WHL Playoffs

Rockets Looking For Seventh Heaven Against Thunderbirds

Before this series started, many would have seen the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds extending the matchup to seven games. Well, it’s Game Six so Kelowna will need to put some pucks in the net if they want to book another bus trip to Kent, Washington on Tuesday. Seattle took Game Five in somewhat convincing fashion after the Rockets couldn’t capitalize on their own power play chances and let the T-Birds execute on theirs.

Expect more of the same tonight.

The series has been pretty even with both teams splitting games in each city but it was the Thunderbirds that took the extra home game back on Friday to put their team ahead 3 games to 2. The power play has been hot for Seattle this post-season and they currently hold the top-ranked unit by a whopping 4.2% over the next closest, now eliminated Red Deer Rebels, at 37.5%.

The Rockets are trailing in that category by about 10% and in the playoffs, that’s huge. Sticking with special teams, Kelowna leads the WHL playoffs with 216 PIM and if they continue that trend this evening, it will be hard for Jason Smith’s team to force a seventh game.

Mid-season addition, Carson Twarysnki, hasn’t scored since April 12 when he had one of Kelowna’s seven goals against the Portland Winterhawks. With Seattle bringing a physical game each and every night, T-Dub will need to get back to the dirty areas and power his way to a few chances. Twarynski was great in the first two rounds but has been quiet in the Western Final. Kelowna will need his contributions if they are going to advance.

Nick Merkley has been a light show in his last 11 games putting points up in 10 of them. His stat line is a dream with 6 goals and 11 assists in that time. Merkley is the Rocket’s all-time leader in playoff production and when he’s on his game, he’s the catalyst on the team. Suffering a freak ACL tear last year, Nick has rebounded well and has brought renewed hope to both his current WHL team and the Arizona Coyotes who drafted him 30th overall in 2015.

Providing Kelowna can stay out of the box and play a disciplined game, they should be able to stay ahead of the red-hot Thunderbird squad. Kelowna has averaged 35 shots against Seattle this series so the opportunity is there to strike. Keegan Kolesar, Ryan Gropp, and Alexander True all have three goals against Kelowna so keeping them in check will no doubt be on the gameplan.

Don’t expect a blowout this evening but considering this series has been played down a man on either side, someone is due to open it up. Let’s all hope the Rockets send their fans home awaiting the AM1150 call on Tuesday night.

photo – kelownacapnews.com

Rockets’ Nick Merkley Turning Heads Again After Surgery

Almost a year ago, Nick Merkley was dealt a pretty devastating blow after being drafted by the Arizona Coyotes that past June and then tearing his ACL in February in a game against the Spokane Chiefs. It was the kind of injury that couldn’t have come at a worse time as his team was gearing up for another run in the playoffs and having been drafted, it was a chance to show what he could be to the Coyotes.

Life throws some interesting curves.

Fast forward to this year and Merkley’s rehab from his injury was slow going. He was getting the proper conditioning and treatment down in Arizona and when it was time to come back to Kelowna, everyone felt he was good to go. The thing is, ACL’s don’t just “heal”. It’s a pretty significant injury that can affect how a player in any sport reacts going forward.

Unless you happen to be Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings (a superhuman, basically) you probably will have a longer healing period to get back to the point you were producing, if at all.

Upon returning to Kelowna, Merkley had a slow start which should have been expected. In his first 10 games this season, Nick racked up a paltry goal and 4 assists, with his first goal coming in his 10th game back. Including that 10th game, Merkley went on to score 6 times and added 2 assists in his next 6 games.

It wasn’t just the production on the score sheet, but the way in which he got back to what he did best. Merkley fought the puck a lot to start the year and it was pretty visible that his frustration caused him to clinch the stick a bit tighter and get away from the thinking game he dominated so much. You no doubt have heard me sing his praises since his rookie campaign, and for good reason: he’s amazingly talented.

As this season has gone forward, Nick has put the team on his back many nights and just when opponents tried to get on his, he brought “the swivel” back into his game and quite frankly, there aren’t many players that I’ve watched in any league that can execute that shake like he can.

