Sunday, March 31, 2013

4-1 game turns into 4-3 final

  • No lead is safe. Just ask the Kelowna Rockets. Saturday night at Prospera Place the Rockets avoided playoff elimination for a second straight game with a 4-3 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Rockets had a 4-1 lead with 56 seconds left in the third period. Kelowna pugilist Tyrell Goulbourne and T-Birds enforcer Mitch Elliot each receive unsportsmanlike penalties and the ice opens up as the two teams play four on four hockey to close out the game. With the goaltender pulled for the extra attacker, the T-Birds score twice in a span of 11 seconds and put a huge scare into the Rockets by almost sending the game into overtime. The Rockets hold on for the one goal win, forcing game six in Seattle (Kent) Tuesday night.
  • Nothing short of an outstanding opening period for the Rockets who dominated the T-Birds in all facets of the game. The Rockets dictated the tempo with big hits and came in waves against a Seattle team that struggled mightily to get the puck out of their own zone. The first line was as good as the fourth. The period unfortunately ended for the home team, who took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room.
  • As poorly as the T-Birds played in the opening 20 minutes, they seemed to find their game in the second period.  A key five on three penalty kill seemed to buy them some momentum. While Dylen McKinlay scored to make it 3-0, Seattle's Alexander Delnov responded 23 seconds later and the two teams headed into the second intermission separated by just two goals.
  • Myles Bell appeared to put the game on ice when he scored with just over seven minutes to play in the game. Bell's quick wrister beat T-Birds goaltender Brandon Glover making the score 4-1. Everyone in the building, outside of the visitors were resigned to the fact we were headed to a game six. Not so fast! An ill advised pass by 16 year-old Riley Stadel to his d-partner resulted in a turnover that T-Birds forward Seth Swenson cashed in on and the tension started to build. A goal 11 second later and the home team was sweating bullets with Glover on the bench and an agonizing 26 seconds left on the clock.
  • It was nice to see Colton Heffley hit the score sheet. It was his first goal in 29 games. Heffley's last goal came in late January against the T-Birds.
  • Tyson Baillie continues his hot hand. The 17 year-old has a point in four of the five games in this series and is arguably the teams most dangerous forward right now. 
  • I sure liked Damon Severson's play. Saturday night he looked like a 2nd round NHL draft pick. Calm with the puck with quick, hard passes and solid decision making gives you a good reason why the New Jersey Devils like this player. I thought he was the best defenceman on the ice. Shea Theodore again was the T-Birds best rearguard.
  • Ryan Olsen had some jump in his game and was shooting the puck more. Again an encouraging sign. I thought Heffley, Tyrell Goulbourne and Cole Linaker were also tough to play against. I hate to single guys out because several players had solid games including Cody Fowlie, who may have had his best game of this series.
  • The Rockets have opened the scoring in all five games.
  • The Rockets have not allowed a power play goal in this series. They are 22 for 22 on the PK.
  •  Rookie Austin Glover earned his first career WHL playoff point, an assist on the Rockets second goal.
  • Fifteen year-old Nick Merkley made his Kelowna Rockets playoff debut. He may have had two shifts max.
  • Of the 15 goals the Rockets have scored in the series, 9 have come in the first period.      
  • Who has momentum in this series? The T-Birds won the first three games and now the Rockets have won the last two. Seattle must be thinking the series is slipping away but the Rockets have to know full well their opponent will be treating game six Tuesday night at ShoWare Center as a game seven. The T-Birds in no way shape or form want to come back to Kelowna for a game seven.     

Friday, March 29, 2013

Game notes for game five

Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds meet in game five of this best of seven Western Conference quarter final series. The T-Birds lead it 3-1 after a 5-4 overtime victory in game one, a 2-1 overtime win in game two, a 3-2 overtime triumph in game three before the Rockets managed  a 4-0 win Wednesday night in game four. If a game six is necessary, it will be played in Seattle Tuesday night. The Rockets have opened the scoring in all four games in this series. These two teams are meeting for the 5th time in the playoffs. The two teams have met in 2008, 2005, 2003 and 2001.

Game Results vs. Seattle:
1) March 22/13: Seattle 5-4 OTW
2) March 23/13: Seattle 2-1 OTW
3) March 26/13: 3-2 Seattle OTW
4) March 27/13: 4-0 Kelowna Win
5) Tonight @ Prospera Place
6) Tuesday vs. Seattle  
7) Wednesday @ Prospera Place

Scoring in Series:
Period       1     2     3    OT   Total
Rockets:   7    2      2     0       11
T-Birds:    2    2      3     3       10

*The Rockets power play is 5 for 21 (23.8%) in the series while the T-Birds are 0 for 18. The Rockets have out-shot the T-Birds in three of the four games.  

