pleased with the execution on the power play, where they manufactured a goal, but it came after missing on six previous chances. The lone goal did come with controversy, but on this night, the home team   should have never needed a video review goal to get them back into the game. 
  • Calvin Thurkauf's goal came with controversy after Nick Merkley's wrist shot missed the net, came quickly off the glass and struck the cross bar behind Stankowski. As the puck was rolling down towards the ice, Thurkauf struck the puck with his stick in mid-air and it looked like it was a high stick. The referee, in a great position, called it a goal. After video review, it was declared a good goal, much to the dismay of Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk. What thoroughly impressed me was Konowalchuk's reaction. After receiving the bad news from the officiating staff, he verbally expressed his anger for less than 5 seconds, then quickly, like a switch went off, the veteran coach quickly regained his composure and had his team looking at 'getting the next one'. Konowalchuk could have gone off the rails. He could have stomped up and down in disagreement. He could have made a massive display on the bench for all to see, but he chose an approach, that I believe, worked in his teams favour. Konowalchuk didn't come unglued and either did his team.  
  • This has been a crazy series. The team that deserves the win has been on the losing end in all three games. I thought the Rockets were the better team in game one. The T-Birds deserved a better fate in game two and suffered a setback. Game three was clearly dominated by the Rockets, yet the T-Birds scored two goals on a season low 14 shots. One thing remains a constant though. The team that opens the scoring ends up winning the game. 
  • While Michael Herringer had a very lite workload, he didn't play poorly by any stretch of the imagination. The 21 year-old made a few point blank stops, including a nice right pad stop on a quick shot that seemed to find Kolesar's stick, who quickly fired it low only to see Herringer kick it out with cat like reflexes. 
  • Seattle fans will disagree because of the discrepancy in power plays (7-1), but the T-Birds deserved the majority, if not all of the penalties they took in game three. Twice, they gifted the Rockets by shooting the puck over the glass for delay of game minor penalties. Sadly, the Rockets couldn't capitalize on those gift wrapped chances. T-Birds  fans may be more confused on how the Rockets, the most penalized team during the regular season, is taking so few trips to the box. All I can say is, with the T-Birds power play looking 'lights out terrific' when they get a chance, the Rockets players know full well that it is hockey suicide to make endless trips to the sin bin.      
  • The Rockets are 5 for 20 (25%) on the power play in this series while the T-Birds are 3 for 8 with the extra man (37.5%).    
  • The line of Calvin Thurkauf, Nick Merkley and Reid Gardiner were primarily matched up against the Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar line in game three. As mentioned, Kolesar scored both goals, but Barzal and Gropp were, for the most part, very quiet in the one goal win. The match-up didn't work entirely though. Reid Gardiner was no where near as effective as he was in games one and two. Gardiner had three shots on goal, but it was the unit of Dillon Dube, Tomas Soustal and Carsen Twarynski that were able to carry the majority of the offensive load. Soustal had a team high 5 shots on net and had several good looks. Dube was also buzzing and exuded the most energy. But at the end of the day, that trio didn't hit the score-sheet outside of Dube picking up an assist on Thurkauf's power play goal.
  • Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland was in the house. Holland, graciously, joined color analyst Kent Simpson in our 1st intermission on AM 1150.
  • The road team has now won back-to-back games in this series. Seattle is now 5-0 on opposition ice in the 2017 playoffs. The Rockets are 5-2 at home. 
  • All three games have been decided by a single goal.
  • Six of the T-Birds 10 goals scored in this series have come in the 3rd period. The Rockets have out-scored Seattle 3-1 in the first period and appear to be the better starting team in all three games. 
  • Game four is tonight at Prospera Place. Talk to you on the radio at 6:30.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rockets/T-Birds tangle in game three

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Tuesday's Preview: Welcome to game three of the Western Conference final. The Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds are tied at one win apiece after the T-Birds won game one (5-4) before the Rockets earned an overtime win (4-3) in game two. Games three and four are at Prospera Place tomorrow and Wednesday with game 5 in Seattle on Friday. In Saturday’s win, Reid Gardiner scored his team leading 15th goal of the season in overtime. The 21 year-old also scored a shorthanded goal in the opening period. The Rockets, twice, had a two goal lead before the T-Birds fought back to tie it. It is the 4th consecutive year that the Kelowna Rockets are appearing in the final four. The team made appearances in 2014 (Lost in 5 games to Portland), in 2015 (Won in 6 games vs. Portland), and in 2016 (Lost to Seattle in 4 straight.) In last season’s WCF, the Rockets lost game one (2-1), game two (3-2), game three (3-1) and game 4 (5-4 in double overtime). During the regular season, the Rockets were 3-1-0-0 against Seattle, out-scoring them 20-10. The Rockets have met the T-Birds in the playoffs in 4 of the last 5 years.

Reid in the record books: Reid Gardiner set a new Kelowna Rockets franchise record Saturday night. Gardiner’s shorthanded goal in game two was his 14th of the playoffs. That sets a new franchise mark set originally by Jamie Benn, when the power forward scored 13 times in the 2009 post season. It was duplicated by Rourke Chartier in 2015. Justin Keller and Jesse Schultz scored 12 goals in a playoff season when the team won WHL titles in 2003 and 2005 respectively. Benn is still the franchise leader for playoff points in one season with 33. 

What’s Happened? The Rockets and T-Birds have each opened the scoring once in the two games…The team that opens the scoring has won both games…These two teams have carried a two goal lead – three times – only to see the opposition fight back and tie it…A goal has been scored with under 30 seconds left in 5 of the 6 periods in regulation time…In 12 of the last 17 playoff meetings between these two teams, the game has been decided by a single goal.

Dare to Compare: The Rockets and T-Birds were separated by only 3 points in the Western Conference standings during the regular season. The Rockets had 95 points while Seattle had 98. The Rockets won 45 games while the T-Birds won 46 times. The Rockets scored the third most goals in the WHL, while Seattle scored 20 fewer times. Both teams surrendered 206 goals against, which were tied for fourth best in the WHL.

Hot as a Pistol: Reid Gardiner is riding a 9 game point streak. The 21 year-old has 14+11=25 over that period….Nick Merkley has points in 7 of his last 8 games. Merkley has 4+9=13 over that period…Dillon Dube has points in 7 of his last 8 games. The 18 year-old has 3+10=13 during that span…Calvin Thurkauf has points in 6 of his last 7 games (6+10=16)…Kole Lind has points in 7 of his last 8 games (4+4=8).  

Refreshed Memory: The Rockets advanced to the third round of the WHL playoffs with a 5 game series win over Portland. Reid Gardiner had 7+9=16 points in the series. The Rockets advanced to the second round with a 6 game series victory over the Kamloops Blazers. Dillon Dube (4+2=6) and Reid Gardiner (5+1=6) were the offensive spark plugs against the Blazers.

