victoria royals

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 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

Rockets Ready For Island Life And Series Lead

The Kelowna Rockets must have enjoyed some good home cooking or maybe an afternoon at Cecil’s Perogy Palace, because it seemed that all that was needed to get back into the series against the Victoria Royals was a sleep in their own bed. Counting on home wins alone will end up burning the Rockets this round as they don’t have the last change.

After last night’s tug-o-war, the Rockets have to be feeling confident enough to know they can win this series if they keep their heads on a swivel. Game 4 was definitely a battle of special teams. Victoria just couldn’t bury on the man advantage going 0 for 5 and there were chances, there were very good chances.

What the Rockets could not do all of Round 1 was capitalize on the PP. The Royals offered up 5 power plays to Kelowna and FINALLY the Rockets made them pay. No goal was bigger than Cole Linaker’s GWG power play marker with 10 seconds left in the game. If it wasn’t for captain Rodney Southam driving to the net and getting hauled down, who knows where this game would have gone.

They could still be playing.

It was a back and forth battle with leads not lasting longer than a TV time out. Justin Kirkland took the early lead in the 3rd and every Kelowna fan was thinking about having a Game 6 on Sunday. Nice thought. Logan Fisher potted his 2nd of the night and crushed dreams, just crushed em.

Kirkland’s big body game has really been noticeable this series and the goal he scored made it all worth it. What also has been noticeable and I don’t mind being wrong about it is the play of Lucas Johansen.

I really didn’t understand why his draft status climbed so much; I thought his decisions on the power play were a bit laid back and that he held the puck too long when he could have unloaded the shot he has. Statistics seem to speak for themselves and 10 goals and 39 assists seem to do most of the talking and as I have watched him more intently, I’ve noticed his fast shot.

He has made his presence known on the back end and my criticism of his play has recoiled dramatically. He’s a solid player back there and whether he’s the next stud d-man out of Kelowna is yet to be seen, but they have reliable puck moving defender and those aren’t necessarily something that grows on trees.

Going into tonight’s game, Michael “Stone Cold” Herringer will once again need to bring the game that has kept the Rockets in this series. Game 4 wasn’t his best start but he made a few saves that well, we noticed.

Loading up on the power play again might be Kelowna’s key to victory. The 5 man forward group has panned out but to end the game adding Cal Foote was a nice safe touch, no one wants to see that backfire with 5 forwards…not in this town.

Whether Coleman Vollrath is the starter or not, the Rockets have to prepare to just drive the net again and get dirty up front. The drive by Southam that led to the game winner was a prime example of what it will take to win this thing. The Royals made the Rockets pay just the same on a few goals, a breakaway and a dog fight in front of Herringer.

Winning in Victoria won’t be easy though; these games have all been close and when it’s been a home team wins series, it will be tough to take that first one on the road. The nice thing is, if they do, there’s a pretty happy crowd ready to close it out before the weekend is done…AND they’ll be home in time to catch the season finale of Vinyl on HBO.

I’m all about creating win/wins.

Go Rockets GO!

photo – Vancouver Island CTV News

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