This and That: Tyson Baillie has 3+5=8 in 8 career playoff games….Jordon Cooke’s 25 save shutout performance in game four was the first time a Rockets goalie has earned a playoff shutout since Mark Guggenberger made 21 saves in a 2-0 win over the Calgary Hitmen in the 2009 WHL final….Myles Bell has been held off the score-sheet twice in this series. When he hasn’t, the 19 year-old has put up 2+3=5….Wednesday’s game four win snapped a three game losing streak. The Rockets lost three consecutive games only once during the regular season….Bell, Cole Linaker and Riley Stadel are the only three players with a positive +/- rating in this series….Since re-locating from Tacoma to Kelowna for the start of the 1995-96 season, the Rockets have played in 181 playoff games….In the 2008 playoff series between the Rockets and T-Birds, the road team won the first four games of the series before the home team won the final three games. Two of those seven games went into overtime…Ryan Olsen has never scored a playoff goal. The 19 year-old has gone 11 playoff games without finding the back of the net. Olsen hasn’t scored since March 2nd, a stretch of 11 games…The game 4 win snapped an 8 game playoff losing streak for the Rockets dating back to 2011.      

2nd place vs. 7th:  The Rockets had 28 more wins than the T-Birds during the regular season and 22 fewer losses. The Rockets scored 99 more goals and allowed 108 fewer goals against. The two teams were separated by 50 points in the standings.

Rockets regular season to remember:  The 2012-2013 edition of the Kelowna Rockets recorded a franchise high 52 wins this season. That broke the old mark of 51 set back in the 2002-2003 season. The Rockets won the BC Division regular season title and placed second overall in the WHL standings behind only Portland. The Rockets scored the second most goals in the league (309) and allowed the third fewest goals against (178) behind Edmonton and Portland. The Rockets had 14 players that scored 10 or more goals and 16 players with 20 or more points. The Rockets were 31-5-0-0 at home this season and tied a franchise record for consecutive wins (23) on home ice. 

Rockets award winners: Captain Colton Sissons picked up two awards at the teams year end awards banquet March 17/13. Sissons was named the MVP and Top Defensive Forward. Rourke Chartier was the rookie of the year and scholastic player of the year while Damon Severson was the top defenceman. Tyson Baillie was voted the most improved while Tyrell Goulbourne picked up the unsung hero award. Myles Bell collected 93 points this season and was named the team’s top scorer.     

Most Wins in Franchise History:
2012-2013: 52 - ?
2002-2003: 51 – WHL Champions
2008-2009: 47 – WHL Champions
2003-2004: 47 – Memorial Cup Champions
2005-2006: 46 – Eliminated 2nd round
2004-2005: 45 – WHL Champions992-1993: 45 – Eliminated in 7 games in rd one

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Slapping playoff elimination right in the face


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https://message.astral.com/OWA/14.1.355.2/themes/resources/clear1x1.gif

The Kelowna Rockets lost three consecutive games during the regular season. They weren't about to start a new losing streak in the playoffs. Tyson Baillie scored his 2nd and 3rd goals of the series, both on the power play, in a game four 4-0 shutout win, snapping a three game losing streak. Facing playoff elimination, the Rockets ripped out of the gates with 19 shots in the first period as the T-Birds took several trips to the penalty box. While firing 19 shots at the Seattle net, the Rockets d-core, which gets younger by the day because of injury, held the home team to just three shots.

As good as the Rockets were, a comeback bid by the T-Birds looked likely until Zach Franko’s third period goal on a 3 on 1 made the score 4-0. Seattle had a good push in the third period and the Rockets, despite giving up few quality scoring chances, played a good portion of the final frame in their own zone.

As much as T-Birds head coach Steve Konawalchuk wants to play the underdog card, it won't work in this poker game. Not now. Seattle holds the hammer, have their opponent down and in a vulnerable position and need one bold strike to knock the BC Division regular season champions out. The Rockets are the true underdogs having been forced to win the final three games of this series to advance to round two. Were the T-Birds underdogs heading into the best of seven? Of course they were, says Mr. Obvious. Sorry though. It doesn't fly with me now.

If the Rockets come back to win this series, which I believe they can, the talk across the league will hinge on how the T-Birds blew it and how the Rockets joined the Spokane Chiefs as the lone teams to dig themselves out of a massive hole.

Will the Rockets win a WHL title this season? Who knows? What I do know is coming back and winning this series would be a massive accomplishment that this team could be proud of for years to come. Playing without your captain, losing role players like Rigby, Wheaton and possibly Barnett, who has played just one game in this series, would be monumental. Winning this series would be massive. In the big picture, what was left of the playoff run would be gravy in my opinion. Regardless of what happened down the road, this team would be regarded as a character group to come back from being down 0-3.