Broadcasters Note Book: Reid Gardiner had 2+1=3 in two games against the T-Birds this season….The Rockets are playing in their 86th game of the season tonight….Kyle Topping is not eligible to be drafted until 2018….Nolan Foote is not eligible to be drafted until 2019….Nick Merkley has 61 career WHL playoff points. The franchise leader is Tyson Baillie, who had 63 career playoff points in 64 playoff games…The Rockets are 5-4 in their last 9 playoff appearances at ShoWare Center dating back to the 2013 playoffs…Reid Gardiner is the WHL Player of the Week for a second straight week. Gardiner had 5 points (2+3=5) in games one and two against the T-Birds. Gardiner was also named the CHL and WHL Player of the Week ending April 16th. Gardiner recorded 12 points including 6 goals and 6 assists in three games with a plus rating of +2.

That’s a fact Jack: The Rockets have generated 30 or more shots in 41 of their last 45 games….The Kelowna Rockets lost 10 of their first 21 regular season games. Since then, the team has 16 losses in the last 63 (playoffs included) games…The Rockets are 29-11-2-0 since the trade deadline (playoffs included)…The Rockets have opened the scoring in 10 of the 13 games in this year’s playoffs.


Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Gardiner golden in game two

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  • The Kelowna Rockets haven't lost back to back games in three months. They weren't about to let it happen Saturday night in game two of the Western Conference Champion series with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Reid Gardiner took a pass from Calvin Thurkauf, who stripped Seattle forward Keegan Kolesar of the puck, quickly swooped in and scored less than 5 minutes into overtime in a 4-3 victory. It was Gardiner's 15th goal of the playoffs and second of the game. It was a fitting end for a team that should have frankly won the game late in the third period with several glorious scoring chances. The only thing standing in the Rockets way was T-Birds goaltender Carl Stankowski, who saved his best for last with several sensational stops to keep the score tied at 3. The win evens the series at one win apiece with games three and four back at Prospera Place Tuesday and Wednesday night.
  • While Stankowski was making several sensational saves to send the game into overtime, veteran goaltender Michael Herringer answered the bell with several solid stops of his own. What we witnessed in game two was Herringer 'locked in', with his rebound control significantly better and his battle to find pucks through traffic at an elite level. That wasn't the case in game one. Had he been more himself in the opener, my belief is the Rockets would be heading home up two games to none. If I look at the scoring chances in the opening two games, Stankowski is being forced to make larger saves. Dillon Dube with a point blank chance in the second period in game two. Tomas Soustal with a partial breakaway and Calvin Thurkauf with a clear cut breakaway are just three examples where the Calgary resident has come up large. Herringer has not faced one breakaway in the two games which tells you how good the team is playing on the defensive side of the puck.
  • Gardiner's shorthanded goal late in the first period was his 14th playoff goal. It set a new Kelowna Rockets franchise record, surpassing the old record of 13 goals scored by Jamie Benn in the 2009 post season. Justin Keller (2005) and Jesse Schultz (2003) scored 12 goals in the post season on the way to WHL titles both seasons. Benn holds the franchise record for points in one playoff season with 33 (13+20=33). Gardiner has 27 points in 13 playoff games.
  • Gardiner has a 9 game playoff point streak with 25 points over that stretch. Leon Draisaitl, by comparison, had an 8 game playoff point streak in 2015.  Calvin Thurkauf, who has a 5 game playoff point streak, collected four assists in game two. Thurkauf has 5+8=13 in those 5 games.
  • After taking only two minor penalties in game one, a lack of discipline was a factor in game two. The Rockets took four of the first five penalties, with Kole Lind's cross checking minor and Michael Herringer's roughing penalty being the worst of the bunch. Those are easily avoidable with better composure. 
  • While the Rockets were able to dominate the late stages of the third period, it was the T-Birds that had a good portion of the play in the second frame. The T-Birds had sustained pressure inside the Rockets zone for large portions, yet when the dust had settled, the shots were only 8-5 for the home team. 
  • Seattle Thunderbird beat writer Andy Eide had this gem following game two. Five times in this series, a goal has been scored in the final 30 seconds of a period. In game one, Kole Lind scored with 7 seconds left in the 1st period. Alexander True tied the score at two with a goal with 3 seconds left in the second period. T-Birds d-man Ethan Bear would score the game winner with 12 seconds left in game one. In game two, Reid Gardiner scored a shorthanded goal with 1 second left in the first period before Kole Lind fired home a power play goal with 25 seconds left in the second period. 
  • Seattle's loss last night snapped a winning streak of 9 straight playoff games. The team came within two victories of the Edmonton Oil Kings impressive mark of 11-0-0-0 to start a playoff in 2012.  The Calgary Hitmen went 12-0-0-0 in the 2009 playoffs before losing to.....the Kelowna Rockets.       
  • In 12 of the last 17 playoff games between the Rockets and T-Birds, the game has been decided by one goal. In those 17 playoff games, dating back to the 2013 post season, 7 of those games have been decided in overtime. The Rockets are 3 and 4 in those 7 overtime games. 
  • The Rockets have scored 4 of 8 goals on the power play in the first two games. The T-Birds have scored 3 of  8 goals with the extra man. Of the 8 goals scored, the Rockets have manufactured 4 at even strength while Seattle has 5 even strength goals. 
  • The Rockets are 4 for 13 (30.8%) on the power play in the series while the T-Birds are 3 for 7 with the extra man (42.9%). Seattle has surrendered a shorthanded goal against.
  • Which T-Bird has impressed me the most in the opening two games? Sami Moilanen has looked really effective and plays a skilled yet non passive game despite being just 5 foot 8. I have always liked Turner Ottenbreit, who always plays a heavy game.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Don't let the score fool you

