GAME DAY: Rockets kick off the Western Conference Championship vs. the Thunderbirds
Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to the Western Conference final. It is the 4th consecutive year that the Kelowna Rockets are appearing in the final four. The team made appearances in 2014 (Lost in 5 games to Portland), in 2015 (Won in 6 games vs. Portland), and in 2016 (Lost to Seattle in 4 straight.) In last season’s WCF, the Rockets lost game one (2-1), game two (3-2), game three (3-1) and game 4 (5-4 in double overtime). During the regular season, the Rockets were 3-1-0-0 against Seattle, out-scoring them 20-10. Nick Merkley led the team with 1+5=6 in the four games while Calvin Thurkauf had 5+0=5. Rookie Kyle Topping earned his first career WHL hat trick against the T-Birds. Michael Herringer had a goals against average of 2.25 and a save percentage of .922 in the four games. The Rockets were 2-0-0-0 at home and 1-1-0-0 in Seattle. The lone win at ShoWare Center was October 22, 2016 in a 5-1 victory. The Rockets have met the T-Birds in the playoffs in 4 of the last 5 years. The Rockets do not have home ice advantage in this series. It is the third of four times in the Western Conference final that they have failed to have home ice.
Dare to Compare: The Rockets and T-Birds were separated by only 3 points in the Western Conference standings during the regular season. The Rockets had 95 points while Seattle had 98. The Rockets won 45 games while the T-Birds won 46 times. The Rockets scored the third most goals in the WHL, while Seattle scored 20 fewer times. Both teams surrendered 206 goals against, which were tied for fourth best in the WHL.
Hot as a Pistol: Reid Gardiner is riding a 7 game point streak. The 21 year-old has 11+9=20 over that period….Nick Merkley has points in 5 of his last 6 games. Merkley has 3+8=11 over that period…Dillon Dube has points in 5 of his last 6 games. The 18 year-old has 3+8=11 during that span…Calvin Thurkauf has points in 4 of his last 5 games (5+5=10)…Kole Lind has points in 5 of his last 6 games (2+4=6).
Refreshed Memory: The Rockets advanced to the third round of the WHL playoffs with a 5 game series win over Portland. Reid Gardiner had 7+9=16 points in the series. The Rockets advanced to the second round with a 6 game series victory over the Kamloops Blazers. Dillon Dube (4+2=6) and Reid Gardiner (5+1=6) were the offensive spark plugs against the Blazers.
Broadcasters Note Book: Cal Foote will serve game three of a three game suspension for an elbow to the head of Portland forward Skyler McKenzie in game three of a second round series….Carsen Twarynski returns to the line-up after serving a one game suspension for a hit in game four against the Winterhawks…Reid Gardiner had 2+1=3 in two games against the T-Birds this season….The Rockets are playing in their 84th game of the season tonight….Kyle Topping is not eligible to be drafted until 2018….Nolan Foote is not eligible to be drafted until 2019….Nick Merkley has 59 career WHL playoff points. The franchise leader is Tyson Baillie, who had 63 career playoff points in 64 playoff games…The Rockets are 4-3 in their last 7 playoff appearances at ShoWare Center dating back to the 2013 playoffs…Reid Gardiner was named the CHL and WHL Player of the Week ending April 16th. Gardiner recorded 12 points including 6 goals and 6 assists in three games with a plus rating of +2.
Season in Review: The Rockets finished in 2nd place in the BC Division with 95 points this season. The team was 45-22-5-0, which was good for 6th place in the overall WHL standings. The team scored the third most goals in the WHL (283) and tied with Seattle for the 4th fewest goals against. The team scored 14 more goals and allowed 12 fewer against than in 2015-2016. The Rockets had the third best power play in the WHL and the 9th best penalty killing unit. Cal Thurkauf led the team in goals with 33. Kole Lind had a team high 57 assists while Lind was the scoring leader with 87 points. Nick Merkley led the team with 12 power play goals. Cal Foote had a team high +39 rating. Rodney Southam had a team leading 121 penalty minutes. Forward Kole Lind was named a Western Conference 2nd team all-star. At the teams annual year end awards, Calvin Thurkauf was the MVP, Cal Foote was the Top Defenceman and Nolan Foote was the Rookie of the Year.
That’s a fact Jack: The Rockets have generated 30 or more shots in 39 of their last 43 games….The Kelowna Rockets lost 10 of their first 21 regular season games. Since then, the team has 15 losses in the last 61 (playoffs included) games…The Rockets are 28-10-2-0 since the trade deadline…The Rockets have opened the scoring in 9 of the 11 games in this year’s playoffs…James Hilsendager and Nick Merkley lead the Rockets in +/- with +9’s.
Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150