Jordon Cooke didn't receive a star in the building Wednesday night but the 19 year-old goalie has been on the mark in all four games. He really has been the team’s most consistent player. While not tested greatly in game four, timely saves are so crucial. How about Cooke's breakaway save on Andrew Johnson in the second period when the Rockets are nursing a 3-0 lead? How about the left pad save he makes in that same period when defenceman Cole Martin has his pocket picked by T-Birds captain Luke Lockhart at the side of the net? Those are massive in the big picture. Maybe to the average observer those saves go unnoticed. I pick them out having played that position and the role the goalie plays in keeping his team in the drivers seat.

The T-Birds honestly looked disinterested in the first 40 minutes. The Rockets deserve credit for playing the majority of the first two periods in the offensive zone, but if an outside observer was watching this series for the first time, they likely would have been shocked when told the T-Birds were leading the best of seven 3 games to 0.

Best defenceman in the last two games? Seattle's Shea Theodore has really sparkled at both ends of the ice. Extremely quiet in games one and two, the draft eligible 18 year-old has really elevated his play. When he's on, Theodore is one of the best in his age group.

Thanks to all of the listeners for the positive feedback over the last few nights on Twitter. It is much appreciated. Doing the games solo isn't easy and getting emotionally involved as a broadcaster can be a drawback. I often get frustrated in the broadcast booth over errors that are committed or effort that isn't given when I know full well what these players are capable of. At the end of the day, despite the criticism, I want these players to succeed. The scary thing for the T-Birds is a good segment of the Rockets can play even better.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Overtime Anguish

  • Get out the backhoe. The Kelowna Rockets need to dig themselves out of a huge hole. For the third consecutive game the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds went into overtime and for the third straight time it ended in a T-Bird victory. Evan Wardley, who scores goals at the pace that Screech Diamond from the 80's TV show Saved by the Bell was able to find dates, saw his seeing eye wrist shot hit the back of the net in a 3-2 overtime win Tuesday night at ShoWare Center. The T-Birds now have a 3-0 lead in the best of seven series with a chance to eliminate the Rockets in game four.
  • A terrific start for the Rockets, who built up a 2-0 lead six minutes into the game and fired 16 shots at what appeared to be a shaky Seattle goaltender Brandon Glover. Glover did fight the puck but managed to make an unreal left pad save on Tyson Baillie, which would have given the Rockets a 3-1 intermission lead. Instead  it was a one goal differential after 20 minutes.
  • Despite a solid first, any momentum built from it was wasted away as the T-Birds amped up their physical play and the visitors manufactured just three shots on goal. Instead of ending the period still up by a goal, Jesse Forsberg, who never played this good when he was with the Prince George Cougars, fired a hard shot beating goaltender Jordon Cooke with 25 seconds left in the period. Now it was 2-2.
  • The Rockets power play let them down in this one. They failed to score on a late third period penalty by Seattle's Adam Kambeitz and then blew a tremendous chance to walk away with the teams first playoff win in eight games when the T-Birds were called for two many men in overtime. The power play, which was the 5th best on the league during the regular season went quiet at the most inopportune time.     
  • Rookie Rourke Chartier didn't play in the third period after receiving a hard hit from Wardley in the second frame. The 16 year-old Rockets rookie was skating inside the T-Birds zone, took a shot and as Wardley made contact, Chartier fell to the ice and crashed awkwardly into the side boards.
  • The crowd at ShoWare Center was outstanding. In the first home playoff date in over four years over 6 thousand packed the arena in a picture perfect playoff atmosphere. The noise was deafening when the T-Birds scored. Well done.
  • The Rockets will try to do what only one WHL team has been able to accomplish. Spokane trailed their 1996 series with Portland 3 games to 0 before coming back to win four straight. 
  • The T-Birds first overall pick from the 2012 WHL bantam draft, Mathew Barzal attended Tuesday's game.    

Sunday, March 24, 2013

That wasn't very good!