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  • Discipline. Check! Dictating the play. Check! Not allowing the T-Birds top end players to run wild in the offensive zone. Check! A proficient power play. Check! Honestly, not much not to like in the Kelowna Rockets, 5-4, game one loss last night to the Seattle Thunderbirds. It isn't hard to look for positives despite surrendering 5 goals in game one of the Western Conference final. If you only look at the score, it would suggest the Rockets were rotten in their own zone. Fact is they really weren't. They only surrendered 25 shots on goal, with only 15 of them coming in the opening 40 minutes. The Rockets carried a good portion of the play as the T-Birds defencemen had a rough time getting the puck into the hands of its forwards. The game winning goal was scored when Rockets forward Dillon Dube's clearing attempt in his own zone went over the glass for a delay of game penalty. On the ensuing power play, T-Birds d-man Ethan Bear wired a shot over the blocker of goaltender Michael Herringer with 11.2 seconds remaining in the game. 
  • Whether you want to call them mental letdowns or not, the Rockets surrendered goals at terrible times in the game. Alexander True tied the score at two when he found the back of the net with three seconds left in the second period.  On that goal, Michael Herringer must gobble up the original shot and then its a dead play. The shot comes with little velocity, yet the puck hits Herringer's stick harmlessly, bounces back out, where True deposits the rebound. The T-Birds then score their third goal just :52 seconds into the third period. Three minutes later they get another one from a long range point shot that Herringer kicks aside with his right bad, but again can't contain the rebound, which T-Birds Sami Moilanen deposits into the net and its a 4-2 game. Give the Rockets credit for not quitting though. Back-to-back power play goals from Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf tied the score before Dube's minor penalty with two minutes left in the game proved costly. 
  • So what am I suggesting here? Quit beating around the bush Bartel! No one man is to blame for a loss. Devante Stephens must be more determined in not allowing Seattle's Turner Ottenbreit to get his stick on a puck to score the T-Birds third goal. Ottenbreit had 7 goals during the regular season. What is he doing going hard to the net and deflecting a puck past Herringer? That's why playoffs are special. Players do uncharacteristic things in an effort to win. Dube's minor penalty looked like it could have be avoidable as the marquee forward appeared to have enough time to send the puck to centre ice without a significant amount of pressure. But hey, those are mistakes over the course of the game. They happen. I thought Michael Herringer could have been better considering the very light workload in game one. Visually, he didn't seem 'locked in'. Goaltending is such an easy area to pick apart because you are so exposed. That said, it needs to be better with the type of effort his teammates gave in front of him. The Rockets game one effort and execution was clearly good enough to pick up a road victory. Live, learn and move on. You must in playoff hockey.
  • Another terrific effort by the Rockets top four defencemen. James Hilsendager, Lucas Johansen, Gordie Ballhorn and Devante Stephens logged huge minutes and played very well. Sure, they are a combined -5, but I will take their effort any day of the week. Assistant Coach Kris Mallette did a great job of keeping those four as fresh as they could be and the forwards deserve credit for helping in the defensive zone. Playing without Cal Foote, who served game three of a three game suspension against Portland, those four didn't take one minor penalty and were extremely careful in not taking stick fouls. That is asking a lot to be playing with only four defencemen (Rookie d-man Conrad Belcourt had a rare shift) against an elite forward group like the T-Birds employ. Foote will be a welcome addition in game two, specifically on a power play that misses his booming shot and his offensive awareness. 
  • If you can limit Ryan Gropp, Mathew Barzal and Keegan Kolesar to a combined four points, you are going to win more games than not. This game was 'gettable' for the road team, who kept those three marquee players in line. You can't totally eliminate those three from the offensive equation. They are too darn good. But if you can limit them, which the Rockets did last night, you have a fighting chance.
  • Enough about Herringer. I had a first hand look at 17 year-old Seattle rookie goaltender Carl Stankowski. Clearly he is one of the best goalies in his age group and the save he made on Devante Stephens on a partial breakaway chance, while shorthanded, in the dying seconds of the game was huge. While Stankowski is beatable, for me, it always come down to timely saves. Who makes the timely save and who doesn't. It often is the difference between a win and a loss.
  • For the majority of the game, Dillon Dube found himself playing against Mathew Barzal's unit. I thought Dube, Carsen Twarynski and Tomas Soustal did a terrific job against them. The Dube line, often times, carried the play and forced the Barzal trio to play defense.   
  • Reid Gardiner has a point in 8 straight playoff games. The 21 year-old leads the WHL in playoff goals with 13. Gardiner had 1+2=3 in a losing cause.
  • Nick Merkley earned an assist, giving him 60 career playoff points, which is three shy of franchise leader Tyson Baillie.
  • The five goals the Rockets surrendered in game one was the most they allowed in the 2017 post season. 
  • The T-Birds took 11 trips to the penalty box in a four game sweep of Everett. They took 7 trips to the penalty box in game one.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Veteran vs.rookie

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The Kelowna Rockets may be considered the underdog in their Western Conference final rematch from last season, but they do have an advantage in a goal heading into game one Friday night at ShoWare Center.

Veteran Michael Herringer will play in his 34th career playoff game when his team takes to the ice in game one.

The 21 year-old is up for the challenge.

 "Last year didn't go the way we all wanted. When we heard when were playing Seattle we very pretty excited to get another crack at them".

Herringer's counterpart at the other end of the ice is expected to be rookie goalie Carl Stankowski. The 17 year-old is 8 and 0 for the T-Birds in the 2017 playoffs, with a 2.24 goals against average after taking over the duties from 20 year-old Rylan Toth, who was injured late in the season.

Stankowski will be playing in his 9th career playoff game on Friday, which is 25 fewer games than Herringer has under his belt.

The soft spoken Rockets goaltender has been excellent in the WHL playoffs, posting a goals against average of 2.18 which includes two shutouts.  

"We have a lot of guys that have been here for three years now and have gone to the finals and played in the Western Conference finals. It helps a lot when you get put into tougher situations when you go far in the playoffs that you know how to handle them and it isn't a foreign feeling".  

The seasononed veteran against the raw rookie in the most critical position on the ice.

The fun begins Friday night.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Things that make me go hmm

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  • This series between the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds features three first round NHL selections. Nick Merkley (1st round Arizona), Mathew Barzal (1st round Islanders) and Lucas Johansen (1st round Washington) are three marquee players that will make an impression in this series. 
  • Depth isn't a weakness with either team. The T-Birds have played three fewer playoff games than the Rockets, yet have 8 players with three or more goals. The Rockets have 6 players with three or more goals.
  • This series features several WHL 1st round bantam picks. The T-Birds have four regulars that were taken in the opening round. Mathew Barzal, Keegan Kolesar, Ryan Gropp and Jarrett Tyszka are all 1st rounders. The Rockets have Nick Merkley and Dillon Dube along with Reid Gardiner, who was a first round bantam pick of the PA Raiders in 2011, two picks after the T-Birds picked Ryan Gropp at #6.
  • What a great story just turned 17 year-old rookie goaltender Carl Stankowski has been for the T-Birds. Stankowski has played in every playoff game because of an injury to Rylan Toth. The Calgary product is the youngest goalie the Rockets have faced and also the smallest. Stankowski is only 5'9 and 159 pounds. Stankowski is a 2nd round WHL bantam pick, so is highly regarded as a type flight goaltender in his age group. 
  • The Rockets will have to key on several player in this series. Mathew Barzal is the obvious focal point, but 19 year-old Keegan Kolesar has been terrific so far in the playoffs. The Columbus Blue Jackets 3rd rounder had 11 points in a first round series sweep of Tri City and cooled off a bit with 3+3=6 in a four game sweep of Everett in the second round.  In last years Western Conference final, Kolesar had just 1 goal in a 4 game sweep of the Rockets.
  • These two rosters are even when it comes to age. Both teams have three 20 year-old's. That typically is no surprise. That said, both teams have 8-19 year-old's and 5-18 year-old players.
  • Why do I like 19 year-old Kelowna Rockets d-man James Hilsendager so much? It has to do with the fact that he is from Lloydminster......Saskatchewan! Nope, not Lloydminster Alberta. Of course, Lloydminster has the distinction of straddling the Alberta/Saskatchewan border.  
  • Can you name the number of former Rockets participating in the NHL playoffs? Shea Weber (Montreal), Duncan Keith (Chicago), Colton Sissons (Nashville), Vern Fiddler (Nashville), Michael Backlund (Calgary) and Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton) are the 6 Rockets alumni playing in the post season. Fiddler has been out with an upper body injury.
  • Discipline will be needed if the Rockets want to hang tough with the T-Birds. If they let it slip of the rails, like they did a few times against the Winterhawks, they will pay dearly for it. The T-Birds have a post season power play that is running at 37.9%. The Tips are 11 for 29 in back-to-back sweeps over the Americans and Tips. In the seasonal series, the T-Birds scored 6 power play goals on 18 chances for a success rate of 33.3%. The Rockets power play, conversely struggled, running at 8.3% in the four games, scoring once in 12 opportunities. 
  • Ryan Gropp led the T-Birds offensively in the seasonal series with 5+2=7 in four games. Ethan Bear had 2+4=6 while Mathew Barzal had 0+6=6 against the Rockets. 
  • The Seattle Thunderbirds have a Kelowna connection on their roster. Nineteen year-old Anthony Bishop was acquired from the Saskatoon Blades earlier this season. Bishop played his minor hockey at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy before being listed by the Blades. Bishop was eventually traded to the T-Birds September 17th for goaltender Logan Flodell.  
  • I had to chuckle when a member of the Seattle Thunderbird media did some searching into the Everett Silvertips claim that they were significantly younger heading into their second round playoff series against the T-Birds. Fact was, Everett was slightly older or depending on who was in the line-up, the teams were essentially equal in age. Again, just because the coach says it doesn't necessarily mean that it indeed is true.   

