After the Kelowna Rockets beat the Portland Winterhawks late in OT #1 of Game 5, the pressure to close out the series got even greater. The Rockets have lost to the Hawks in the playoffs 2 of the last 3 years. This time, they have a chance to slay the dragon and face off against the top team in the WHL, the Brandon Wheat Kings. It won’t be easy and with Game 6 in Portland, the home crowd will be rowdy. Should be great!
Kelowna will be without energy forward and assistant/alternate captain (who cares how you say it) Tyrell Goulbourne after his calf was cut going into the corner during the second period of Game 5. Goulbourne will be out for awhile and knowing what we know about an injury like that, you can’t just rush back. Rourke Chartier was also on the sidelines for that game and it would be a big boost if he worked into the lineup.
Lets chat about a few of the obvious things for a sec:
- Hawks goalie Adin Hill has been beyond amazing! His glove hand rivals that of Grant Fuhr and his game stealing kick saves have put Kelowna fans into fits. This kid is unreal and Portland will reap the rewards for a few years after this. Easily the man that holds the series in his hands. Don’t get me wrong, there are some star players in this one but no one has played at his level.
- Leon Draisaitl has been everything the Rockets could have asked for this year. After being sent back to junior from the Edmonton Oilers and traded to Kelowna, he has given Rockets fans NHL caliber play every night. He does look floaty at times but when the puck hits his stick, he takes off and takes over. If Kelowna does go to the Memorial Cup this spring, that Draisaitl addition will be a big reason they do.
- Anyone that knows me knows that I am a diehard fan of Rockets hybrid forward Nick Merkley, aka Merk Merk, Merkdaddy and Merkilicious. Its easy to get excited about this kid when you see him play live. From Merkley’s first game 2 years ago, to this year’s WHL Western Conference Finals, he has improved at every facet of his game. His puck sense in unmatched, his playmaking ability is downright filthy and when he controls the puck he controls how the rest of the players will react. If he bulks up another 15 lbs or so and grows maybe an inch or two, whatever team drafts him in June will be getting a star.
- That Madison Bowey hit
Both the Rockets and Winterhawks figured they would be playing each other in the Western Final when the season began, who else would have matched them? So the fact that they are playing each other again this season after facing off last year at this time is not surprising. Portland is without a few big names from last year (Matt Dumba, Brendan Leipsic ) but Rocket killer Nic Petan, his team mates Oliver Bjorkstrand, Anton Cederholm and Alex Schoenborn have given the Kelowna their moneys worth.
Enough about the Hawks already! What about Tyson Baillie and Chance Braid? Baillie has been the prototypical hero for Kelowna since he has joined the Rockets and his knack for OT thriller goals keeps us wanting more. I wouldn’t be surprised if he factors in on the winning goal again if Kelowna takes it tonight. When Leon Draisaitl was platooned with Baillie, the second line instantly became a 1B line to compliment the Chartier/Merkley duo up front. This team is experienced and ready for the next challenge, we’ve seen Portland’s best and now they will see ours.
Chance Braid has given the Rockets some much needed extra grit when guys like Riley Stadel and Tyrell Goulbourne are making their offensive push. However, in the playoffs Braid has actually shown his scoring touch and his net presence has given the Rockets another unlikely weapon. This guy can hit and he can get the puck to that red pipey thing with net on it.
While Adin Hill has been stealing the show for Portland in the net, Jackson Whistle has had a bit of a different path for Kelowna. In typical Canucks-fanlike fashion, as soon as our goalie shows a sign of weakness we criticize how he isn’t good enough and then he bounces back with a 40 save effort and follows it up with some game breaking saves the next night. With cool hand Michael Herringer ready to take over at a moments notice, Whistle knows every game is the biggest game he will play.
I personally have questioned Whistle a few times this year but he’s stepped up when it has mattered the most. Finish it out Jackson, be the hero.
So with one win left and a chance to face the Wheat Kings, the Kelowna Rockets need to bring the game they have been waiting to play: the one where there is no doubt in their minds they are the champs.
Puck drop is at 5pm.
Go Rockets Go!
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Photo credit – zimbio.com