  • Where did the Kelowna Rockets go? If you indeed find them tell them to come back. In the first two games of an opening round  playoff series with the Seattle Thunderbirds the Rockets look anything but the team that won 52 games during the regular season. In game one they looked disjointed in a 5-4 overtime loss and frankly played even a poorer game last night in a 2-1 overtime setback. Down two games to none in this series, their is no need to panic if this team finds its game and implements the tactics that brought them success during the regular season. It is up to the players to find 'it' between now and Tuesday night as the series shifts to Seattle (Kent) for games three and four. 
  • Generating three shots on net in the first period just won't cut it. The Rockets had three power play chances in the opening 20 minutes and struggled mightily to get pucks to the net. They were either blocked, which the T-Birds deserve credit, or ideal shooting opportunities were instead used to pass the puck off to a teammate. The confidence level of the power play is extremely low right now yet the foundation of what made the unit one of the best in the league is still there. It appears the power play, or lack-thereof, dictates the way they play five-on-five. The power play can be a momentum builder or momentum killer. Right now, you can guess which one it is.
  • As one observer said to me last night, "I sure feel bad for Jordon Cooke". I can't disagree with that comment. Cooke has been the teams best player in the first two games of the series and looks to be the only one that resembles himself from his regular season exploits.  
  • Right now it looks like the puck is a hot potato every time it touches a Rockets stick. Specifically the forwards don't want to handle it for a long period of time. When a forward does control it for more than ten seconds it results in an individual effort, which worked in pee-wee but doesn't cut it in major junior. When the Rockets have success, it is often two or three quick passes and up the ice they go.  Those passes are maybe ten to twelve feet in length. You rarely see long bomb passes from blue line to blue line which we saw attempted far to often in the first two games.  
  • Cole Linaker and Henrik Nyberg were the teams best forwards Saturday night. Good on them. Both worked their tails off. Nyberg was great physically and Linaker scored the teams lone goal. But those two rookies can't be your best players in the playoffs. They can make a significant contribution but can't be the ring leaders.
  • Am I worried at the 0 and 2 start? I'd be freaking out if the Rockets applied maximum effort with no results. I'd be scared if Seattle goaltender Brandon Glover was stopping everything the Rockets were firing at him. None of the above applies here. Seattle outworked the Rockets in game one, but again the effort from the home team was sporadic at best. Glover has been good, but not lights out.    
  • The T-Birds are playing like a loose team with nothing to lose. The Rockets look up tight and need to relax and let their natural instincts take over.
  • The T-Birds d-core does deserve credit for playing physical in the first two games. They are making it hard on the Rockets forwards. You have to remember that the T-Birds d-core is as young, if not younger than the Rockets. While they don't have a 16 year-old like Riley Stadel on the back end, they have four 1995 born players. The Rockets only have two in Madison Bowey and Jesse Lees.
  • The best thing for this team right now is to hop on that bus and get away. Refocusing is pivotal for the Rockets right now. While it sounds odd, the road is the best place for this team right now.
  • I expect a much improved effort Tuesday and Wednesday night after games at ShoWare Centre.  I plan to be back in Kent for a game six. With a solid effort by the Rockets in game three, I can't see why that isn't possible.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

T-birds turn the tables

  • The Seattle Thunderbirds brought their lunch buckets to the game last night and the Kelowna Rockets brought their nerves. The end result was a visiting team that looked as confident as the home team should have been in the game one upset victory. Seattle looked in control despite trailing three times in the game. The Rockets, the favorites heading into the series, looked out of sync making ill advised passes and looked like a team that hadn't played in a week. It was a bad night for the home team without question. The good news is the Rockets played so poorly and almost won. Regardless, the T-Birds came into a building where no one expected them to win. Seattle has a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series with game two tonight at Prospera Place.
  • Luke Lockhart has been a streaky scorer in his WHL career. The 20 year-old had 25 goals this season but often found himself going long stretches without finding the back of the net. Lockhart went 17 games without a goal earlier this season. But in saying that, don't be surprised that he scored twice last night. Lockhart, from all indications, is a character player that wears the 'C' on his jersey for good reason. Funny how the will to win takes over in the playoffs when the checking gets tighter and the character players rise to the top.
  • Lockhart wasn't the only bright spot for the T-Birds. I thought Jesse Forsberg really brought it on the back end. It shocked me. I thought Forsberg really struggled at Prospera Place in two regular season games and often gave up the puck with mindless decisions. He wasn't without his errors in game one,  but he played to his strengths and made some good decisions with and without the puck. I also thought Seattle goaltender Brandon Glover was solid. 
  • Seattle also did a great job of blocking shots by sacrificing the body at every turn. Was it not T-Birds Griffin Foulk that blocked a shot by taking the puck right in the mid section? Had the rookie d-man not made that play, Zach Franko would have had a goal glove hand side on Glover.    
  • Few bright spots for the Rockets. Goaltender Jordon Cooke surrendered 5 goals but how many big saves was he forced to make? If Cooke was as shaky as the teammates in front of him the T-Birds wouldn't have had to use overtime. How about the save Cooke made when the Rockets appeared to only have four skaters on the ice with a face-off inside the Rockets zone late in the third? Cooke made two brilliant saves to keep the game tied. 
  • The Rockets had ample chances to bury the T-Birds when they were granted several power play chances, including four opportunities in the first 17 minutes of the game. In all four, good perimeter puck movement but few quality shots.   
  • I thought a couple of veteran players really struggled. Game one jitters? For now I will bite my tongue and hope for a bounce back in game two.  
  • Solid crowd last night. Close to 55 hundred. Not a sell out but no complaints from me. Lots of T-Birds fans in the building. 
  • Nice to have former Kelowna Rockets tough guy Scott Parker join us on AM 1150 in the first intermission. Parker admitted to me that he too is suffering, to a degree, with the after effects of  punches to the head. Thanks to Gavin Hamilton of the Kelowna Rockets for setting up that interview with Parker on short notice.
  • See you at the rink tonight. Hey, Eric Stansfield's 'Inside Sports' is on location from 5 pm until 6:30 pm at Manhattan Point Restaurant so check him out live or listen to him on AM 1150.   

