jackson whistle

Rockets Too Much For Ramparts; Generals Await

Safe to say the province of Quebec are not Rockets fans after this week. Kelowna amassed 16 goals combined against the Rimouski Oceanic and Quebec Ramparts in just over 3 days. Everything seems to have gone right for the Rockets and their final test comes Sunday.

One more game. One more team.

The Kelowna Rockets needed a big game out of their stars and it was the supporting cast that did most of the damage on Friday night. The media and fans alike no doubt would have expected Nick Merkley, Leon Draisaitl and Gage Quinney to be the ones leading the attack, would Chance Braid and Justin Kirkland do?

Braid and Rodney Southam both got an opportunity to drop the mitts against Ramparts Yanick Turcotte and it only seemed to fire up the Rockets, to the tune of 9-3. Sure the big guns had a good game but it was the secondary scoring that did Quebec in.

Justin Kirkland seems to be fine after coming back from injury. He picked a great game to get back in the groove. With 2G and 2A and a +3, what a way to stun the Quebec crowd! He wasn’t the only one. Chance Braid added to his big fight by completing the Gordie Howe Hat Trick with a goal and an assist.

Up and down the lineup, the Rockets were having statement games. Even though Rourke Chartier was the team’s leading scorer, he has been under the weather and hasn’t produced at his normal clip. I guess all he needed was a big game to get his scoring touch back.

2 goals and a +4 got Chartier right back to where he needed to be. The German sniper Leon Draisaitl made quick work of Zach Fucale putting up a pedestrian 1G and 2A. He continues to amaze and now, he doesn’t even celebrate his goals.

We could keep talking about all the guys that got points for Kelowna but how about the ones that kept the puck out? Cole Martin is beyond underrated. He played the ultimate shutdown role against Quebec stealing pucks and driving guys to the outside.

Martin gets praise at home but on such a big stage like the Memorial Cup, he has elevated his game to the point the scouts should be taking notice. He isn’t flashy and isn’t one for the stats but if you need someone to breakup a huge play, odds are Martin is there.

Can’t forget to mention Jackson Whistle who allowed only 3 goals. In a format like the Memorial Cup, every team is good enough to score a boatload of goals. He never allowed more than 3 goals in a game and in the losses he suffered he was far from the reason they fell.

Whistle has been able to surpass his predecessor Jordan Cooke with less than stellar numbers, but the big numbers that mattered were the W’s he produced. The goal scoring in front of him sure helps keep a calm hand when opponents are bearing down on his net.

So now the Rockets get to play the Generals for the Memorial Cup. Two teams that are equal in almost every way. If you read my post from just over a week ago you know I’m not shocked to see them both here.

The two best teams are right where they should be and the way the Rockets are playing, the loss they suffered the first time they played Oshawa will serve as a good reminder of what they’ll have to do to win. Scoring 9 times in the semi final is a pretty good sign they’re ready.

Sunday can’t come soon enough.

Follow me on twitter for more hot takes: @always90four


Rockets FINALLY Play Themselves; Lose Round 1

There was really only one game most people had circled on the schedule at the Mastercard Memorial Cup: Kelowna Rockets vs. Oshawa Generals. It lived up to the hype and hopefully its the preview of the Cup Final on Sunday. The Rockets found themselves playing against a mirror on Tuesday night and they lost the first round.

Once the puck dropped after the hour long (or so it felt) Patrick Roy love fest, Kelowna and Oshawa took awhile to get into their groove. Scoreless after one, the tension was building. They matched each other hit for hit, save for save and it had the makings of a classic.

The second period wasn’t so kind to the Rockets and recent Canucks darling, Cole Cassels, put the Generals up on the wide open chance. Oshawa would go up by two later in the period but the Rockets more specifically Gage Quinney put the WHL Champions within one.

Kelowna’s power play hasn’t exactly been electric and the chances they received, they couldn’t bury. Oshawa was all over Kelowna keeping them to the outside and minimizing chances….hmmmm sounds familiar? Its a shame they don’t have cross country 2 game sets as a buildup to the tourney.

That 5 on 3 was the Rockets chance to get the game back to even keel. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t buy a goal and you have to give the Generals credit because that penelty kill was epic!

Before the game started, it could be argued Ken Appleby and Jackson Whistle were similar in style, statistics and clutchness? Whistle did everything he could to keep the Rockets in while 200 feet away, Appleby did everything, a few more things and robbed a bank to keep the score in the Generals favour.

Goaltending should not have been the main topic of conversation but man did the tenders stand on their heads on this night. I can’t say it enough, these two teams better face off on Sunday.

You really do get a true appreciation of how good the Rockets have been this year when you see them face off against the Generals. Kelowna has pretty much ran the table this year and even with a few speed bumps in the playoffs, they were largely uncontested.

Oshawa had a bit of a harder road, a big test against the Erie McDavids…err Otters and they took that series deep. The Generals are an amazing shut down team and are very deserving of the accolades they receive. Its tough to see a loss like the Rockets had on Tuesday because they basically lost to themselves.

The only difference was that the team that beat them had a different looking jersey. It was three periods of excitement that no one wanted to end; I was begging for OT.

Oshawa now waits until Sunday to see who they will face for the Memorial Cup. Kelowna will wait too, hopefully until Friday to meet the Quebec Ramparts for revenge in the semi final.

It’s not over yet Rockets fans.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Photo – lfpress.com

Rockets Need To Dig Deep To Eliminate Winterhawks

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!

Follow me on twitter: @always90four


Photo credit – zimbio.com