Maybe not one of his best, but the success rate he has with that move is almost 100%.

Watching Merkley perfect the little things is what excites me the most, his shot seems to be more on point and his passing game is once again becoming a strong suit. He still is a little choosy when dishing the puck but he rarely disappoints when the puck hits his team mate’s stick, maybe you’ve seen this one already?

Despite the losses his Kelowna Rockets team has endured lately, Merkley has put up 8 points in his last 10 and with rookie Nolan Foote being out for an extended amount of time, Dillon Dube, Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf being away at the World Juniors and now Kole Lind and Cal Foote strutting their stuff at the Top Prospects Game, there have been many nights where Merkley has had to step up and represent the “A” on his shoulder.

Many of these players have been getting more publicity in the media lately as they have their own stories to be told but Nick has been evermore the continual beast on the ice and looks to prove his doubters wrong (if there are even any) that an ACL can’t hold him back. His late first round spot also serves as a chip to show the rest of the NHL what they are missing out on.

In his rookie season, I stated he had the hockey mind of Wayne Gretzky. Super, bold statement, I know. I am not comparing the two as equals as a whole and there will definitely be someone that will want to destroy me for even uttering those words but watching him think out the game in real-time is amazing to watch.

You can tell he knows where the puck will end up because either he’s there shooting it or another Rocket has the puck creating a scoring chance off his pass. It’s a shame that Nick wasn’t able to showcase himself at the World Junior tournament the last two years but it only serves to motivate him in his quest to be an NHLer.

Breaking down his distribution of points, of his 22 assists this year, Merkley’s has 18 primary assists, 1 back of first on the team. He accounts for 7.87% of the Kelowna Rockets’ total team points which ranks 4th on the team and his percentage of total goals created is 4th with 21.94%. As far as the power play goes, 75% of his goals are produced on the man advantage, which is tops on the Rockets this season. Shame to see him out of the lineup, although with the staggering amount of penalties the Rockets take, 812 total PIM and 16.2 PIM/GM (both tops in the WHL), the power play isn’t exactly out that much.

No longer having Rourke Chartier as his linemate, Merkley’s rediscovered how to be self-sufficient and at the same time put his stick in a position to help the rest of his team out. Having Thurkauf on his line is a treat as they just know how to feed off of each other. The open ice hits have come back as well to Merk’s arsenal and he’s proving he isn’t a one-trick pony.

Kelowna will have to get their problems figured out if they’re going to have any kind of success this postseason and Nick Merkley will once again be a major reason they achieve extended success. Surgery hasn’t silenced Merkley, in fact, it’s awoken the beast.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – kelownarockets.com

Kelowna Rockets Pre-Draft Duo Could Take Flight

This isn’t exactly one of the Rockets storied seasons where they lead the WHL in points, have multiple players challenging for the scoring title or a goalie that hasn’t let in a goal since Christmas; but they have a few players that could be the next superstars in the NHL come June. The ISS rankings from January 4th have Callen Foote at 8th overall and Kole Lind at 28th.

Two Kelowna Rockets in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft? Things just got interesting.

The family lineage of Cal Foote makes it easy for him to get noticed, son of Stanley Cup defenseman Adam Foote, but his play on the ice speaks for itself. He’s a rock on the back end for Kelowna, he’s smart in his own zone and has great catch-up speed. Although, he isn’t leading the league in any categories, he is one of the leaders on Kelowna’s blue line.

His shot on the power play gets noticed and it’s hard to see a game where he hasn’t been part of the main story. Rockets defensemen are well known around the NHL as puck movers, impact players and for a handful of them, surefire cornerstone pieces to building a Championship. Stars like Madison Bowey, Shea Weber, Damon Severson, Josh Gorges and Duncan Keith all had great starts in Kelowna and carried their mantle to the NHL.

Not all of those players have hit it big but it’s only a matter of time.

If you look at the comparables to Foote in Jeremy Davis’ pGPS model, you will see that Cal is in some pretty special company:

Callen Foote pGPS graph

Callen Foote pGPS graph

With 48% of his comparables going on to play 200+ games in the NHL, there is a very good chance Foote sticks and becomes a solid contributor in the NHL. There are also lots of WHL comparables which just shows how great the Western league is at producing blue line stars. Notables on the list here include Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber, Luke Schenn and Jay Bouwmeester; all of which have made their mark in the NHL.

