Friday, May 1, 2009

Mixed Surprises

Back in January if you would have told us that the Kelowna Rockets would be playing in the WHL finals we would have laughed at you for a few minutes and then thanked you for giving us such a good laugh.

Well the joke is on us at the moment after Tysen Dowzak and his Rockets upset the Calgary Hitmen 3-1 in game one of the WHL finals in Calgary. It was Calgary's first loss in the playoffs and even they have to be wondering what happened.

The Rocket win also prevented the Hitmen from setting a new WHL playoff record for most consecutive wins. The question now is did they wake up the Hitmen or is this "Big Bang Hockey" that effective?

Someone was watching over the Rockets on this evening as the Hitmen had chance after chance but would only be able to hit post after post. The WHL's best offense was a combination of snakebit and well defended as the Rockets jump out to a very surprising 1-0 lead as well as stealing away home ice advantage.

The key to this win was the play of the Rocket special teams as the power play scored 2 goals on 3 chances. Dowzak was an important part of the penalty kill which shut out Calgary on all 4 power play chances including a 6 on 4 in the last 2 minutes of regulation.

Dowzak has been a serious defensive standout as it appears that he has finally realized what he has to do in order to be an important part of the Rockets. That is great news for the Rangers as we have said that Dowzak is a long term project but he .now realizes what he has to do in order to make it as a professional hockey player.

Dowzak was a +1 with 2 PIMs, we credited him with 5 hits, 4 clears, 6 disruptions 1 shot on goal and 3 blocked shots. Even better from our point of view is that Dowzak showed his smarts by acknowledging that he and his teammates got lucky in the 3rd period; that they need to stop scrambling in their own zone and try to generate more offense.

For us what we want to see from Dowzak and the Rockets is that they come out with a better effort in Game 2 on Saturday evening. Against Vancouver, the Rockets won Game 1 but gave away Games 2 and 3. They can not afford to repeat that performance against the best team in the WHL.

In Brampton, the Battalion brought 3 teams to play in Game 2 against the Windsor Spitfires. The first team gave up 3 goals in the first period, the second team was the one we were used to seeing during the OHL playoffs and the third team got distracted by some very highly suspect calls.

Add the 3 teams up and you have a 5-3 Brampton loss which puts the Battalion in a 0-2 hole against the Spitfires. This one is a hole that we do not believe the Battalion will be able to dig themselves out of.

The 5-3 score is misleading because this game really was over in the first period. The Spitfires just dominated the Battalion outscoring them 3-0 as well as having a 22-4 advantage in shots.

In the second period the Battalion played well trying to climb back into this game but they were not really in it. The Battalion scored 2 goals but the Spits added 1 to end the 2nd up 4-2. In the 3rd period, it was the officials who made some highly suspect calls but even more shocking was a double minor issued to the wrong player.

Battalion winger Jason Dale took out Spitfire Mark Cundari with a borderline check from behind. After a lengthy conference the officials gave Battalion defenseman Brad Alberts a double minor; it was truly a bad call and Battalion coach Stan Butler was livid about.

The other call was a high sticking minor to Matt Duchene which killed a Battalion power play and even that call had us wondering if the NHL had sent an officiating crew to Brampton. It was a surprising poor performance from a group of officials after what has been a evenly called playoff season.

Yes we know we have not said a word about Grachev but that is because there has been nothing to say about his play. The Spitfires have shut Grachev down and turned him into a non-factor so far in this series.

It is up to Grachev to find a way to get himself untracked but the good news is that other than his first few games in the OHL, Grachev has not gone 3 games in a row without scoring. If the Battalion are going to have any hope of even winning a game in this series then they need Grachev, Cody Hodgson and Matt Duchene to get going otherwise this series will be over and done before they realize it.

Game 3 will be Monday back in Windsor so we will skip the corny stuff as it is simple. Grachev either brings his game or the Battalion are going to lose.

(Dowzak: Regan Bartel, Grachev: Aaron Bell)

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