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rockets/T-Birds tangle

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Series Preview: Welcome to the Western Conference final. It is the 4th consecutive year that the Kelowna Rockets are appearing in the final four. The team made appearances in 2014 (Lost in 5 games to Portland), in 2015 (Won in 6 games vs. Portland), and in 2016 (Lost to Seattle in 4 straight.) In last season’s WCF, the Rockets lost game one (2-1), game two (3-2), game three (3-1) and game 4 (5-4 in double overtime). During the regular season, the Rockets were 3-1-0-0 against Seattle, out-scoring them 20-10. Nick Merkley led the team with 1+5=6 in the four games while Calvin Thurkauf had 5+0=5. Rookie Kyle Topping earned his first career WHL hat trick against the T-Birds. Michael Herringer had a goals against average of 2.25 and a save percentage of .922 in the four games.  The Rockets were 2-0-0-0 at home and 1-1-0-0 in Seattle. The lone win at ShoWare Center was October 22, 2016 in a 5-1 victory. The Rockets have met the T-Birds in the playoffs in 4 of the last 5 years.  The Rockets do not have home ice advantage in this series. It is the third of four times in the Western Conference final that they have failed to have home ice.

Dare to Compare: The Rockets and T-Birds were separated by only 3 points in the Western Conference standings during the regular season. The Rockets had 95 points while Seattle had 98. The Rockets won 45 games while the T-Birds won 46 times. The Rockets scored the third most goals in the WHL, while Seattle scored 20 fewer times. Both teams surrendered 206 goals against, which were tied for fourth best in the WHL.

Hot as a Pistol: Reid Gardiner is riding a 7 game point streak. The 21 year-old has 11+9=20 over that period….Nick Merkley has points in 5 of his last 6 games. Merkley has 3+8=11 over that period…Dillon Dube has points in 5 of his last 6 games. The 18 year-old has 3+8=11 during that span…Calvin Thurkauf has points in 4 of his last 5 games (5+5=10)…Kole Lind has points in 5 of his last 6 games (2+4=6).  

Refresh my Memory: The Rockets advanced to the third round of the WHL playoffs with a 5 game series win over Portland. Reid Gardiner had 7+9=16 points in the games. The Rockets advanced to the second round with a 6 game series victory over the Kamloops Blazers. Dillon Dube (4+2=6) and Reid Gardiner (5+1=6) were the offensive spark plugs against the Blazers.

Broadcasters Notebook: Cal Foote will serve game three of a three game suspension for an elbow to the head of Portland forward Skyler McKenzie in game three of a second round series….Carsen Twarynski returns to the line-up after serving a one game suspension for a hit in game four against the Winterhawks…Reid Gardiner had 2+1=3 in two games against the T-Birds this season….The Rockets are playing in their 84th game of the season….Kyle Topping is not eligible to be drafted until 2018….Nolan Foote is not eligible to be drafted until 2019….Nick Merkley has 59 career WHL playoff points. The franchise leader is Tyson Baillie, who had 63 career playoff points in 64 playoff games…The Rockets are 4-3 in their last 7 playoff appearances at ShoWare Center dating back to the 2013 playoffs.

Season in Review: The Rockets finished in 2nd place in the BC Division with 95 points this season. The team was 45-22-5-0, which was good for 6th place in the overall WHL standings. The team scored the third most goals in the WHL (283) and tied with Seattle for the 4th fewest goals against. The team scored 14 more goals and allowed 12 fewer against than in 2015-2016. The Rockets had the third best power play in the WHL and the 9th best penalty killing unit. Cal Thurkauf led the team in goals with 33. Kole Lind had a team high 57 assists while Lind was the scoring leader with 87 points.  Nick Merkley led the team with 12 power play goals. Cal Foote had a team high +39 rating. Rodney Southam had a team leading 121 penalty minutes. Forward Kole Lind was named a Western Conference 2nd team all-star. At the teams annual year end awards, Calvin Thurkauf was the MVP, Cal Foote was the Top Defenceman and Nolan Foote was the Rookie of the Year.  

That’s a fact Jack: The Rockets have generated 30 or more shots in 39 of their last 43 games….The Kelowna Rockets lost 10 of their first 21 regular season games. Since then, the team has 15 losses in the last 61 (playoffs included) games…The Rockets are 28-10-2-0 since the trade deadline…The Rockets have opened the scoring in 9 of the 11 games in this year’s playoffs…James Hilsendager and Nick Merkley lead the Rockets in +/- with +9’s in the 2017 playoffs.


Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Gardiner Gargantuan in series win

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  • Chuck Kobasew. Jamie Benn. Myles Bell. Rourke Chartier. Reid Gardiner. What do all five have in common? All have the ability to shoot the puck with elite velocity. All five will undoubtedly go down as some of the best 'pure shooters' ever to wear a Kelowna Rockets uniform. Reid Gardiner officially joined that list last night with a 6 point game (4+2=6) in lifting his team to a 6-2 win over the Portland Winterhawks. Gardiner scored three of his goals on the power, but all four of his goals came courtesy of an uncanny release that gives goaltenders fits. Just ask Winterhawks goaltender Cole Kehler, who saw the 21 year-old score 7 times on him in only five games. The Rockets eliminate Portland 4 games to 1 and now advance to the Western Conference final for a 4th consecutive season. The Winterhawks made an amazing 5 consecutive appearances in the Western Conference final. The Rockets opponent in the third round is a rematch of last years WCF with the Seattle Thunderbirds. The T-Birds swept the Everett Silvertips in four quick games.
  • Reid Gardiner was heads and tails the best player on the ice Friday night. Without Gardiner's wicked wrister, could the Rockets be on a bus today headed to Portland for game 6? Don't let the 6-2 score fool you. Despite owning the opening period with a three goal outburst, the Winterhawks battled back with two goals of their own and carried the momentum into the final frame. The Rockets, who have been a solid third period team this season, were able to find their game and played it about as tactically perfect as you can before scoring back-to-back goals in 95 seconds to seal the win. While only registering 11 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes, the teams 'puck management' was much better and they pecked away at a slim one goal lead. Give the Winterhawks created for not folding though. Down 3-0 only 12 minutes in the game, it could have been lights out. The Winterhawks did not relent.  
  • Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier receives credit for this gem. How good was the Rockets top line of Calvin Thurkauf, Reid Gardiner and Nick Merkley? The trio combined for 15 goals and 35 points in the five games.
  • Jamie Benn is the franchise leader in points in a playoff season. The then 19 year-old had 33 playoff points in 19 games during the 2009 post season. Gardiner has 22 points after 11 post season games.
  • Nick Merkley looks like Nick Merkley. The old Nick Merkley if you know what I mean? The 19 year-old was tenacious on the puck for the entire series and played a bullish game for a player who stands 5'11 and a stocky 185 pounds. I thought the Arizona Coyotes first rounder looked the part in this series with his dominant play. I can't think of one player who consistently worked harder over the course of the 5 games in the series. Oh, lets don't forget that Merkley, who missed all of last years playoffs with knee surgery, is 2nd-all time on the Kelowna Rockets playoff points leader list with 59 in 51 post season games. Merkley had 11 points in this series alone. Tyson Baillie is the franchise leader with 63 career playoff points. 
  • The Rockets again went with primarily four defenceman in game five. Hats off to Lucas Johansen, Devante Stephens, Gordie Ballhorn and James Hilsendager. Those four were HUGE in games four and five and deserve much credit. I thought Johansen was wickedly good. Often appearing almost too casual, the Washington Capitals first rounder is smart with and without the puck. Johansen makes the smart plays and is not often guilty of turning over the puck. 
  • The biggest surprise for me continues to be the evolution of James Hilsendager. Was it a confidence issue with the Regina Pats before he was acquired in the Jonathan Smart trade in October? The 19 year-old is the most physical defender on the Rockets roster and his two massive hits early in game 5 set the tone. I thought Hilsendager was a spare part in the Smart deal, which included the Rockets picking up 17 year-old Eric Gardiner. Where would the Rockets be without Hilsendager's acquisition? Something clicked in his game at some point this season and he continues to look better and better with every game.
  • The Rockets power play scored 10 times in this series. It clipped along at a success rate of 37%. This series was won on the power play and the solid play of the penalty kill can't be overlooked either. The power play proficiency will need to continue in round three, but the teams five on five play will need to generate more goals against a very good Seattle team.
  • A stick tap to the Kelowna Rockets organization for awarded the Portland Winterhawks three 20 year-old's with the three stars at the conclusion of last night's game.  
  • A solid crowd last night of over 58 hundred fans at Prospera Place. I loved how they all stood up in the final minute of the game, applauding the team as they retained puck possession as time ticked down. 
  • The Rockets fired 200 shots at the Winterhawks net in the five games. That is an average of 40 shots per game. Goaltender Cole Kehler's goals against average in the series was a hefty 4.35, yet he made several solid saves in the series.
  • The Rockets played game four and five without defenceman Cal Foote. Foote has served two games of a three game suspension for an elbow to the chin of Winterhawks forward Skyler McKenzie. Carsen Twarynski also missed Friday's game after serving a one game suspension after a late hit on Portland captain Keegan Iverson in game four.
  • It is interesting that two teams that almost won their respective divisions are now meeting in the Western Conference final. The Rockets lost by a single point to the BC Divisional regular season champion Prince George Cougars. The T-Birds lost out by two points to U.S Division regular season champion Everett. Now the Tips and Cougars are on the outside looking in while the Rockets and T-Birds continue to play in mid April.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

Game 5 preview

Tonight’s Preview: It is game five of the Kelowna Rockets second round playoff series with the Portland Winterhawks. The Rockets lead the series 3 games to 1. If a game 6 is necessary, it will be played Sunday night at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. These two teams are meeting for the 6th time in post season play. In the 2015 Western Conference final, the Rockets won in six games. The Winterhawks have ended the Rockets season in 2014, 2012 and again in 2011. That’s why this rivalry is so alive and well between two teams that met only four times this season. In those four games, the Rockets were 3-1-0-0. The only loss came January 28th, at Prospera Place, when the Winterhawks stormed back and scored the game winning goal with 4 second left in regulation time in a 5-4 victory. The Rockets advanced to the second round with a game 6 series victory over the Kamloops Blazers. The Winterhawks also advanced with a 6 game series win over the Prince George Cougars.

WHL hands down discipline: Cal Foote will again miss tonight’s game after being slapped with a three game suspension for an elbow to the head of Winterhawks forward Skyler McKenzie in game three. Foote sat out game four. Forward Carsen Twarynski also won’t play tonight after being suspended after receiving a 5 minute major penalty and game misconduct for boarding in game four.

Game 1 Recap: Calvin Thurkauf scored once and added two assists in a 4-2 win. The Rockets exploded for four straight second period goals in the win. The Winterhawks scored back-to-back goals in the third period to make it interesting, despite being out-shot 54-29. In fact, the Winterhawks generated more shots in the third period (17) than the first-two periods combined (12). Dillon Dube, Kole Lind and Reid Gardiner also scored in the victory, while going 1 for 4 on the power play. The Winterhawks were 1 for 5. 
Game 2 Recap: Nick Merkley scored twice and added an assist in the Rockets 5-2 win. Kole Lind, Tomas Soustal and James Hilsendager also scored in the three goal win. It was Hilsendager’s first career playoff goal and first playoff game winning goal. The Rockets were 1/7 on the power play and were 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. The Rockets out-shot the Winterhawks 43-25.
Game 3 Recap: Calvin Thurkauf scored twice, both on the power play, in a 4-2 loss. The Winterhawks erupted for three-second period goals in the win. The Rockets were 2 for 4 on the power play while the Winterhawks were 1 for 5. The shots were tied at 30 apiece. 
Game 4 Recap: Reid Gardiner scored twice and added two assists in the Rockets 7-2 win. Calvin Thurkauf had three points (2+1=3) along with Nick Merkley (1+2=3). Rodney Southam and Carsen Twarynski also scored. The Rockets were 2 for 3 on the power play and killed off 3 of 5 Winterhawks power plays. 

