memorial cup

Rockets Showing Glimpses of Memorial Cup Run

When this series started, I had the Royals winning in 7 games. As good as Kelowna has been this year, Victoria just seemed to have the IT factor, especially to close out the season. As the Rockets enter Game 6 on home ice, they have a chance to close it all out and prove to the CHL powers that be that rankings are nothing more than a number on paper.

They may not have the Tyrell Goulbournes, Madison Boweys, Nick Merkleys or even Jackson Whistle but the veterans have stepped it up a notch this series and are getting results.

Tyson Baillie hasn’t been the hot hand this post season but when you need a big goal, he’s your man.

So maybe Baillie hasn’t been the guy but Justin Kirkland has brought his game to another level against the Royals. His big shot and offensive awareness have been game changers in the last 3 tilts. With 3 goals and an assist in the series, he’s getting the looks and making the most of his chances.

His goal in Game 5 to make it 3-1 was a PP marker and at that point there was no turning back. Speaking of the power play, the Rockets sure waited to get this going but boy oh boy does it shine now.

As Game 6 approaches, all eyes will once again be on Michael Herringer. He’s been as the kids say, “SICK”, and when he doesn’t make the called save, he seems to be having a bit of the puck luck as well. When you’re on your game, things just seem to go your way. Herringer gives the Rockets the ability to press a little harder at the other end knowing their goaltender can bail them out.

Even when Herringer doesn’t make every save, he has Joe Gatenby to back him up. Gatenby has been a defensive gem in this series and keeping Joe Hicketts, Jack Walker and Logan Fisher off the score sheet has been a chore but he’s up to it. Yes, he’s been out there for a few but his overall game has built confidence in the Rockets end.

The one line that might just take Kelowna all the way again has a familiar face and a few welcome additions. Rourke Chartier, Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf have been a delight. These guys love to score and Rockets fans are sure glad they do. A combined 5 goals and 10 assists in 6 games, the top line is surging and it won’t surprise anyone if they get the ball rolling again on Sunday.

Its not just pucks going in the net, these 3 are making it look fun.

Thank you WHL gifs!

The series isn’t over just yet but after Game 5, its tough to see the Rockets regressing in the series. After back to back wins on back to back nights, Kelowna found another gear and are making the Royals pay for any mistakes they make. Herringer is stopping everything in sight and the Rockets power play is starting to click.

Victoria will need a perfect game from their goaltender, whoever that may be, and they need to stay disciplined. Sure, I’m saying this on the Kelowna side but watching them take mindless penalties makes it that much easier for the Rockets to put this away.

Cole Linaker finally got his game going and I expect a big Game 6 from him. Every Rocket player looks poised to head to the next round and I thought the Royals would be the team to beat, but they’re looking a lot like Brandon did a year ago.

We all know what happened after that….but lets not bring up the Final just yet.

Not going to the game, check it out the WHL on Shaw, Ch 304

Photo – Marissa Baecker Shoot the Breeze

#thismomentweownit

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

Rockets Fall Short On Dream Season; Still Kelowna’s Heroes

My heart sank in sadness when the puck went in to crown the Oshawa Generals 2015 Memorial Cup Champions. I’ve felt this hurt before when the Vancouver Canucks fell to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup. That pain is never easy to swallow and we all play those hilites back in our heads over and over. This year’s Rockets team was different though, they weren’t supposed to lose. 

It wasn’t being cocky or arrogance, these guys were genuinely likeable and Canada fell in love with our Ogopogo crew. Losing in OT in the final game of the tournament is about as painful as it gets but a day later they could have won it all by the reception the locals gave them. Champions? No. Heroes? You bet!

  
Credit – infonnews.ca

A season that didn’t match their statistical efforts from a year prior, 53 -13-5-1 in 2015 compared to 57-11-0-4 in 2014, it made up in excitement, confidence and a handful of trades that took the WHL by storm. Owner and GM Bruce Hamilton pulled the trigger on some of the biggest moves the team has ever made and you know what, I say they paid off.