Ex-NHL'er Scott Parker (audio) drops by in game #1


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rockets game notes vs. T-Birds


Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open the 2013 Western Hockey League playoffs tonight in game one of a best of seven opening round playoff series against the Seattle Thunderbirds. Game one is tonight with game two tomorrow at Prospera Place. Games three and four are back in Seattle (Kent) next Tuesday (March 26th) and Wednesday (March 27th). If a game five is necessary, it will be played Saturday March 30th in Kelowna. These two teams are meeting for the 5th time in the playoffs. The two teams have met in 2008, 2005, 2003 and 2001. It marks the second straight playoffs that the Rockets open against a U.S based team after facing the Portland Winterhawks in the opening round last season. These two teams met four times during the regular season with the Rockets winning 3 of the 4 games (3-1-0-0) and out-scoring the T-Birds 18-8.  The Rockets enter the playoffs riding a six game winning streak.    

Seasonal Series Scores vs. Seattle:
1)December 1/12: 4-2 Seattle win
2)January 24/13: 8-0 Rockets win
3)January 25/13: 4-3 Rockets OTW
4)February 28/13: 4-1 Rockets win.

2nd place vs. 7th:  The Rockets had 28 more wins than the T-Birds during the regular season and 22 fewer losses. The Rockets scored 99 more goals and allowed 108 fewer goals against. The two teams were separated by 50 points in the standings.

Rockets regular season to remember:  The 2012-2013 edition of the Kelowna Rockets recorded a franchise high 52 wins this season. That broke the old mark of 51 set back in the 2002-2003 season. The Rockets won the BC Division regular season title and placed second overall in the WHL standings behind only Portland. The Rockets scored the second most goals in the league (309) and allowed the third fewest goals against (178) behind Edmonton and Portland. The Rockets had 14 players that scored 10 or more goals and 16 players with 20 or more points. The Rockets were 31-5-0-0 at home this season and tied a franchise record for consecutive wins (23) on home ice. 

Rockets award winners: Captain Colton Sissons picked up two awards at the teams year end awards banquet March 17/13. Sissons was named the MVP and Top Defensive Forward. Rourke Chartier was the rookie of the year and scholastic player of the year while Damon Severson was the top defenceman. Tyson Baillie was voted the most improved while Tyrell Goulbourne picked up the unsung hero award. Myles Bell collected 93 points this season and was named the team’s top scorer.     

Most Wins in Franchise History:
2012-2013: 52 - ?
2002-2003: 51 – WHL Champions
2008-2009: 47 – WHL Champions
2003-2004: 47 – Memorial Cup Champions
2005-2006: 46 – Eliminated 2nd round
2004-2005: 45 – WHL Champions
1992-1993: 45 – Eliminated in 7 games in rd one

This and That: The most games the Rockets have played in one season of playoffs were 24 games. During the 2005 post season, 24 games were played with the Rockets beating Vancouver in six games in the opening round before disposing of the Seattle Thunderbirds in seven games. In round three it took six games to eliminate the Kootenay Ice before winning the WHL final over Brandon in five games….Dylen McKinlay leads the Rockets in playoff experience with 15 games. McKinlay has 5+5=10 in those 15 playoff games. Damon Severson is next with 14 including ten games in the 2011 post season…Of the Rockets top eight scorers this season, Ryan Olsen, Tyson Baillie and Cody Fowlie have not scored a playoff goal….The Rockets had 17 players that scored at least one game winning goal this season….The Rockets played in 19 – one goal games this season. The Rockets were 10-5-3-1 in those games…The Rockets have made the playoffs for the 17th time in the franchises 18 year history….Dylen McKinlay was the only Rocket to play in every game this season…The team ended the season with 21 road wins…Since re-locating from Tacoma to Kelowna for the start of the 1995-96 season, the Rockets have played in 178 playoff games….In the 2008 playoff series between the Rockets and T-Birds, the road team won the first four games of the series before the home team won the final three games. Two of those seven games went into overtime….Ryan Olsen celebrates his 19th birthday Monday (March 25th)….Colton Heffley’s last goal came January 24th against the T-Birds. Heffley had a goal and three assists that night…Jordon Cooke has no playoff experience. Kelly Guard didn’t either in 2003 and led his team to a WHL championship as a 19 year-old rookie…Tyler Mosienko is the franchise leader in playoff games with 41.        

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Adversity nothing new for Rockets in quest for glory

Losing Colton Sissons for the majority of the 2013 playoffs is a tough pill to swallow. The team will be without its captain, most valuable player, top face-off man and arguably its hardest worker. But should we be surprised at the Kelowna Rockets run of bad luck when they are positioned at winning a Western Hockey League championship?
If you follow this team closely, an injury or loss of a high end or character player has been common place for this franchise dating back to 2002.
For whatever reason, the Rockets take the road less traveled before rising to the top.
Strange, but true.  
Kiel McLeod
Let me take you back to the spring of 2002 when the Kelowna Rockets were making their first appearance in the Western Conference final. In a series against the eventual Memorial Cup champion Kootenay Ice, Rockets 19 year-old forward Travis Moen would lose his father Brian to a heart attack after game three. Moen was shattered by the loss as were his teammates. Moen attended his fathers funeral in Saskatchewan and never returned, missing the final three games of that series, which the Ice eventually won in five games.
Fast forward to the spring of 2003 and the wonderful season 19 year-old centreman Kyle McLeod was enjoying. The second round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets had 39 goals and 90 points in 68 games that season. The big, strong McLeod would play in the first eight games of the playoffs before suffering an appendectomy. McLeod would watch from the sidelines as his team won a WHL championship over the Red Deer Rebels before eventually playing late in the 2003 Memorial Cup in Quebec City.
It wouldn't end there.
In the teams Memorial Cup hosting year (2004), captain Josh Gorges suffers a ligament tear in his knee, and instead of undergoing surgery to end his season, he wears a brace and competes and wins junior hockey's ultimate prize. 
Derek Yeomans
In 2005, on their way to a second WHL title, again the injury bug bit hard on the Kelowna Rockets. This time starting goaltender Derek Yeomans went down to a playoff ending knee injury after colliding with Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Steven Later in game one. Yeomans, who finished the game with a 28 save shutout performance, wouldn't return for the remainder of the series, nor the Memorial Cup. Back up Kristofer Westblom would win games two through five before raising the Ed Chynoweth trophy over his head as league champions.
Even in 2009, the Rockets last title, adversity came in the form of their most dynamic player going down in the championship final against the high powered Calgary Hitmen. Jamie Benn, who put opposing goaltenders into a cold sweat in their sleep, was knocked out of game two after a hard hit. Benn would miss games three, four and five before coming back in game six and promptly assisting on the game winning goal in overtime leading the Rockets to a game six series win and a third WHL championship.
Jamie Benn
So in review, the Kelowna Rockets have faced adversity of some sort in all three league titles they have won. In each case, other players have stepped up when common sense would suggest the Rockets were in a heap of trouble. Instead of succumbing to what fate had handed them, they fought back with grit, heart and determination before finding themselves in the winners circle.
Now, before the 2013 playoffs have even started the team has again been delivered with another dose of tough luck with the loss of Colton Sissons.
Again things won't come easy.
But if you are a Kelowna Rockets player and you want to win a championship, its just the way it goes down in these parts.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rockets lose MVP for start of playoffs

The Kelowna Rockets will open the playoffs without their captain and most valuable player. Colton Sissons (pictured to the right during Sunday's awards ceremony) has been sidelined with an upper body injury suffered in the second last game of the regular season against the Vancouver Giants. Sissons had a career high 28 goals this season in arguably his final year in a Rockets uniform. Sissons admits it will be tough to watch his team during the best time of the year.
"We are going to need guys to step up and fill that void of leadership. I am going to be around obviously, so I will have an impact in the dressing room on our guys. We need everyone to step up here and take it to a new level.
Leading scorer Myles Bell agrees.
"We played without him in December when he was hurt and everyone stepped up. Having him out makes everyone better because everyone plays harder to fill those shoes".
Sissons missed 10 games with an upper body injury in December and the Rockets managed 8 wins in 10 games.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

