Monday, March 16, 2009

Getting This Party Started

Those who are into basketball are into the "Going to the Dance" which is not bad but for us who love hockey this is the start of a great big party. For us this is the best time of year because all over North America at US colleges, the CHL leagues and even the USHL is the fun called the playoffs.

For Ranger fans who want an idea of the team's future this year is one of the best because for the first time that we have been covering Ranger prospects, all 11 prospects got to make it to at least one playoff round.

Now as we enter this week, 8 prospects remain alive and of those we believe that 5 of them have a chance to give Ranger fans something we have not seen in our 5 years of coverage; a national championship.

While winning a championship would be a great event for the individual prospect; the bigger dividend is for these prospects to be gain important experience from playing in pressure filled big games.

For this week as we work our way towards the weekend we will take a look at each league and how the Ranger prospects might fare. We start with the WHL as here are 2 Ranger prospects who are already under contract to the Rangers in Tysen Dowzak of the Kelowna Rockets and Tomas Kundratek of the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Tysen Dowzak and the Kelowna Rockets after defeating the Spokane Chiefs on Monday have clinched the 3rd seed in the WHL Western Conference and that 3rd seed could make a huge difference in how far the Rockets advance. The Rockets can now avoid a possible matchup with the top seeded Vancouver Giants until the conference finals.

We like the Rockets because since they have been one of the best kept secrets in all of the Canadian Juniors. The Rockets enter the playoffs with an impressive 20-2-1-2 run along with a 12-1 run to end this season.

From a Ranger standpoint, it appears that the folks in Rocket land are trying to will a goal out of Tysen Dowzak who finished his WHL regular season career going 129 games without a goal. They are of course kidding because Dowzak's role is to be the defender not trying to be the offensive weapon.

For Ranger fans the difference is that Dowzak plays a no frills defense which allows his offensive minded teammates to take gambles knowing that Dowzak has them covered. It can be a difference maker as the Rockets are now a serious threat in the WHL.

You will see someone who likes to hit the other guys, a player who keeps shooting lanes clear and using his wide body to tie up players from getting rebounds. The knock on Dowzak is that people think he should be even more physical simply because of his size.

We shall see if his critics are right or if Dowzak himself who think he helps his team by avoiding the penalty box.

The road to the WHL Championship for the Rockets starts with their arch rival the Kamloops Blazers and if anyone asks us then some advice to the Rockets would be to forget that they were 9-0 against the Blazers.

Of all the teams for the Rockets to face the Blazers might be their toughest test because the danger of looking past your opposition is so very high here due to the way the season series (especially the last 2 games) went.

The Rockets will be favored because they have 12 players in their lineup who scored 10 or more goals this past season. They have 13 players who were a +10 or better and if you want to play it rough then the Rockets have 5 players with over 100 PIMs.

This is a team that has a lot of talent on it to where they go 3 lines deep for scoring but we have not even begun to talk about their goaltending which boasts 2 goalies who have goals against of under 2.5 and could start on any number of teams.

We like the Rockets to make it to the WHL Western Conference Finals where if they face the Vancouver Giants could upset one of the favorites for the WHL championships.

Tomas Kundratek and the Medicine Tigers on the other hand are stumbling their way into the WHL playoffs. Over the last 2 months the Tigers have been playing 500 hockey and that they are going to be the 5th seed in the WHL's is more about the regular season coming to an end than anything else.

The Tigers have been hurt by injuries losing as many as 6 regulars at a time because of injuries. Still even with their regulars in the lineup the Tigers have been inconsistent play. It is going to be hard to see this team advancing out of the first round the way they have been playing.

Tomas Kundratek is a player that we expected more out of this season. The second of 2 third round picks, Kundratek was supposed to be a good 2 way defender but we are not sure what he wants to be.

We do know that Kundratek is much better than his 4-19-23 shows. Kundratek is going to need to step up his game even if it is just going to be a one round series. Kundratek has a Ranger contract and could join Hartford once his Tiger season ends.

Against the Swift Current Broncos, Kundratek will get tested as the Broncos play an attacking style that is in it's own way like the Tortorella system. Kundratek will be tested physicially as the Broncos will attack and attack.

What Kundratek needs to do is stay out of the penalty box to be effective. Kundratek has gotten into some bad habits over the last couple of months taking the penalties considered as "lazy".

On offense, Kundratek is going to be a very important player if the Tigers are to have any chance at winning in the first round against Swift Current. Kundratek needs to take over as the power play quarterback for the Tigers and use those skills we saw in the World Junior Championships.

If Kundratek does not step his game up then he will get his trip to Hartford but we doubt that he will get to do anything more than do a lot of sitting and watching. Kundratek is a work in progress but he is not ready for the AHL.

The Tigers are facing current Hartford Wolfpack player Dale Weise's former WHL team the Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos are the 4 seed in the WHL's Eastern Conference and unless the Tigers can stop their inconsistent play that this seres will end in 5-6 games tops.

Tomorrow the NCAAs.

(Tysen Dowzak courtesy of Tim Swanky/Kelowna Rockets)

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