Results 1 to 2 of 2

Thread: Elimination or historic run?

  1. #1

    Post Elimination or historic run?

    By Doyle Potenteau

    Win today and we walk together forever. It's an old saying in hockey, but one that has just as much meaning today as when it was first written.

    Famously penned by Philadelphia Flyers head coach Fred Shero prior to Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup final against Boston, the quote is about inspiration and immortalizing effort. It's been used by coaches countless times since, including former Kelowna head coach Marc Habscheid, who recycled it during the Rockets' 2003 title run and 2004 Memorial Cup championship.

    In their first-round series against Seattle, the Rockets' version is more like this: Win today and you give yourself a chance.

    Now, I'm sure, dear reader, you're thinking: You (insert unflattering term about columnist), give yourself a chance at what?

    Well, how about a shot at equalling some WHL history?

    If Kelowna wins tonight, then the Rockets will force Game 6 in Seattle on Tuesday. And the last time Kelowna was in Seattle, the Rockets put up a pretty good result in a 4-0 victory in Game 4. If the dominoes fall right, this could lead to Game 7 in Kelowna next Wednesday.

    Of course, this is all if, if, if.

    If Kelowna wins Game 5 tonight. If Kelowna wins Game 6 on Tuesday.

    Fantasy? Maybe.

    But had Kelowna been blown out by Seattle in Games 1, 2 and 3, this column would be about the Rockets' impending funeral, not about possibilities. They weren't blown out, though, as underscored by the fact those three games all went to overtime. Further, the Rockets played poorly in Games 1 and 2 and still had chances at winning.

    That says something, though it must be said that the T-Birds were well-deserved winners in Games 1, 2 and 3. As for Game 4, as good as Kelowna was, Seattle was flat after taking a series of early penalties that handed the Rockets the lead for good.

    "Mentally, we weren't ready and that's why we took those penalties. When you're taking penalties like that, you aren't working hard mentally. You also have to know the refs," Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "It was really apparent early that they were going to call a lot of stuff. We didn't adjust to that quick enough."

    Konowalchuk added "It looked like we were a little emotionally drained (on Wednesday). We have to play with emotion. That team is too good for us to play without emotions, but we have to have it in check and not cross the line."

    Now we get what should be a great game. Kelowna is in a must-win scenario, while Seattle is pressure free. Sort of.

    With a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series, Seattle has some wiggle room in trying to eliminate Kelowna, but not a lot. Lose tonight, then again in Game 6, and it doesn't take a crystal ball in predicting what happens to teams that lose momentum.

    Remember the 2004 Western Conference final? Kelowna had a 3-1 series lead against expansion Everett, then dropped the next three: 1-0 in overtime, 2-1 in overtime and 2-1 in overtime.

    In 1996, Spokane rallied from a 3-0 deficit in its first-round series with Portland by winning the next four: 5-3, 5-0, 4-3 in double overtime and 4-3 in overtime. During the regular season, Spokane (50-18-4, 104 points) finished first in the West with 104 points, while Portland (30-39-3, 63 pts.) was sixth. It's not exactly equal to second-place Kelowna (52-16-3-1, 108 pts.) versus seventh-place Seattle (24-38-7-3, 58 pts.), but it's close enough for comparisons.

    Are the Rockets in tough? Sure they are, especially when you consider they'll be missing six regulars out with injuries for tonight's game, while Seattle is relatively healthy. If the Rockets win today, though, then we got ourselves a series. And isn't that what playoff hockey is all about?

  2. #2

    Post Injuries plaguing Rockets

    By Larry Fisher

    The news went from bad to worse for the Kelowna Rockets on Friday.

    The best news is the Rockets are still alive in their first-round WHL playoff series, albeit trailing the underdog Seattle Thunderbirds 3-1 in that best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final heading into tonight's must-win Game 5 at Prospera Place.

    Now, for the not-so-promising news. The Rockets confirmed on Friday morning that the club will be without the services of versatile rookie centre Rourke Chartier and veteran defenceman MacKenzie Johnston for six to eight weeks as both players suffered upper-body injuries during Games 3 and 4, respectively, in Kent, Wash.