Predicting an average point total of 28.3 per season, Cal can be an everyday defender that NHL teams can rely on. Obviously, these are based on a prediction based model and real life stats could easily exceed this number but for NHL teams looking at Foote, he’s a safe pick with a potentially huge upside.

Based on the graph, Foote would average around 0.72 points/gm and again, that’s a pretty high bar. Considering Shea Weber is averaging 0.58/gm in his career, I take that from Foote all day long.

That part I’m sticking on the name he holds and the Kelowna Rockets program he has been brought up in. I could see Cal Foote developing into a can’t miss defenseman that teams can build around. His younger brother Nolan will have some big shoes to fill.

Up front, Kole Lind is putting together a draft campaign that hasn’t normally gone well for Rockets forwards. As amazing as teammate Nick Merkley was in his draft year, the Arizona Coyotes were allowed to pick him with the last pick in the first round when many thought he’d be taken in the early 20’s.

Lind is currently sitting in 17th in overall scoring in the WHL with 58 points and has 5 GWG. His recent explosion last week against the Portland Winterhawks tore the Hawks apart for 2 goals and 2 assists, dominating play and putting his name back in the spotlight for the Draft. Kole Lind hasn’t had a statistically dominant year but he has been a threat on the ice almost every shift.

(I’ve tried that many times and broken many windows, I’ll stick to not being good at hockey)

His play along the boards, his offensive awareness, and ability to stride down the wing has brought the fans to their feet 22 times this season and as the Rockets get closer to the playoffs, he’ll be a driving force on the score sheet.

Looking at Lind’s pGPS graph, his comparables are pretty impressive as well. Lind’s 44.7% success rate comparables are all around the NHL. Jamie Benn would be the most notable player and surprise, surprise… he was a Rocket too! Joffrey Lupul has been around the block but has 701 games and 420 points speak for themselves.

Kole Lind pGPS graph

Kole Lind pGPS graph

Journeyman Shane Doan is on that list and he’s darn near 80 years old! Captain Canada Ryan Smyth is also a solid comparable and if Kole Lind pans out to be anything like either of those two players, he’ll have a heck of a career. Lind’s projected production over 82 games sits at 47.4 points a season which is quite alright.

Not in the top line range but can float around in a top support role. If you take a look at former Blazer and hated opponent, Scottie Upshall, he sits right around where Lind is on the chart. Scrappy but productive and he’s made a name for himself in the NHL. Although Upshall has a career 0.39 pts/gm, he has been a thorn in many teams sides.

Kole Lind will be looked at as a depth forward with a high offensive upside, unfortunately, a first round draft pick is where you want to draft your next stud. He has the weapons but it may take some time before he unleashes the true beast.

Jamie Benn seems to have done just fine so if I’m Kole Lind, I wouldn’t worry about it.

As the Draft approaches, expect to see players like Foote and Lind step their game up to boost their draft stock. The next chance they’ll get to publically show their talents is at the BMO Top Prospects Game in Quebec. This game can send many players up the ranks and get them more publicity as the playoffs carry on.

One thing is for sure, the Kelowna Rockets have it figured out.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – Kelownanow.com

Resilient Rockets Stun Royals In Game 7 Thriller

As the hashtag goes, #itwas2tozero. Game 7 in Victoria’s barn was going to be hard enough but going down 2 buzz in the first? The Royals were too good to let this one slip away. That’s the beauty of playoff hockey, anything is possible. No matter how you enjoyed this one whether on WHL on Shaw or the electric play by play of Regan Bartel on AM 1150, it was a thriller right down to the last 0.2 seconds of regulation.

Oh, and then there was overtime.

 

Kelowna wasn’t as charged as they should have been in this game and aside from some luck and a few saves by Michael Herringer, the Rockets could have easily blown this one.

