Sunday, May 10, 2009

Call him Champion

When Tysen Dowzak wakes up on Sunday; there is a very good chance he will check very carefully to see if his 2008-09 season was just a dream. That he just might double check to see if Tysen Dowzak is a member of the 2009 Western Hockey League Champions the Kelowna Rockets.

Have no fear Tysen but you are a champion and it is a very well deserved title that you are a big part of. The 6'5 defender's efforts don't show up in the scoresheet but his play was an important part of why the Rockets were able to defeat Calgary on Saturday night.

Kelowna needed 8:13 of overtime but they were able to get a goal from Tyson Barrie and defeat the Calgary Hitmen 3-2 to win their 4th WHL title in the last 7 years. The Rockets with the win earned a trip to the Memorial Cup which will be held in Rimouski this year.

The Rockets went back to what we have coined "Big Bang Hockey" where they hit anything and everything that moved. When the Rockets are playing this brand of hockey they are as good as anyone in Canadian Junior hockey.

The Hitmen were riding a 2 game win streak after totally dominating the Rockets in games 4 and 5. The Hitmen started Game 6 as they had the previous 2 games trying to take the play to the Rockets.

It was the Hitmen who drew first blood as they scored a shorthanded goal at 7:45 of the first period. It was a bad play by the Rockets in the offensive zone that led to the goal and it also may have given the Hitmen a false confidence.

The Hitmen tried perhaps too hard to play a physical game against the Rockets and in our eyes this game turned on a hit in the 2nd period. Hitmen defender Michael Stone just blasted Rocket forward Mikael Backlund with a clean hit and Backlund's linemate Jamie Benn jumped Stone drawing a double minor.

It was ironic that Benn was the one who jumped Stone as he was just returning to the Rocket lineup after missing the last 2 games due the affects of a couple of heavy hits he took from Hitmen defender Keith Seabrook. The Stone hit appeared to have knocked Backlund out of the game with a concussion but after 10 minutes Backlund returned and momentum shifted to the Rockets.

In the 2nd period alone was more heavy hitting than we had seen in any of the NHL games this past week. The Rockets and Hitmen were like heavyweight boxers trading bomb after bomb in the middle of the ring throwing some CLEAN bodychecks.

The Rockets were able to tie the game about halfway in the 2nd period and then took a 2-1 lead to end the period. Tysen Dowzak like his teammates woke up his game in that period as Dowzak looked for offense firing a couple of shots on net that just missed.

In the 3rd period, Calgary was able to score the tying goal despite being outplayed and outshot but they were able to extend the game to overtime thanks to the play of Hitmen goalie Martin Jones who held the Rockets at bay.

In the overtime, Dowzak made two key plays to prevent Hitmen scoring chances that just might have saved the day. The first was tying up the puck and out fighting 2 Hitmen for control of the puck. The second was getting the puck out of danger deep in his defensive zone using his size and reach to get the puck out of the zone.

Seeing Dowzak during these playoff series is like seeing a totally new player as you see a more confident, more forceful and a much more determined player. What a difference in Dowzak from August of 2008.

In August of 2008, Tysen Dowzak was just a non-roster free agent invitee on the Ranger's Traverse City prospect roster. Ranger fans got introduced to him via a fight he had against his friend and former teammate Brady Leavold.

Dowzak earned himself an invite to the Rangers main training camp and from there a professional contract. Dowzak got to spend some time with both Hartford and Charlotte before he was returned to Kelowna of the WHL.

Dowzak to his credit did not complain about the demotion and in fact said his goal was to help Kelowna win a WHL championship. Dowzak struggled with his game after his return to the point where he was a healthy scratch in January.

We pointed to that scratch as to where both Dowzak and the Rockets turned their season around. From that point the Rockets were one of the best teams in all of junior hockey losing just 2 games in regulation while winning 21.

The Rockets road to the WHL championship was not easy as they had to defeat 3 of the best teams in the WHL in Tri-City, Vancouver and Calgary. That was 3 team who had the top records in the WHL so this can not be considered a fluke win and now the Rockets are heading to Eastern Canada for the Memorial Cup.

As each round went on there was Dowzak's play improving as the level of competition increased. At one time we looked at Dowzak as a long shot project player because of his past; now we are going to have to revisit that view after seeing him rise to the occasion in the WHL playoffs.

Do not get us wrong Dowzak still needs a lot of work to become a Ranger but for tonight we salute the only player with a Ranger connection who can say he is still playing meaningful hockey in North America.

Next up is the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL in the Memorial Cup on Friday.

We hope to hear if the NHL Network will be carrying the Memorial Cup as they did last year and if they do then we strongly urge people to take a good look at this year's cup. We believe this year's cup will boast the most talented crop of young hockey prospects in a very long time.


We get accused of being such Taylor Hall fans that we should become his agent; well we are not the only one as Aaron Bell of the OHL helps to make a case for Taylor Hall as one of the best young talents in the hockey world right here

We are not bandwagoning on this very talented young man but watch him in the Memorial Cup and you will see why we are so high on his talent.

(Rocket's picture courtesy of Regan Bartel)

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