Thursday, April 30, 2009

This is Going To Be Rough

We get to spend a lot of time covering the WHL in part because it is close to home as well as where some of the best people in hockey happen to hang their hats. Having said that then we have gotten to see a lot of both teams playing in the WHL Finals given their Ranger connections.

Tysen Dowzak has gotten a lot of ink from this place over the last couple of months in part because of the play of his Kelowna Rockets but also due to Dowzak's own play improving with each passing series.

It was Dowzak who made the play that sent the Kelowna Rockets to the WHL finals. Dowzak fired a rising shot that hit teammate Mikael Backlund and deflected in off Backlund hands/body.

Now Dowzak has a chance to end his career as a WHL Champion as his Rockets take on the team that just might be the very best in junior hockey the Calgary Hitmen . The Hitmen were the regular season champions of the WHL and have continued their domination into the playoffs going 12-0.

If we had a favorite team in the WHL it is the Hitmen partly because their GM is former Ranger's captain Kelly Kisio as well as being one of the best run franchise in the CHL. The Hitmen is one of our very guilty pleasures where we alway hope that the Rangers will draft a member so we have our excuse to attend their games.

The Hitmen boast some of the very best talent that few people know about starting with the just named WHL Player of the Year Brett Sonne (St Louis 3rd 2007). Sonne was 3rd in WHL scoring going 48-52-100 with 11 game winners and an impressive +39.

Sonne is not leading the Hitmen in scoring during this playoff but when you have 11 out of your 18 regulars with 10 points or more then you have a heck of a team. When your goalie (Martin Jones) has a GAA of 1.73 in 12 wins then are going to have a great chance to win games.

Most would have expected us to tell you how we think that the Kelowna Rockets are going to win this series but in all honesty the Rockets are going to be huge underdogs here. What has gotten the Rockets this far has been what we have called their "Big Bang Hockey"

"Big Bang Hockey" is hitting and then hitting some more hockey; it is sending a 6'7 defenseman on the forecheck when he can physical punish people; it is finishing your checks repeatedly. The Rockets have been borderline in all honesty when it comes to whether or not they play dirty.

The other difference for the Rockets is their penalty kill as when they have shut down the other team's power play they have won. They better have a great penalty kill against the Hitmen if they want to have a prayer.

The heavy hitting has hidden that the Rockets just so happen to have the top 2 leading scorers during the playoffs in Jamie Benn (11-17-28) and Cody Almond (8-14-22). They also have Mikael Backlund and Colin Long to help score as well Tyler Meyers the 6'7 defender on the attack.

The Hitmen have a team full of offense, the Rockets a team full of defense as when you look at the Rocket's plus/minus not a single Rocket player who has appeared in this season's playoffs has a minus. They say that defense will win championships so this will be the test as the best offense in the WHL will take on the best playoff defense.

In this case we hate to say this as we would love to see a Ranger prospect winning a championship but it most likely will not happen in the WHL.

Calgary should win this series in 5 games.


Evgeny Grachev can add yet another honor to his season as the OHL announced their All-Star Teams and Grachev was named to the 3rd team ALL-OHL. Considering the level of talent on these teams then Grachev even on 3rd team is a very solid honor.

Our congrats to Grachev and hope he responds to this honor as he did with OHL Rookie of the Year with a monster game on Friday.

(Dowzak courtesy of Regan Bartel)

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