Justin Kirkland added yet another playoff tally to his resume, it wasn’t pretty but it put the Rockets back in the game early in the third period, cutting the Royals lead to 1. Kelowna pushed back in the third period and had a few opportunities to pull even. A Ryan Gagnon delay of game penalty about 4 minutes into the final frame could have put Kelowna dead even but they just couldn’t capitalize.

It was a nailbiter right to the end and when coach Brad Ralph pulled Michael Herringer with just over 2 minutes left in the game, the stress level went to Defcon 5. The Rockets just couldn’t get anything together and Victoria was able to get the puck and take a long shot at the open Kelowna net from the Victoria end.

Off the outside of the post……icing.

The Rockets and Royals held the puck in Victoria’s end boards for almost 30 seconds and if it DID stay there that long, the game would have ended and the Royals would have advanced.

The puck managed to squirt out and was fed to rookie defenseman Cal Foote who fed Justin Kirkland. With 0.2 seconds left in the game, this happened:

Anyone with a pulse was in utter shock; amazement if you’re a Kelowna fan and dumbfounded if you happen to cheer for the Royals. Overtime was back and forth but it was the Rockets who held the play.

Maybe getting a buzzer beater is good for morale? I’m guessing yes.

Kelowna was riding high and a few hiccups by the Royals in their own zone led to the eventual series deciding goal:

Even though there is not ONE Canadian NHL team in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, the WHL is more than making up for that. The Rockets will face the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Western Conference Final starting Friday and Saturday in Kelowna. I have a feeling this series will be just as intense as the last one.

That’s Rockets hockey I guess?

Photo – Marlon Martens

Rockets Game For A 7th Showdown

You saw Game 6 and even if you didn’t, the Kelowna Rockets would prefer you not see it. Penalty troubles plagued the Kelowna crew and a less than attentive start in the first period had the Rockets playing catchup all game. Heading back to Victoria for the illustrious GAME 7 is all the motivation the Rockets need.

Get the job done and move on to Seattle.

The Rockets have done quite well in the conference semis this year with every game being a tight knit one. Neither team is giving up much so the errors are front and centre when they happen. Stellar goaltending on both ends has forced everyone to bury their chances because there won’t be many opportunities to take a lead.

Kelowna is 2-2 in Game 7’s going ALLLLL the way back to 2008. They don’t play very many of them but have seen a number of Game 6’s though. As you no doubt have heard, if Jack Walker scores for Victoria in this series, the Royals have won. Not a fun stat but he’s pretty good. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did indeed score but the Rockets have plenty of fight left and can put this away just as much as the Royals.

Here are your KEYS TO THE GAME:

  • STAY OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX!!! The Rockets have been shorthanded the MOST of any team in the WHL this post season, 60 times if you really wanna know. No doubt Brad Ralph has preached discipline but I mean, at this point, you just hope they outscore their problems. Maybe change it up and think about drawing penalties instead of taking them. On that same note, Victoria is finding it tough to score as Kelowna’s 85% PK is impressive.
  • Lack of Power…play – The Royals have a 17% PP success rate which isn’t all that high but Kelowna isn’t really any better at 14.6%. Whoever wins this battle, probably wins the game and thus, the series.
  • Rourke is off the Charts! – Rourke Chartier and Tomas Soustal lead the Rockets with 11 points; each with 5 goals and 6 assists. Charts has been an integral part of the Rockets success the last two seasons and without star Nick Merkley this time, he’s upped his game as have others and they’ve enjoyed energy bursts that usually result in scoring chances and more than not, goals.
  • Another brick in the wall – Michael Herringer just doesn’t quit. He’s bit early on a few goals this series but other than that, nobody can beat this guy. He’s so cool in the net, he just doesn’t panic under any circumstance. His 2.38 GAA is tops among active goalies in the playoffs, his two shutouts, ditto. Herry’s .928 SA% is no slouch either and we shouldn’t be surprised. Herringer has been the Rockets MVP this playoff run because without him, they probably don’t even get passed Kamloops. Another big game should be in the cards for him.
  • Win Game 7 – we all dream of winning it all in Game 7, scoring the big goal and the team carries you off. Tyson Baillie had a pretty impressive one against Seattle to finalize a hat trick so he knows the importance of bringing everything you have. Play the game that got you there and it should be just fine….well not Game 6.