    Chartier's ailment remains undisclosed, while Johnston is said to have sustained a second-degree shoulder separation on a hit from behind in the first period of Kelowna's 4-0 win on Wednesday. That dangerous play resulted in a double-minor to Seattle's Connor Honey and helped stake the Rockets to a 2-0 lead, with Tyson Baillie scoring twice on the ensuing man-advantages.

    Kelowna, though, will be the team playing shorthanded tonight. How shorthanded? With Chartier and Johnston now sidelined, the Rockets are missing six regulars due to injury, have no remaining healthy scratches from their regular-season roster and will be forced to dress at least one of their 15-year-old affiliates tonight - either forward Nick Merkley or blue-liner Joe Gatenby.

    "They are key players for us, so they will be missed," Rockets head coach Ryan Huska said of Chartier and Johnston. "They're reliable in a lot of different situations, both of them, so it's unfortunate. But, again, it's an opportunity for other people to step up and continue to do what we've done all year.

    "We've had depth all year long and now it's just different guys having to fill in and take up a lot of the slack."

    Slack complicated by the ongoing absences of captain and top-line centre Colton Sissons (undisclosed upper-body, 6-10 weeks), left-winger Carter Rigby (shoulder, foot, indefinite), defenceman Mitchell Wheaton (shoulder, indefinite) and over-age forward J.T. Barnett (illness, day-to-day).

    "It's a huge loss, but no matter who is in the lineup, we're going to play the exact same way," said goaltender Jordon Cooke, coming off a 25-save shutout to stave off elimination. "We lost a couple players in Game 4, but we stuck to our game plan and came out with a win."

    "A little adversity will never hurt anybody . . . and we all still believe in here," said third-year forward Zach Franko. "Nobody wants to be in this spot, but this is where we are and any time you can push a series to come back home, it's huge.

    "We're a tight group and this is where we're going to show it."

    It's more than a brave face. Kelowna genuinely believes it can rally from what was a 3-0 series deficit after Tuesday's third consecutive overtime defeat. Perhaps, therein lies the reason for Kelowna's continued confidence. The first three games were decided by one goal before the Rockets produced the first one-sided triumph of the series. And Wednesday's convincing victory gave the Rockets plenty to build on for tonight.

    "There were definitely some positive things there that we did see," Huska said. "Our power play generated for us (3-for-4 in the first period, 3-7 overall), and I thought it was a big factor in the game.

    "You look around, anywhere, at playoff time of the year, special teams are typically the difference between winning and losing. So our power play needs to continue to generate when we have that opportunity, and we need guys to be confident in their ability to make plays."

    Through the first three games, Kelowna was 2-for-14 on the power play (14 per cent efficiency rating - down from 22 per cent during the regular season, at 64-288).

    "Our power play was struggling a little bit, so it's always nice to get that monkey off your back," said Franko. "It's a huge confidence-booster to know that if you're a man up, you're going to score. To get three on them in the first period was key, but we can't stop there. We're going to get some more power plays in the next game, hopefully, and we need to capitalize."

    The word "need" was thrown around frequently, regardless of the questions. But there was also a bit of role reversal taking shape, with the Rockets embracing the underdog mentality now despite entering this round as favourites, having finished 50 points ahead of the T-birds in regular-season standings.

    "Right now, we're a team that can just go play," Huska said. "Seattle is the team that's got the pressure on them to try to finish this series out. We just need to focus our attention on that next game that's right in front of us and not worry about anything beyond that."

    After the first couple contests - both OT upsets - it was the other way around, with T-Birds head coach Steve Konowalchuk insisting his squad was playing loose, with nothing to lose.

    "We weren't supposed to win anything, so we were coming out and having fun," Konowalchuk said after last Saturday's 2-1 overtime upset. "That's our approach, and we still have to approach it that way because we've got a long way to go."

    As for who Huska will be inserting into the lineup to plug the latest holes, he was still undecided as of Friday at noon. Merkley has only played one game with the Rockets, making his WHL debut in a 6-1 win at Red Deer back on Dec. 15, while Gatenby has yet to suit up.

    "I know both kids would be excited to get in there and get a taste of the playoffs at this level," said Huska, adding the Rockets also have the option of shifting Colton Heffley and/or Myles Bell back to defence. "One is going to be in, but we're going to discuss over the next day and a bit to see which direction we want to go."

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts