It might only be one loss, but the Kelowna Rockets can’t afford to lose again. In their opening matchup Friday against the host Quebec Ramparts, the Rockets were downed 4-3 in what ended up being a nailbiter. Kelowna looked reactive and uncomfortable until late in the game; that will need to be remedied immediately for the Okanagan crew to move on.
The Mastercard Memorial Cup tournament is a quick gauntlet of the best teams in the CHL and when you only play each team once (1 vs. OHL Champions, 1 vs. QMJHL Champions and host team) every loss can be devastating and at the same time each win monumental.
The Rockets once again started the first period with a goal against and nerves seemed to be a big factor. As good as they are, there aren’t very many chances to bounce back in a week long tourny. Goaltender Jackson Whistle had another on again off again outing but still maintained his all star play for a good chunk of the game.
Whistle wasn’t the main reason for the loss though, failure to keep a consistent pace with Quebec and lack of discipline had Kelowna in the box too often and the individual efforts overshadowed what they did well as a team.
Coach Dan Lambert has iced a team that much of the season has shown composure and because of this they tend to overpower teams with their four line attack. Forwards Nick Merkley and Leon Draisaitl can control shifts and even periods with their eye for how a play will develop. Having a cool head translates into goals for these guys.
Cole Linaker showed his patience on the penalty kill last game when he read the Rampart defenders and found an open Nick Merkley in the slot to get back into the game. Its unlikely nerves will play a factor in Monday’s game against the Rimouski Oceanic. There isn’t time anymore.
Its no secret that the line of Draisaitl, Merkley and Rourke Chartier will be the force that decides how far this team goes. When they’re on, they’re lethal. Tyson Baillie will need to provide some clutch minutes as well with Dillon Dube and Gage Quinney.
Kelowna has the firepower to get the job done in Quebec and if they get back to their team assault, the rest of Canada will see why they are so good.
Capitalizing on thoughtless penalties will help the Rockets even things out a bit more. World Junior Gold Medallists defensemen Madison Bowey and Josh Morrissey will also be on high alert. These guys will make the difference when just one more shot or one more battle to hold the line is crucial.
The Rockets made quick work of the WHL in this year’s post season because they didn’t panic when they were up against a challenge, they adapted and prevailed. This will be no different.
Progress. Not perfection.
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Photo credit: torontosun.com