Brad Ralph might be interested in getting Riley Stadel a few more minutes for this one. His energy and versatility are almost unmatched and a big hit early could help steer the course in the Rockets favour; combine that with a Chartier/Kirkland goal and Kelowna is on to Round 3!

We are very fortunate to have this series on Shaw so we can enjoy the tight knit hockey one more time I’d assume the East gets the next round so the Rockets will have to climb one more mountain to get their names in lights once again.

But first, the Victoria Royals. It will be nail biting, it will be stressful and it will most definitely be must see TV.

As Regan Bartel sets us up each game on AM 1150, he leaves us with this “Pitter Patter Lets Get At Er”

Photo – Times Colonist

Rockets In For Long Series Versus Royals

After losing two straight in Victoria, the Rockets went from effort to results. Game 3 wasn’t flawless for Kelowna but their compete level was noticeable and the difference was the final score. Game 4 is going to be a war and if the Rockets are wanting to go back to the island tied up, they’ll need every bit of game they had from Tuesday.

Michael Herringer started Game 3 quietly stealing the show, by the end, he was the #1 star. The defining moment of that game for me was his sprawling save in the first period that led to an end to end rush followed by Rourke Chartier banging home the tic tac toe goal. Had Herringer allowed that goal, it would have been 1-1 and who knows where that game goes.

Speaking of Chartier, he could not be stopped. Thursday night will be another chance for him to show why he has been a leader all year even with the loss of Nick Merkley. Charts is currently tied with Tomas Soustal at 8 points for the team lead. Both have been integral goal scorers and against Coleman Vollrath they’ll need to be again.

Chartier hooked Soustal up for the game winning goal in the 3rd and the effort continued until the end.

Tyson Baillie was held in check for the most part as the series shifted to Kelowna but believe you me, this is where he shines. Baillie is all kinds of clutch in the playoffs and nothing would surprise me if Game 4 went to OT and Baillie was the hero.

The Rockets employed a new look PP and I wonder if we’ll see that same bold strategy again. Coach Brad Ralph sent out 5 forwards on the 5 on 3 and it paid off. Kelowna needs to keep getting creative with the man advantage and get their blue line more involved. Those shots are coming and it seems like Lucas Johansen is getting time and space enough that he can unload his quick shot.

It all circles back to goaltender Michael Herringer. He was tested and saw a good chunk of the shots he faced. There were some semi-desperation saves, a few game changers and his battle level was tops.

What I love about Herringer is that he’s stone cold in net. No matter the stage, he doesn’t flinch or get flustered. He treats every save like a transaction – square up, see the shot, save the shot. Repeat. I made a comment when the season started that he’s like the hero that slo-mo walks away from the building exploding in the background.

Guy just doesn’t looked startled at all. Down the stretch he will be the Rockets difference maker when the scoring dries up.

Thursday night’s game can bring the Rockets back to square one with the Royals and make it a best of 3. You want that, I want that, they want that.

So go and do it.

 

photo – timescolumnist.com

Rockets Looking To Overthrow the Royals Throne

The Kelowna Rockets go into Game 3 against the Victoria Royals with something to prove. Narrowly missing overtime on a disallowed “kicked in” goal, the series has been closer than the series shows. Sure, its 2-0 Victoria, but does it look that way on the ice? Depends on who you ask. The Royals took the season series 5-4 and in the goals category it wasn’t close. The Rockets will need to get back to a full on team game to make this a series.

Michael Herringer hasn’t been lights out this playoffs and its a shame that #1 Jackson Whistle isn’t there to spell him when things get out of hand; of course if Whistle was there, it would be Herringer doing the relief work.

Stating the obvious but Kelowna’s top players will need to be at their best Tuesday night. Rourke Chartier is doing everything that’s asked of him and Tyson Baillie’s efforts are finally being rewarded. He has been the glue for the Rockets in the good times and the bad and unfortunately he’ll need to be a star in the first game back in Kelowna.