Hamilton isn’t known for parting with high picks or depth home grown talent but this season was different. RIght before Christmas he unloaded a deal that brough stud defenseman Josh Morrissey (backup goaltender Jake’s brother) home from Prince Albert.

A deal that shook the junior hockey world and got people wondering how far Kelowna would go to win it all in 2015. Well, they weren’t done. The Edmonton Oilers sent Leon Draisaitl (NHL 3rd overall pick in 2014) back to junior after 37 games and again, a trade was made to bring the star centre to the beautiful Okanagan from Prince Albert.

How many stars were buried in PA?

The Memorial Cup saw everything these newbies had to offer and Leon Draisaitl in defeat, won the tournament MVP with 4 goals and 3 assists. He was our J.S. Giguere. We were all sad too Leon. Had the Rockets won, there is a chance the winning goal might have been future NHL star Nick Merkley’s if the puck didn’t hop off his stick on a late game breakaway.

It would have been enough to have the additions of Morrissey and Draisaitl but in that deal the Rockets also received underrated winger Gage Quinney. Stealing is the wrong word here, Hamilton made out like a bandit. Oh but Brucey wasn’t done there. 

With room for one more 20 year old after sending away over-ager Carter Rigby at the beginning of the year, Hamilton looked north to Prince George and landed veteran gritty forward Chance Braid. He hits, he fights and believe it or not, he scores too!

Quinney and Braid took it to another level in Quebec and I think even for Rockets fans they realized Gage Quinney might be the teams next star. He was slightly overshadowed in coverage by Draisaitl, Merkley and Chartier which was fine by him.

Quinney’s four goals and an assist were right behind the big German and occasional linemate Merkley. The big games came and Gage stepped up. Next season is going to be bright for him. Merkley and Quinney could do a lot more damage when they play full time together.

Kelowna took a bit to jel all their new additions but things were still going as planned. WIns came easy and when the challenges came, they passed with flying colors. The fans started to notice, they started to get excited.

The playoffs for the Rockets basically started in the second round after sweeeping the Tri City Americans quicker than it takes to change the channel when Caillou comes on (Im a dad, if you know…you know). Victoria’s Royals put up a bit of a challenge but again, Kelowna only needed 5 games and some anger after losing one they shouldn’t have.

If you follow the Rockets closely, you know the Portland Winter Hawks have been Kelowna’s kryptonite. Facing the Hawks 3 of the last 4 years, it was going to be THE test everyone was waiting for. Back and forth both teams went but it wasn’t until game 4 that Kelowna made their statement (VIDEO). Kelowna never looked back.

Going into the WHL Final, the stars came alive. Josh Morrissey, Nick Merkley, Leon Draisaitl and Gage Quinney all had their way with the Brandon Wheat Kings and what looked like a 6 or 7 game series quickly turned into an unlikely sweep by the Rockets.

Could they be that good?

Aside from a few hiccups, the Rockets were as advertised even though they finished the round robin 1-2 at the Memorial Cup. Scoring 7 goals against the Rimouski Oceanic put them in the semi final and embarrassing the Quebec Ramparts in that game 9-3 had all but assured Kelowna the title.

Oshawa ended up with the OT winner to become the 2015 Champs but in all the Kelowna’s fans eyes, their team had reminded the rest of Canada they were for real. It could have gone either way but no one in Kelowna is blaming anyone. 

This team brought a city together even if only for a few months and it may take awhile before Kelowna gets back to the big dance but we won’t forget. These were our heroes.

The Rockets marketing team came up with the slogan and hashtag #thismomentweownit for this season, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that says they didn’t.

Its all done for another year but something tells me Canada will want to see more next season. At the very least, this little girl sure does:

  
Thanks Merks!  Next stop – the NHL Draft.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

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 Hoping For Generals Admission

While the Oshawa Generals wait to see who they will face on Sunday for the Memorial Cup Final, the Kelowna Rockets waited to see who THEY would be playing in the semi final on Friday. We now know the host Quebec Ramparts will be the Rockets opponent. I’m awaiting this game as much as the movie premiere of Entourage next week.

