The Kelowna Rockets dressing room still reeks of victory (and just plain stench) after beating the Brandon Wheat Kings four straight to clinch the WHL Championship. Dan Lambert’s boys looked like they almost cruised through most of the playoffs without much of a sweat.
Knocking off Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters in five games gave the Oshawa Generals a similar berth into the Memorial Cup tournament. These two teams are very similar and on Championship Sunday they’ll likely battle for junior hockey’s top prize.
Kelowna played all of 19 games this post season and faced adversity arguably only twice against the Portland Winterhawks. Once the Rockets took charge they never let up and put the Hawks away with ease. The Brandon Wheat Kings looked like they would challenge Kelowna but by the time they did, it was too late.
When the OHL playoffs started, many believed it would be the Erie Otters representing their league in Quebec City. Connor McDavid alone made quick work of his opponents, scoring effortlessly and often. But once they ran into the Oshawa Generals, their luck changed.
The Generals hit everything that moved. Cole Cassels (2013 Canucks 3rd rounder) didn’t completely contain McDavid but his overall game could not be matched. Oshawa in a lot of ways is the eastern version of the Kelowna Rockets.
Up front, the Rockets can score at will with their top two lines of Rourke Chartier/Leon Draisaitl/Nick Merkley and Tyson Baillie/Dillon Dube/Gage Quinney. in 19 games those 6 players combined for 49 of the Rockets 81 goals. They proved to be too much for three rounds and against Brandon they perfected their craft.
Oshawa liked the sound of the goal horn themselves. 78 goals in 21 games while only playing in 6 games with 2 goals or less. Pretty impressive. Cole Cassels and Matt Mistele combined for 23 goals and 12 power play markers, three others had 8 goals or more. The Generals were presented with opportunities and capitalized frequently.
Puck possession will be key in this tournament so look for the Draisaitl line to see a lot of Cassels. Even though both of these teams score in bunches, they way they control the play will keep the score quite low most likely. Of course, if I’m wrong that wouldn’t be the worst thing.
When it comes to goaltending its a deadlock. Jackson Whistle of the Rockets has proven he is indeed their #1 but has shown he is human as well. Whistle was the difference against Portland and benefited from some puck luck along the way as well.
He was guilty of giving up the first goal numerous times but hunkered down and slammed the door shut right after. If backup Michael Herringer is needed, he’s equally stingy and coach Lambert won’t hesitate if things get dicey.
Out east, Ken Appelby backstopped the Generals all the way. Posting 2 shutouts and a healthy .922 SA %, he even had time for a few game breaking saves against a certain future Edmonton Oiler. Highly debateable if the tenders are the main story; I have a feeling they won’t be.
Sure, there are 2 other teams in this tourny but Rimouski and Quebec will have beaten each other senseless by then and have rotated goalies on the regular. The Rockets and Generals have the early edge especially with a week of rest to recharge.
Having watched Kelowna develop the last three years into what they are now, its tough to bet against them. They aren’t just defense anymore. What Oshawa brings to the table is the equal compete level and ability to matchup almost line for line.
I’m playing my homer card and picking the Rockets to win it all but they’ve been here a few times looking like the favourite and come up short.
Thankfully we will be watching these guys play for a second time if it gets that far and by then we’ll know who truly should be crowned the 2015 Mastercard Memorial Cup Champions.
I just want the cool hat.
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