Even with a disallowed goal, Baillie had a goal and an assist and is doing “Baillie Things”. Remember his hat trick against Seattle to clinch Game 7 in OT a few years ago? He’s Mr. Playoffs for the Rockets. I have a feeling his work isn’t done yet.

The defense for the Rockets has been suspect IMO; too much time making decisions, not shooting the puck and creating rebounds and holding the line hasn’t been the greatest either. In his draft year, Lucas Johansen needs to prove he’s worthy of a 28th overall ranking. I personally don’t think he has earned that right yet but in a series like this, he can turn a lot of heads.

Joe Gatenby also has a chance to step back up. He has usually been a rock on the back end as has Cal Foote but this defense just doesn’t impress this year and you start to notice these things when there isn’t a guy that steps up and leads that group. This team has prided itself, well the media and fans anyways, on stellar defense and there has never been questions there. I’ve had a few this season. Where is that booming shot from the point, this among others.

Up front it’s Dillon Dube and his theatrics every time he drives the net. This kid has moves, speed and during the regular season some pretty fancy finishes. Solving Coleman Vollrath will make things easier but it took Kelowna seven games to ultimately solve Connor Ingram. Big man Justin Kirkland has looked good this playoffs and driving to the net with his size can pull Victoria off their game. Kirkland has really looked like a leader this year, not an easy thing to do.

Kirkland, Riley Stadel and Rodney Southam will all need to be front and center against the Royals in Game 3. The Rockets thrive when they get their energy levels boosted, sounds like something every team does but Kelowna is a team that when they put the pedal to the medal and hold it there, it’s pretty tough to bring them down.

If the Rockets want to pull off a regicide, they’ll have to remember why they challenged for the top spot in the WHL. The Victoria Royals are no joke and quite frankly can down Kelowna a lot quicker than some will give them credit for. It’s still a seven game series and Kelowna is far from out of this.

It wouldn’t hurt the local crowd to hand over their library cards for the series and show who’s boss.

It shouldn’t be fun to play the Rockets, home or away; it should be painful going back to Victoria knowing it’s a best of 3.

Get that first goal.

#thismomentweownit

 

photo – zimbio.com

Kelowna Rockets’ Michael Herringer Is Last Action Hero

Rarely do we talk about a goaltending controversy with the Kelowna Rockets. As one goalie moves on, the heir apparent steps in. There has never been a shortage of talent at that position and for the next few seasons that trend should not change. Michael Herringer has won the “backup” spot behind Jackson Whistle but the way Herringer plays the backup spot may turn into a 1A scenario.

When Herringer broke into the league last year he did so with flair, or to be honest, a lack therof. With three goalies occupying the net it came down to circumstance before Herringer was given a starting opportunity. Jackson Whistle went down in November 2014 and that was all Michael needed to get his name out there.

(note: Herringer played 2 games for the Victoria Royals before being traded to Kelowna)

His stone cold demeanor when he’s manning the nets is something to behold. It’s one thing to be a calm and cool goalie but when you play the angles so well that saves are just a formality, you’re special. Michael Herringer reminds me of the hero that walks away from an explosion in slo-mo like it’s no big deal.

That’s essentially what you get when he’s in net.

He posted a 3-0  shutout in his first start against Vancouver and yet another win in his next outing. Herringer would finish with an 11-2 record, 2 shutouts and a SA% of .913. Pretty impressive for the 18 year old at the time.

When things got dicey down the stretch and even in the playoffs last year, body placement, a bit of luck and a worry free attitude kept Herringer focused and ready. Its a shame we never see any of our goalies make it big in the NHL.
I believe if there are any hiccups with Jackson Whistle this year, new coach Brad Ralph will not hesitate to try his hand with the confident tendy.

It’s a new season in Kelowna and after coming up one goal short in the Memorial Cup Final, the Rockets will be out to avenge their loss. One thing’s for sure: Goaltending will not be an issue, yet again as Herringer and Whistle aim to show you why night in and night out.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Or don’t, no big deal

Kelowna Rockets, Oshawa Generals: Destined For Memorial Cup Final

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.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four