52! A new franchise record

  • Don Hay has respect for Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska. The feeling is mutual. That may be the reason why Hay returned the game puck to Huska following the Kelowna Rockets record breaking 52nd win of the season Saturday night. Huska, noting that it was the Vancouver Giants head coaches one thousandth game in the WHL, promptly handed it back to the veteran bench boss. Huska's Rockets concluded a dream regular season with a 5-2 win over the Giants, winning their 52nd game of the season and breaking the team record of 51 wins set back in 2002-2003.    
  • The Rockets finish the season as only one of three teams with 50 or more wins. Portland (56 and counting) and Edmonton (51) also hit the plateau. The Rockets ended the season with 108 points, one point shy of the 109 the team put up in 2002-2003.
  • The 2002-2003 team had a defense comprised of Josh Gorges, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Mike Card. Brett Palin and Tomas Slovak, who is one of the best European d-man the team has developed, also patrolled the Rockets blue line that season. Those are some impressive names. In fact, eight of the players on the 2002-2003 team played in at least one NHL game. Blake Comeau, Troy Bodie and Cam Paddock were also on that team.  
  • The win was significant in more ways than just setting a new franchise record. The 52 wins is one better than the Edmonton Oil Kings, meaning the Rockets finished in second place in the overall WHL standings. Both the Rockets and Oil Kings each earned 108 points this season but the Rockets clinch second because of more wins.    
  • The Rockets ended the regular season with 309 goals, the second most in the WHL. Only two teams will score over 300 goals this season. The Rockets and Portland Winterhawks were both able to accomplish the feat.
  • The Rockets allowed just 178 goals against. That was the third lowest total in the WHL behind Edmonton and Portland.On average the team allowed 2.47 goals against.
  • Jordon Cooke tied for the league lead in wins with 37. Not bad for a first year starter. 
  • Myles Bell was the teams leading scorer with 93 points. His 38 goals led the team as did his 55 assists.
  • The Rockets will face the Seattle Thunderbirds in round one of the WHL playoffs. Game one is this Friday at Prospera Place with game two the following night. Game three and four are back in Seattle (Kent) next Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Game Notes vs. Cougars

Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets play their 70th game of the season tonight when they host the Prince George Cougars. It is the eighth and final meeting of the season between their BC Division rivals. The Rockets are 6-1-0-0 in the first seven games, having out-scored PG 37-19. The Rockets claimed the BC Division regular season banner last Saturday in a 2-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers. The Rockets enter tonight’s game having won seven of their last eight games with victories over Kamloops (twice), Lethbridge, Victoria (three times) and Seattle. Overall, the Rockets have out-scored the opponent 35-16 in those eight games. The Rockets are 26-6-2-0 in their last 34 games. The Rockets have twelve regulation losses in their last 58 games (44-11-2-1). The Rockets have won 41 of their last 52 (39-10-3-0) games overall. The Rockets are in Vancouver tomorrow night before hosting the Giants on Saturday.

Seasonal Series Scoring:
Period        1      2    3   Total
Rockets:   11   17    9     37
Cougars:    7     9    3     19

*The Rockets have scored the opening goal of the game in six of the seven games. The Rockets have out-shot the Cougars in four of the seven games in the seasonal series.  The Rockets power play is 8 for 23 (35%) while the Cougars are 5 for 30 (17%) with the extra man. 

Most Wins in Franchise History:
2002-2003: 51 – WHL Champions
2012-2013: 49 - ?
2008-2009: 47 – WHL Champions
2003-2004: 47 – Memorial Cup Champions
2005-2006: 46 – Eliminated 2nd round
2004-2005: 45 – WHL Champions
1992-1993: 45 – Eliminated in 7 games in rd one

100 Points Club: The Rockets have 102 points. It is the first time in seven seasons the team has hit that 100 point mark. The last time the Rockets registered 100 points was 2004-2005 when they managed 104 points. The Rockets franchise has reached 100 or more points only three times. (2012-2013, 2004-2005, 2002-2003).            

Home Cook’n: The Kelowna Rockets have lost a league low five times on home ice (29-5-0-0) this season. The team has scored 161 goals (4.8 per game) and has allowed 67 goals against (2.00 per game).  The Rockets have scored at least 3 or more goals in every home game this season except three, all against the Kamloops Blazers and once to the Portland Winterhawks (5-1). The Rockets have scored four or more goals in 24 of their 34 home games. Jordon Cooke and Jackson Whistle have combined for six home ice shutouts this season. The team has allowed two or fewer goals at home this season in 23 of 34 games.