The Rockets are looking for a summer blockbuster too, one with Generals admission on Sunday.

Before we get all wide eyed and dreamy, theres a hockey game to play. Kelowna didn’t finish on the right side of the score sheet the first time they played Quebec; maybe nerves got to them or too much line matching. This time, they know what they have to do to win.

Zach Fucale will be one of the reasons the Rockets dream of lifting the trophy ends on Friday or the reason they move on. Fucale has been the best goalie in the tournament. Statistically, he hasn’t done much but his confidence and stone cold demeanor when danger strikes is unmatched.

He has a bit of Roberto Luongo and Patrick Roy all wrapped up in one.  A hot goalie at the right time corrects any problems the team in front of him has. Fucale is last in GAA, SA % and GA; but if you are looking for a game breaking save, he’ll probably be your guy.

At the same time, if you can beat him early and maybe put up 2 quick; that confidence can be broken. The Rockets stars have proven they can do serious damage when things are rolling and they have chased a few goalies this post season.

Coach Dan Lambert has the big guns on his side. Leon Draisaitl and Nick Merkley are right up there in points with 4 and 5 respectively. The game will be put in their hands Friday night and they will be ready. Losing to Oshawa was tough, especially because a failed 5 on 3 power play cost them the game.

Don’t forget up and comer Gage Quinney though; after the horses run on the first line, over the boards comes Quinney, Tyson Baillie and Dillon Dube. Quinney has been johnny on the spot this week and his linemates are due. Tyson Baillie has been known to score the big goal, it’d be nice to see him cash in.

Scoring from the blue line would give the forwards a break and Josh Morrissey can make that happen. The big additions will need to make the difference against Quebec or the big push GM Bruce Hamilton made will be over.

No more line matching or holding the fort; load up the top line early and often, let Merkley and Draisaitl control the puck and for pete sakes SHOOT THE PUCK MADISON BOWEY!! His shot is accurate and heavy, rebounds are tough to hold on to and this might be his last hurrah.

It’s time to get back to Kelowna Rockets hockey. Control the play, cycle that puck and score, score, score.

There is only one ticket left for the big show on Sunday and the Rockets have all the tools they need to advance. Even if the Memorial Cup Final sells out, the Rockets are just trying to get a Generals admission.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Photo credit: kelownanow.com

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

Kelowna Rockets Gamble About To Pay Off

The Kelowna Rockets can advance to the Mastercard Memorial Cup with a win against the Brandon Wheat Kings on Wednesday night. The two top teams in the Dub found each other at the end of a pretty straightforward playoff run.

Kelowna gambled big after coming up short last year and essentially bet the farm to make the Memorial Cup this year. Bruce Hamilton, Rockets Owner/GM, made some shrewd moves and those moves are about to pay out large dividends for the franchise.

With surging forwards Rourke Chartier, Nick Merkley and Tyson Baillie already in the fold, the Rockets still needed that final piece up front that would take them over the top. When the Edmonton Oilers sent Leon Draisaitl back to junior, there was some talk it was on the basis he would go to a contender so he could mature his game a bit more.

The Rockets were the lucky recipients of his talents, but not before making an equally important trade with the same Prince Albert Raiders that Draisaitl played for prior to his NHL debut; local boy Josh Morrissey was dealt to Kelowna from PA to give the Rockets another star on the blue line.

After the World Junior Championships, which Madison Bowey and Morrissey both came home with gold, they began their assault on the WHL. It took some time to mesh and along with the eventual Leon Draisaitl came Gage Quinney, which many thought was a throw in. Quinney has been as important as Draisaitl and Morrissey and has given the Rockets yet another talent to flaunt game after game.