Round One Review: The Kelowna Rockets defeated the Kamloops Blazers 4 games to 2 in the opening round of the WHL playoffs. The Rockets won games one, two, four and six. Reid Gardiner led the way with 5 goals in the series, including a three goal game in a game 6 4-2 win. Dillon Dube was arguably the most consistent with 4 goals and 6 points in the 6 games. The Rockets out-shot the Blazers in 5 of the 6 games, with the shots tied in one game. The Rockets opened the scoring in 5 of the 6 games.

Season in Review: The Rockets finished in 2nd place in the BC Division with 95 points this season. The team was 45-22-5-0, which was good for 6th place in the overall WHL standings. The team scored the third most goals in the WHL (283) and tied with Seattle for the 4th fewest goals against. The team scored 14 more goals and allowed 12 fewer against than in 2015-2016. The Rockets had the third best power play in the WHL and the 9th best penalty killing unit. Cal Thurkauf led the team in goals with 33. Kole Lind had a team high 57 assists while Lind was the scoring leader with 87 points.  Nick Merkley led the team with 12 power play goals. Cal Foote had a team high +39 rating. Rodney Southam had a team leading 121 penalty minutes. Forward Kole Lind was named a Western Conference 2nd team all-star. At the teams annual year end awards, Calvin Thurkauf was the MVP, Cal Foote was the Top Defenceman and Nolan Foote was the Rookie of the Year.  

That’s a fact Jack: The Rockets have generated 30 or more shots in 38 of their last 42 games….The Kelowna Rockets lost 10 of their first 21 regular season games. Since then, the team has 15 losses in the last 60 (playoffs included) games…The Rockets are 27-10-2-0 since the trade deadline.

Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Not surprised at game 3 outcome

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  • Am I surprised at last night's game three result? Honestly, no. Why? We knew the Portland Winterhawks are a better team than what they showed in games 1 and 2. You don't win 40 games by fluke my friends. The urgency level would also be higher for the home team in an effort not to go down 3-0 in this series. The third reason I wasn't surprised at last night's Winterhawks 4-2 win was the Rockets inability to kick an opponent when they are down. We
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    saw it in game three of an opening round series against the Kamloops Blazers when the Rockets won the opening two games. The Rockets lost game three - 4-1. The two game 3's are eerily similar. The Blazers opened the scoring in game three. The Rockets tied it. The Blazers would score three-second period goals. Sound familiar now? Last night, the execution was off. The race to loose pucks were lost and the team just didn't play with the type of jam you need to win. The Winterhawks were the better team without question and were full marks for getting back in this series. For my money, tonight, in game four, is the real indicator of where this series is headed.   
  • The Winterhawks had more puck possession in game three than maybe they had in games 1 and 2. Ok, that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Portland had the puck more after chasing it when this series opened. I thought they did a better job of shot blocking and we saw, for the first time in this series, the d-core joining the rush and creating scoring chances. A good indicator was Keoni Texeira joining the attack less than 2 minutes into the first period and Caleb Jones was better with a goal and an assist. I thought Jones made better calculated decision and didn't try to do too much, which got him into trouble in the first two games. The Winterhawks forecheck, which was non-existent in game 1 and 2 because they never had the puck was solid. It was the little men that were doing the heavily lifting in that department. Ryan Hughes was buzzing around and Skyler MacKenzie was effective. Again, it all added up to a solid home ice win 
  • Calvin Thurkauf scored two power play goals, but this game may have been lost on the power play. Why? The back breaking goal for me was the shorthanded goal from MacKenzie with :57 seconds left in the second period. If the Rockets score, it's a 3-2 deficit. Instead, the 'shorty' gives the Winterhawks a 4-1 advantage going into the final 20 minutes. The goal was like shoving a nail into a rubber tube. The air came out and the fate of game three was sealed. Portland managed the puck well in the third, which all good teams do with a three goal lead, and the the hometown crowd celebrated with their first victory of the series.   
  • The elbow. Rockets d-man Cal Foote delivered an elbow to the face of Winterhawks forward Skyler MacKenzie with 40 seconds left in the game. The two were racing for a loose puck inside the Rockets zone against the boards. As Foote approached the puck, he saw MacKenzie coming and blatantly stuck out his elbow. The much smaller MacKenzie (5'8 160) went down quickly and Foote was accessed a 'hit to the head' minor penalty. It could have been more than just a 2 minute minor penalty and Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston rightfully let the officiating staff know. Will MacKenzie play in game four or does he sit out for concussion prodigal? Does Foote have a conversation with the WHL office? I don't think we've heard the last of this story.
  • While Cole Kehler was named the 1st star in last night's game, I thought it was his lightest workload of the series. The 19 year-old made 28 saves, but his biggest was a glove hand stop on Dillon Dube when the game was scoreless. Had Dube scored, what direction would the game have taken? It is the timely saves that are often the difference between winning and losing. Scoring the first goal doesn't hurt either. The team that has scored the opening goal has won all three games.
  • Winterhawks Head Coach Mike Johnston told me before game three that he thought his team was flat because of the extensive travel his team experienced in an opening round series with the Prince George Cougars. I am buying what he is selling. I don't see it as a lame excuse. If a coach makes a lame excuse for losing, I won't be afraid to call him out on this blog - trust me!
  • The Rockets coaching staff pointed out that they thought the best skater for them was rookie Kyle Topping. Topping was rewarded in the third period when he was seen playing alongside Dillon Dube and Carsen Twarynski. Topping was finishing checks and playing 'the right way'. But if Topping is your best player, that isn't a very good sign of the commitment of the older group on your roster that has to be at its best at this time of the year. I expect them to answer the bell tonight in game four. 
  • It was nice to see some familiar faces at last night's game. I ran into many Winterhawks fans that enjoy our broadcasts and like talking hockey. One gentleman even asked me if colour analyst Kent Simpson made the trip to Portland. That he did not. Simpson does have a day job. The one person I wish I was able to share a few minutes with last night was John Kirby. Kirby shockingly passed away in February at only 63. Man life sucks and is so short. That is why my mantra in life is to treat people right.  
  • I want to thank Todd Vrooman and Andy Kemper for joining me the last couple of games in an effort to give me and my listeners a Portland Winterhawks perspective on what they see in this series. Both are knowledgeable, outspoken and opinionated. I even attempted to goat Todd  into saying something positive about the Seattle Thunderbirds. Nothing! He spun it well, though ,saying the T-Birds are guided by a solid head coach who was a great Portland Winterhawks player. Well played.  
  • Regardless of the outcome of game four tonight at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I will not be posting a blog entry on a recap of the game. I am traveling back to Kelowna for game five on Friday and the turnaround time is just too quick. 
  • I want to thank whoever put the words 'Veterans Memorial Coliseum' on the top of the score-clock. For whatever reason, I struggle saying those three words in a sentence.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Rockets in drivers seat