This and That: Rockets alumnus Lucas Bloodoff was named the CIS player of the year in men’s hockey last night in a ceremony in Saskaton. Bloodoff plays with the Saint Mary’s Huskies… The Rockets are rated as the 5th best team in the country in this week’s CHL Top 10 junior rankings…The Rockets have 17 players that have scored at least one game winning goal this season….The Rockets have played in 19 – one goal games this season. The Rockets are 10-5-3-1 in those games…The Rockets have been shut out three times this season by Kamloops, Portland and Spokane. All three have happened on the road…. Ryan Olsen played in his 200th career March 8th in Kamloops…Cody Fowlie played in his 200th career game February 28th against Seattle.…The Rockets were 7-5-0-0 in February….Myles Bell was the leading point getter in February with 6+11=17….The Rockets have scored 293 goals this season. The team record for goals in a season is 338 set back in 1995-96.….Rockets Myles Bell has 89 points, becoming the first Rockets player since Colin Long (91) in 2008-2009 to register 80 or more points in a season. ….The Rockets have hit the 40 win plateau for the 9th time in franchise history…The Rockets have made the playoffs for the 17th time in the franchises 18 year history….The Rockets 23 game home ice winning streak was the third longest winning streak on home ice in WHL history. It was snapped February 8th in a 5-3 loss to Portland….Dylen McKinlay is the only Rocket to play in every game this season…The Rockets have led going into the third period in 43 of their last 58 games with four games being tied heading into the final frame.…The Rockets have out-scored the opposition 152-65 on home ice this season….Dylen McKinlay has six shorthanded goals…Since relocating from Tacoma to Kelowna for the start of the 1995-96 season, the Rockets have picked up 675 wins over the last 18 seasons…Since entering the WHL in 1991, the Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets have scored 4 thousand 621 goals (4,621)…The Rockets have participated in two shootout game this season. That is a league low. Last season the Rockets were involved in a league high 15…Since November 1st the Rockets have lost nine times in regulation…Five of the teams thirteen regulation losses came in the first five weeks of the season…JT Barnett played in his 250th career game February 8th against Portland…Tyrell Goulbourne has 19 fighting majors this season…Zach Franko played in his 200th career game February 14th against Everett.….Ryan Olsen is the first 18 year-old forward since Jamie Benn to score over 30 goals in a Rockets uniform. Benn scored 33 times in 2007-2008…The Rockets have 29 home ice wins. The 2002-03 team had 31 home ice victories.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bloodoff receives Canadian university hockey's highest honour

It is the highest honour given to a player in Canadian university hockey.

Kelowna Rockets alumni Lucas Bloodoff has been named the Canadian Inter-university Sport (CIS) player of the year.
Bloodoff led his team, the Saint Mary's Huskies, in scoring this season.
He is best known in the Okanagan for captaining the Kelowna Rockets to a WHL Championship in 2009.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Nothing to play for? Not necessarily.

What do the final three games of the regular season mean for the Kelowna Rockets?
Now that the team has clinched the BC Division regular season banner many fans are saying these games mean little, but wait a minute here!
The Rockets are still in a fight with the Edmonton Oil Kings for second place in the overall standings. What does second place mean in the big picture? Don't forget that if the Rockets were to make it all the way to the WHL final they would have the luxury of home ice advantage, especially if that meant a date with the defending league champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
Without question a lot of hockey and luck stands in the way of that occurring but wouldn't the Rockets be kicking themselves if that indeed happened and they wasted them away rather than putting a concerted effort forward to win them?
With a two point lead, the Oil Kings have just two games left against the Red Deer Rebels.
Until the Rockets are mathematically eliminated from having any chance at second place in the WHL standings, its pedal to the medal. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

It wasn't suppose to happen but it did!

Let's be honest with one another. We didn't expect the Kelowna Rockets to win the BC Division regular season title before the puck was officially dropped back in late September? I could come on this blog and be the media know it all and state that I knew it was going to happen but it would be a load of BS.
You know the media type I'm talking about don't you? The guy with all the answers. The guy who knew Myles Bell was capable of close to 40 goals. The media mouth piece who predicted 20 year-old Dylan McKinlay would have a career year. The guy that knew the Rockets would have no problem scoring goals even though the coaching staff were sweating bullets in June and July, not because of the Okanagan heat, but over the question on who would manufacture offense.  
What we did know was the Rockets team would be slightly better than the year prior. The key word here is slightly. The Rockets traded away their top point getter to Saskatoon this summer and reining MVP Brett Bulmer moved on to pro hockey. Even starting goaltender Adam Brown, who broke two team records last season for games played and saves made, became ineligible to return to the hockey club after playing out his 20 year-old season. Those were three HUGE holes to fill.
The only sure thing heading into this season was the Rockets would be a year older on defense after taking their lumps with three rookies (Martin, Bowey, Lees) making up one of the youngest d-cores in the league in 2010-2011.
Honestly, a seven or eight win improvement would have been considering a massive step forward from the 31 victories the team earned last season. 
This team wasn't mentioned with the Portland Winterhawks, Kamloops Blazers or Edmonton Oil Kings at the start of the season. Nor should they have been. Only in early November were small pockets of fans thinking the Rockets could play with the elite.
But they couldn't catch Kamloops could they? They were 15 points in the Blazers rear view mirror on November 1st. Not a chance!
Quietly, the Rockets steadily improved after winning just eight of their first 16 regular season games (8-6-1-1). When the Blazers came back down to earth after earning a point in their first 17 games, what was considered a pipe dream all of a sudden became a possibility that the Rockets could close the gap and raise a banner high into the rafters at Prospera Place.
In November and December the team won 18 of 22 times and were a perfect 12-0-0-0 at home.
Maybe this team is special? What we know now, it is.
While it is the fourth BC regular season banner the team has won since the division was created in 2001-2002, the 2013 banner will have special significance. Why? It was the way in which it was won and the cast of characters that pulled it off when no one believed at the start of the season that it could indeed happen.