When Draisaitl came back to the WHL, Kelowna did what they haven’t done in 24 years: they dealt their 2015 1st round pick and two other picks in the 4th round to Prince Albert along with Kris Schmidli and Dalton Yorke.
If you lived in Kelowna when that happened it was a head turner. Bruce Hamilton is all about building from within but with a realistic chance to go all the way, he put his money where his mouth is. What resulted was next to perfection really.

In addition to their team success, the new look Rockets have pretty much run the table in the playoffs and racked up the personal stats for its stars both regular season and playoffs. 2014 WHL Rookie of the Year Nick Merkley has adjusted his game this year and has become more of a playmaker.

20 goals and a whopping 70 assists, not to mention a +29 has made Merkley a dual threat when he’s on the ice. His 4 goals and 22 assists in this year’s playoffs are further proof of this. Sadly, my dream of Merks getting drafted in this year’s NHL Entry Draft by the Canucks fades every game he plays; he won’t be there when they pick.

Merkley’s linemate and centre, Rourke Chartier is no slouch either. Even with an injury in both the regular season and playoffs, Chartier has blasted the stat sheet. 48 goals, 34 assists in the regular season and 12 goals, plus a huge 6 assists in the playoffs only authenticize why Kelowna has been dangerous all year.

Now, I could stop there and that would be enough.

The final nail in the coffin for the rest of the WHL was future NHL superstar Leon Draisaitl. It didn’t take more than a period for Leon to show off his stuff when he arrived in the Okanagan. That was all we needed to see.

Draisaitl found early success with clutch perfromer Tyson Baillie and only recently was added to the line of Chartier and Merkley. Before Game 4 of the WHL Championship, Leon had 9 goals and 17 helpers in 18 games. His presence is scary good and he takes over every shift.

Even though coach Dan Lambert loaded up his top line with those three, he has solid depth up and down the roster to get results early and often, Gage Quinney and Dillon Dube to name a few. A sound defense with Bowey, Morrissey, Cole Martin and Joe Gatenby keeps the puck away from the Rockets net and closer to their opponents.

The Kelowna Rockets haven’t played very many games to get to this possible Mem Cup berth and no one is really surprised. A first round sweep of the Tri City Americans, 5 games to beat the Victoria Royals, 6 to FINALLY beat the Portland Winterhawks and the 3 games they have owned Brandon.

Its tough to say if the Rockets have truly been tested thus far but they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. 

Bruce Hamilton has been the architect of many great teams over the years with many NHL stars now in its alumnus; but this year’s team might be his best yet. Never looked like a gambler to me, just a smart man with a great scout.

One win left til poutine, Quebec City here we come! Also, did you NOTICE the beef jerky ad at the top? Man I love beef jerky.

#thismomentweownit GO ROCKETS GO!

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Main photo credit – infotel.ca

Kelowna Rockets Set Sights On Memorial Cup

Its March and in the WHL, that means its playoff time! Small town western Canada amps up from Vancouver Island to the prairies for the road to one of the hardest trophies to win in sports: The Memorial Cup. The Kelowna Rockets have been there before, they’ve tasted glory and now they want another drink from the epic chalice.

What has really been 2 years in the making for Bruce Hamilton’s Rockets is finally coming to fruition. A team known for savvy drafting, developing talent and embracing success, the Kelowna Rockets have been a machine in the WHL for years. Just take a look around today’s NHL and you will instantly notice world class talent: Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Josh Gorges, Jamie Benn, Alex Edler, Tyler Myers, Vern Fiddler, Chuck Kobasew, Luke Schenn, Scott Hannan and Mikael Backlund, all these players have made their mark in the show.

Take a look at that list, its beyond impressive that ONE major junior team has produced that talent so far. Stanley Cup Champions, Olympic Gold Medalists and numerous NHL awards drape over this group of players and that list will only grow as the years go by. It might not take long either; this year’s Rockets are primed to do something special.

However this season finishes for Kelowna, the Rockets have set team records for most franchise wins (55 and counting) and most points (114 and counting). How fitting it is that these records were just broken last season as well? Sounds like a recipe for success already. Coach Ryan Huska has led this group of young men to territory that is not easily reached. The WHL is a tough league to win and Huska’s boys are looking to make some history this spring.

Led by Captain and 2013 Washington Capitals 2nd round draft pick, Madison Bowey, the Rockets have put together a season that has made Canada take notice. The BMO Mastercard CHL Rankings have named Kelowna #1 in the country for almost 3 months, as well as being ranked in the top 10 this season for 20 weeks and one week to go. Is it something in the water? Is it the instant buy in?

They aren’t a group with a superstar player that leads the charge, they run 4 lines deep and when goaltending is brought up, they have two more than capable tenders to block the mesh. Myles Bell, 2013 6th rounder of the New Jersey Devils, is the leading scorer with 41 goals and 74 points. He is flanked in points by forward Ryan Olsen and dman Damon Severson, both with 60 points. Nothing overly mind blowing but this roster boasts 8 players over 45 points. Starting to think to yourself, wow, that’s impressive. These guys must have quite a veteran group of players, this will probably be restocked next year when all the old guys move on after their WHL career; you would be wrong.

Most of this team will stay intact next season with a handful of players moving on, Bell included. One player the Rockets are more than happy to have for the next 4 years or so is true rookie sensation, Nick Merkley. This kid JUST turned 16 earlier this season. He played for Kelowna in 7 playoff games last year and managed 3 points in that time. He instantly showed he was destined for greatness when he played his first game. Merks just has that gift. He sees the game the way the greats do. His hockey IQ just exudes brilliance. Nick makes plays that NHL veterans would be proud of.

Rookie sensation Nick Merkley @merkdaddy4 Photo courtesy of CHL.CA

Rookie sensation Nick Merkley @merkdaddy4
Photo courtesy of CHL.CA

The puck just seems to find Nick Merkley and when it hits his stick, he knows EXACTLY what to do with it. He didn’t score in the playoffs last year but he didn’t miss a beat when he debuted as a rookie this year; 64 GP 24 G 55 PTS +/- 24 and 42 PIM. This kid is unreal! CHL Rookie of the week in October 2013, Merkley is no joke; he just plays to win.

Between the pipes, Jordan Cooke and Jackson Whistle backstop this sensational Rockets team night in and night out. Cooke boasts a 2.27 GAA .922 SA % 38 Wins and 4 SO through 50 GP. Whistle is no slouch either, 21 GP 2.54 GAA .920 SA % 17 Wins and 1 SO, he doesn’t like giving up the net. Jackson will inherit the net next season when Cooke moves on from the WHL being too old to play. It’s not just the stats that are in lights, its the timely saves and game breaking stops that makes Kelowna lethal to play. From top to bottom this team is built to win and should make a healthy run to the May showcase that is the Mem Cup.

Sure, the scoring and stingy defense keep this team on the board and their opponents off of it, but are they tough enough? I would ask Tyrell Goulbourne but I probably would regret the physical answer I would get. Goulby leads the charge on the aggressive meter. His hands are hard when they are knocking out unfortunate contenders and soft as pillows…or kittens, they’re soft too, when he’s potting pucks in the twine. Tyrell has 109 PIM this season to go with his 36 points. A 3rd round choice in 2013 by the Philadelphia Flyers, Tyrell will be a fan favorite the day he suits up in the city of Brotherly Love.

With Bell being able to play both defense on the PP and forward at 5 on 5, Merkley contributing more than any 16 year old should in his first season, saves for days in Cooke and Whistle and a defense led by Bowey and Severson, the Kelowna Rockets can beat you any way you want. Just don’t expect them to say sorry.

Kelowna plays the Tri-City Americans in the first round and I would expect them to make quick work of them, worst case scenario 5 games. The Rockets are poised to win it all this year, so get on board while you can. The next wave of NHL superstars are playing in your backyard.

Follow me on twitter @hankthetank10

All stats courtesy of whl.ca and kelownarockets.com