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  • 97. That is the number of shots the Kelowna Rockets have fired at the Portland Winterhawks net in the first two games of their Western Conference semi final series. The scary thing is that total could be well over 100 if the Rockets hadn't passed up glorious shooting opportunities in a 5-2 win Saturday night at Prospera Place. Nick Merkley, the best skater on the ice, scored back-to-back empty net goals late in the game to go alongside his one assist for first star honours after a three point night. But even if you throw the goals aside, the 19 year-old dominated the play and was tenacious with the puck and determined in an effort to get it back. It may have been his best game of the post season, but in saying that, the Arizona Coyotes first rounder hasn't exactly had too many invisible games in this playoff run. Reid Gardiner and Dillon Dube each had two assists as the Rockets took a 2-0 lead in this series, with games three and four in Portland Tuesday and Wednesday night.
  • You knew the Winterhawks would make tactical changes in game two. They had too after being thoroughly outplayed for the majority of game one. The positives for the visitors were: 1) Fewer odd man rushes surrendered. 2) A slight reduction in the number of blatant turnovers in their own zone. While the Rockets played fewer minutes in Portland's end than they did in game one, I thought the quality of chances were still there. The Rockets were their own worst enemy in Saturday's rematch by passing up shooting chances. Kole Lind had a tremendous chance but passed, Nick Merkley thinking pass 99% of the time and even trigger happy Calvin Thurkauf, on a two on one with Merkley in the third period, passed the puck with no shot taken. Until the Rockets show a propensity to shoot on a two-on-one, I'm playing pass the entire way. The only player to consistently shoot the puck on a two-on-one is Reid Gardiner. God bless him! 
  • Kole Lind has outplayed Cody Glass in the battle of the top two forwards in this series eligible for June's NHL draft. Lind had another goal, a wicked wrist shot that beat Winterhawks goaltender Cole Kehler blocker side. Lind's goal opened the scoring. Glass had no less than two great looks but missed the net on both occasions. At the end of the night, Glass is a -3 in the game, but remember, two of those were empty net goals from Nick Merkley. 
  • I thought Lucas Johansen, again, had a solid game. What I liked about Johansen on this night was his propensity to shoot the puck. The 19 year-old must have had a season high number of shot attempts. The Washington Capitals first rounder was rewarded with a blast from the blue-line in the second period, when his shot was tipped home by teammate Tomas Soustal. I am crediting Johansen's father, Randall, for saying something to his son  before the game. The message was, 'shoot that thing'.     
  • Speaking of shooting, while several forwards were reluctant, the d-men were the exact opposite. James Hilsendager's game winning goal came off a seeing eye wrister from the blue-line that found it's way past Kehler thanks to a tremendous screen from captain Rodney Southam. It was Hilsendager's first career playoff goal and first career playoff game winner.  
  • Let's tip the cap to Rockets defenceman Devante Stephans. After dangerously going into the corner boards in game one after a hit from Winterhawks forward Brad Ginnell, the 19 year-old was surprisingly back in the line up for game two and didn't miss a beat. I thought 'Devo' was terrific. The Buffalo Sabres draft pick was shooting the puck without hesitation and showed no signs of favouring an injury.  
  • I liked the fact that the Winterhawks took two trips to the penalty box for 'interference on the goaltender.' I thought they got away with it in game one, but referee's Mike Campbell and Mark Pearce were much better at recognizing it and calling it.  
  • I thought Cole Kehler was again fine in the Winterhawks net. The dude deserved a star in game one more than he did in game two and is not the reason why the visitors dropped back-to-back games at Prospera Place. I thought Skyler MacKenzie stood out and had good jump in his step and I again liked Colton Veloso. Veloso's assist on Joachim Blichfeld's goal was all about determination with the puck and beating a solid defenceman in Cal Foote to the outside. Caleb Jones tried to make things happen, but I thought he was more effective in game one. Jones led all skaters with just over 30 minutes of ice time, three minutes more than the Rockets ice time leader - Lucas Johansen. 
  • The Rockets have opened the scoring in both games, have had the lead after 40 minutes and have out-shot the Winterhawks in both games. 
  • See you in Portland Tuesday night. I always look forward to my visits there and calling games at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. I honestly enjoy the Moda more, but the classic arena has old school charm that today's new arena's simple can not match.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Kehler keeps it close in Rockets win

Cole Kehler - www.shootthebreeze.ca
  • Calvin Thurkauf's longest goalless streak this season was 7 games. The 19 year-old Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick wasn't going to allow that to happen again in the 2017 WHL playoffs. Failing to score in an opening round, 6 game series win over the Kamloops Blazers, the power forward opened the scoring and the floodgates in the Kelowna Rockets 4-2 win last night over the Portland Winterhawks. Thurkauf worked his way from the right corner and fired a shot to the glove side of Winterhawks goalie Cole Kehler. It was the first of what would be four quick strikes by the Rockets, who also received goals from Reid Gardiner, Kole Lind and Dillon Dube. While firing 54 shots on net, the Rockets grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best of 7 series with game two tonight at Prospera Place.
  • Without the solid play of Winterhawks goaltender Cole Kehler, specifically in the opening two periods, the score could have been 6-0 after 2 periods. The fact is you need your goaltender to give you a chance and Kehler did that in spades. In a sense, I was surprised at how dominant the Rockets were in the opening 40 minutes when they owned the puck and only allowed the Winterhawks 12 shots on goal. I didn't think the ice would be so tilted in the opener. 
  • The number of odd man rushes the Rockets created and the number of turnovers by Portland in their own zone was staggering. The Rockets fore-check was lethal. The Winterhawks like to activate their d-men into the rush, but they were unable too because they were continually defending. I thought the line of Reid Gardiner, Calvin Thurkauf and Nick Merkley were especially effective by hunting down pucks in the offensive zone and spending a considerable amount of time creating scoring chances.
  • As lopsided as the shot clock and territorial play was after 40 minutes, the Winterhawks had a chance to make it a game in the third period. I noticed the change in play about three minutes into the third period. The Rockets didn't manage the puck well with a 4-0 lead and the pace of the game turned into a mad scramble, which played into the hands of the visitors. The coaches call it a 'track meet'. The Winterhawks would get a Brad Ginnell goal at the midway point of the third period and then found the back of the net when leading scorer Cody Glass sent a pass in front of the net that glanced off a Rockets player and behind Herringer. From there, in a game that looked like it was in full control, it was a mad dash to the finish before the buzzer finally sounded.
  • Keegan Iverson didn't score a goal in game one, but he was noticeable by standing in front of Rockets goaltender Michael Herringer all night long and making life miserable. I often thought contact was made by Iverson on Herringer, but no call was ever made for goaltender interference. And honestly, if the officials are not going to call a penalty with Iverson crowding the crease, the 21 year-old should stand there all day. That's exactly what he did. 
  • Speaking of Herringer, the veteran goaltender made two nice stops when the Winterhawks were threatening late in the third period. Everyone will talk about the glove hand stop he made off of Skyler MacKenzie, but I thought his right pad save on Evan Weinger on a Portland power play, when he had to slide across from his left to this right, was a significant stop. Herringer was dialed in despite limited work in the opening 40 minutes.  
  • I was really looking forward to watching Kole Lind and Cody Glass in a match-up of two players eligible for June's NHL draft. It is fair to say Lind was significantly more visible with a goal and an assist. Glass wasn't around the puck much last night, mainly because he was caught playing defense. It is hard to be dynamic offensively when you and your teammates are checking. Glass did pick up a goal when his centering feed went off a Rockets player to make it a 4-2 score.
  • The Rockets did lose defenceman Devante Stephens when the 19 year-old was hit in the corner in the second period. Stephens, who in my books is a top 4 d-man, seemed to twist his wrist as he went into the boards awkwardly. 'Devo' never returned and I would be surprised if he plays in game two tonight. 
  • Who was the best skater for the Winterhawks? Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but I thought Colton Veloso had a strong game. I thought he was consistently around pucks and had the most jump of anyone on Portland's roster.     
  • If I'm head coach Mike Johnston, the positive I take out of this game is the play of Cole Kehler and the third period flurry, They need to persuade the Rockets to play that style if they have a chance in this series. 
  • The paid attendance at last night's game was slightly over 5 thousand.  That said, visually there was nowhere near that many fans in the stands. It is a little surprising at this time of the year and with an arch playoff rival in town, shouldn't close to a sellout be realized? Before we throw the baby out with the bath water, let's see what type of crowd shows up for tonight's rematch.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Things that make me go hmm

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  • One of the great match-ups to watch in this series is Kelowna Rockets forward Dillon Dube against Portland Winterhawks defenceman Caleb Jones. Jones took a gold medal away from Dube when Team USA beat Team Canada in the championship game at the World Junior Hockey Championship in January. I am sure Dube would like to settle the score as the two players clash in game one of the Western Conference semi final tomorrow night at Prospera Place. But this likely won't be the last battle between these two marquee players. Dube is a second round NHL draft pick of the Calgary Flames while Jones is a 4th rounder of the Edmonton Oilers. Could the two face one another in the 'Battle of Alberta' down the road?
  • This really stood out for me. In the Winterhawks opening round series with the Prince George Cougars, in three separate games, Portland was able to score quickly after the Cougars found the back of the net. In game one, the Winterhawks scored :50 seconds after the Cougars did. In game four, Portland scored ;59 seconds after Prince George was able to get a puck past goaltender Cole Kehler. In game 6, the Cougars scored only to see the Winterhawks respond 1:07 minutes after. Is that just coincidence or shire luck? I don't think so. Either the Cougars, mentally, let down there guard the shift after scoring a goal or Portland's coaching staff are able to rally it's players after surrendering a goal. Let's see how the Rockets react when they score and if they are able to weather the storm unlike the Cougars were able too.
  • The way the Winterhawks acquired leading scorer Cody Glass is interesting. Without a 1st round bantam pick in the 2014 WHL bantam draft because of league sanctions, the Winterhawks elected to trade the playing rights of forward Adam Tambellini to the Calgary Hitmen. In return, the Winterhawks obtained a 1st round pick which they used to select Glass. Tambellini had two solid seasons with the Hitmen, but Portland made the most of that choice to get into a prime position to select a dynamic player. Glass was a Western Conference 1st team all-star this season and was top 10 in scoring in the WHL. Not bad for a player who hasn't yet been drafted by an NHL team. 
  • Watch Glass and draft eligible Kole Lind and tell me at series end which made a great impact. If you don't think NHL scouts won't be making comparisons, you are fooling yourself. 
  • Who is responsible for the Winterhawks European selections in the CHL Import Draft? That pipeline to Denmark born players isn't luck kids. Nope! Joachim Blichfeld had 28 goals in his rookie season and who can forget Danish forward Oliver Bjorkstrand. High 5 for hitting a home run with both of those players.
  • Stating the obvious here, but if you forgot, Kelowna Rockets Lucas Johansen and Portland's defender Caleb Jones have something in common. The two players saw their older brothers traded for one another in an NHL trade back in January, 2016.  Ryan Johansen, a former Winterhawks forward, was dealt to Nashville for Seth Jones, who is now an anchor on the Columbus Blue Jackets blue line.   
  •  The Rockets still own the playing rights to 17 year-old Cooper Harr. Cooper, a 4th round bantam pick from 2014, is the younger brother of former Portland Winterhawks defenceman Garrett Haar.  
  • How times flies. Portland Winterhawks alumni Jeff Finley has a son, Jack, who is expected to be a first round pick in next month's WHL bantam draft. Jeff played three full seasons with the Winterhawks in the early 80's before eventually playing 708 games in the NHL. Now making his home in Kelowna, Jeff Finley was an assistant coach with the WHL champion Rockets in 2008-2009. Jack Finley played at Pursuit of Excellence this season and scored 23+25= 48 in 27 games. With Finley's association with the Hawks as a player, would it be a nice landed spot for his son? That question will be answered as early as next month.       
  • It only seems fitting that the Portland Winterhawks stand in the way of the Kelowna Rockets making a 4th straight appearance in the Western Conference final. The Winterhawks made 5 straight appearances in the WCF between 2010 and 2015. 
  • With Mike Johnson at the helm, the Winterhawks have never been eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs. In the 2009-2010 season they were eliminated in the second round by the Vancouver Giants in 6 games.   
  • Winterhhawks forward Matt Revel should know the Kelowna Rockets well. The 20 year-old was a member of the Kamloops Blazers last season that met the Rockets in an epic game seven opening round series. Revel had a goal and two assists in game four 5-1 Blazers win.
  • Heading into this series, Portland goaltender Cole Kehler had no WHL playoff experience. Michael Herringer has played 28 games of post season hockey. Kehler now has 6 games under his belt. Kehler was 0-2-0-0 vs. the Rockets this season with a goals against average of 3.57.
  • Winterhawks forward Keegan Iverson has an amazing 66 games of playoff experience, the most of any in this series. 
  • Skyler McKenzie had 8 goals last season. This season the 5'8 forward had 42. How do you go from 8 goals to 42? That's not normal, but it's an amazing accomplishment. 42 goals from an 8th round bantam pick, Again, that's not normal.
  • Looking for a hard fought series? It should be, but the Winterhawks don't take bonehead penalties. While they were in the middle of the pack this season in terms of total penalties minutes, they were among the league leaders in fewest fighting majors. 
  • Somewhere, former Prince George Cougars head coach Mark Holick is smirking.