Friday, October 4, 2013

Games 6 and 7: Portland @ Kelowna

Kelowna (3-0-0-1, 7 points, 1st in B.C. Division, 2nd in Western Conference) vs. Portland (3-1-0-1, 7 pts, 2nd in U.S. Division and 3rd in West)-Friday 10/4 and Saturday 10/5

Portland takes their only trip up to Kelowna this weekend and plays back to back games in Prospera Place. This is a highly anticipated match-up as many prognosticators had Portland and Kelowna as their top ranked Western Conference teams before the season started.

The Winterhawks are coming off of a solid victory over a surprisingly solid Spokane Chiefs squad on Wednesday, after demolishing Seattle 10-4 Saturday. Kelowna, meanwhile, started the season by besting Kamloops in a home and home series 5-2 two nights in a row. They lost in a shoot out to Victoria 4-3 last Saturday and then righted the ship taking down Everett on the road 6-3 Wednesday.

Kelowna Last Season:
-The Rockets and the Kamloops Blazers continued their see saw battle for dominance in the B.C. Division last season, with the Rockets dominating much of the regular season play. The Rockets were 2nd only to Portland in goals scored last season and had a solid defense as well as they were 3rd in goals against. They finished 2nd in the West behind Portland with a 52-16-3-1 record for 108 points. This was their second best regular season in franchise history, missing tying their best (2002-03: 109 pts) by only one point.

Departed Colton Sissons
All of the accolades from a solid season in Kelowna last year, were nearly all but forgotten as the surprising Seattle Thunderbirds, nearly upset the Rockets, forcing them to over-time of a 7th game. Tyson Baillie scored the over-time winner, saving the Rockets from a catastrophic exit and making history as they were only the 2nd WHL team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win. The Rockets got rival Kamloops in the next round but were no match for the rested Blazers, as they were missing 7 regulars from their lineup including Captain and spark plug Colton Sissons (now with the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals). They were swept in 4 consecutive games, losing the last two in over-time.

Head Coach Ryan Huska is back for his 7th season and has a very impressive 244 wins 153 losses 12 over-time losses and 22 shoot out losses through the first 4 games this season. Huska's teams have not missed the playoffs since he has taken over and it looks to be no different this season.

-Kelowna returns four of their top six scoring forwards from last season including '93 born Myles Bell (93 points last season, who was recently sent back by the New Jersey Devils for his over-age season. This was most likely due to his recent transition from Defense. Also among the  returnees for the Rockets is fellow '93 born winger Zach Franko (72 pts). Franko will be playing for NHL attention this season as his is un-drafted. Rounding out the top scoring returning Forwards are Centers: '94 born Winnipeg Jets pick Ryan Olsen (56 pts) and '95 born Tyson Baillie (56 pts). The Rockets should have a pretty good top six forward group as '96 born winger Rourke Chartier should crack the group and make significant improvements during his draft season and '94 born winger Tyrell Goulbourne was a recent draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers  and will be looking to prove himself. Joining this group this season are '96 born rookie Center Kris Schmidli and '96 born Right Wing Justin Kirkland (who has played a few games over 2 seasons with Kelowna). The Rockets definitely have the scoring ability returning for them this season and should be really pouring in the goals as soon as their chemistry gets going.

-The Rockets also have almost their entire blue line back for this season as well. The most significant returnee is '94 born 2012 New Jersey 2nd round pick Damon Severson (52 pts last season). He is an impressive quarterback on the power play and has improved every single season so far. Kelowna also had a D-man picked in the 2nd round in 2013 with the Washington Capitals taking Madison Bowey. Bowey had 30 points last season and was a +41, but already has potted 6 points in his first 4 games this season. Bowey and Severson are also joined by returnees: '95 born Jesse Lees, '96 born Riley Stadel and '94 born Cole Martin. Joining the Rockets this season and already making an immediate impact is '97 born, first round 2012 Bantam pick Nick Merkley. In his first season, Merkley already has 3 goals and 1 assist in only 4 games. It looks like the pipeline that has produced NHL D-men: Alex Edler, Josh Gorges, Duncan Keith, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn and Shea Weber will continue to find top notch prospects. The Rocket's latest find made 20 year old D-man Mackenzie Johnston expendable last week and so the Rockets sent him to Prince Albert for a 3rd round Bantam pick. This was also made necessary by the Rockets having 3 other 20 year olds in house.

-The third and last '93 born player is Goalie Jordon Cooke. Cooke had a 2.53 Goals Against Average last season and a .908 save & and looks to improve this season. Cooke has played in 3 of the Rocket's 4 games this season and has a 2.27 GAA and .908 Save %. He is entering his 4th season with Kelowna and should be expected to get into nearly the same amount of games this season (54 last season). He should be pressed a little bit by Jackson Whistle this season as the 2012 acquisition from Vancouver has gotten into 21 games behind Cooke the last 2 seasons and will be looking to impress in his 18 year old season, before he is inevitably handed the starting job next season. Whistle gave up 3 goals in his lone start so far, getting the win over Everett Wednesday.

This Weekend's Games:
-Look for Kelowna to start Cooke on Friday and Whistle on Saturday.
-Shane McColgan played for Kelowna for 4 season from 2008-12, until he appeared to fall out of favor with Rocket's coaching  and was traded to Saskatoon. It is unlikely McColgan is healthy enough to play this weekend, but should he make it into either game, the Hawks will enjoy the lift his energy will give them.
-With Taylor Leier's ability to play tonight unknown, the Hawks could be down to only 10 healthy Forwards (Dominic Turgeon, Paul Bittner and  McColgan are also injured and Brendan Leipsic is out for a suspension).
-If they are down to 10, the Hawks will likely start 7 D-men tonight and will rely heavily on Petan, Bjorkstrand and De Leo to play a ton of minutes to carry the way.
-Portland won 3 of 4 last season over Kelowna and would like to carry that over to this season.
-Jarrod Schamerhorn will likely get his first start in one of the games this weekend and will likely have a bunch of family in the stands as he is a native of Kelowna.
-This is (on paper at least) the best squad Portland has faced yet this season and their inconsistent defense really needs to step it up on a talented team in Kelowna.
-The last '93 born 

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