If you thought it was going to be easy, think again, the Kelowna Rockets still has something so to say about the outcome of the Western Conference final. In fact, a decisive 5-1, game three victory at Skyreach Place in Kelowna Wednesday night to guarantee a fifth game in Cranbrook Friday proves the Rockets are going to do anything but go away quietly.
After a two, one-goal victories last Friday and Saturday by the Kootenay ICE (3-2 and 5-4) to take a two games to none lead in their best of seven Western Final, Kootenay coach Ryan McGill knew this series was far from over. “To say that being up by two games, it’s nothing,” said McGill. “This team came back from Spokane as well.” The resiliency McGill alluded to was the come-from-behind series win over the Spokane Chiefs by the Rockets. It was an ability to bounce back shown by the Kelowna Rockets that got them back into the series. “They do keep coming,” said McGill. “Our dressing room between the second and third period’s (Sat.) wasn’t down at all. We knew that the breakdowns that we had were put in our net, some nights it happens, some nights it doesn’t.” On Wednesday night it happened again and it prevented the ICE from mounting a comeback similar to game two.
In a series that from the outset most thought would be physical from a Rocket perspective, the first two games would be just that, physical. Only Kelowna would be on the receiving end of the hits rather than the giving and save for perhaps Shane Bendera’s stellar play in the first two games, that physical aspect would be the difference in the first two wins. “All year we knew we could play physical,” said Sinclair. “We’ve got the guys on this team to do it. When teams match it, it all evens out, but we can play physical, we’ve always been able to and we’re going to continue to do that.”
The big hits along the wall were occurring almost every shift as well as a big share of the open-ice variety. Sinclair himself did his best rendition of a one man wrecking crew with several bone-crushing hits, including one on his former teammate Nick Marach in the third period of Saturday’s game that just about sent the twenty-yr-old into the third row. Board-crunching hits aside, Sinclair wasn’t taking the acclaim however as hits don’t count for much on the scoreboard. “This team’s got a lot of speed,” said Sinclair referring to the Rockets. “We’ve been lucky and caught them a few times but we’re not going to take that for granted. If we miss, with their speed they’re going to get right by us. We just try to play smart and take the hits when we can.”
Saturday night’s game could almost be defined by the clinic that was put on by the hard-working former Kootenay forward Nick Marach who potted three goals and an assist and was dominating all night. Unfortunately that clinic suffered the same fate as most others in the British Columbia health system and was shut down by the third period due to lack of support by Marach’s teammates, the exception being the 40 shots faced by Shane Bendera to keep the score close for the Rockets. “It’s nice to score goals and stuff but when we really needed one we didn’t have it, nobody got one,” said Marach. “I’d be real happy and feel great if we won but we lost. I’d rather take no points and a win than three goals and a loss.” Marach’s lament was almost prophetic as the twenty-yr-old only chipped in a point in a Kelowna-dominated, game three win.
The overage free-agent was upbeat about his club’s chances for the series though, especially with Bendera between the pipes for the Rockets and the fact that his club was down two against the Chiefs. “We’re not worried. We’re not panicking. There’s no panic in the room. I think an ace up our sleeve is Shane Bendera,” said Marach. “When he has to put up a shutout or make some great saves he’ll do it.
“I saw him play last year in the league finals and I was astonished how he can just surprise us all. We’re confident in our team and especially we’re confident in our goaltending.”
Quick Hits – In attendance at the weekend’s games were former ICE player’s Dion Lassu, Jason Jaffray and Mike Green. Green, who split time between the ECHL’s Macon Whoopee and the AHL’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, just finished the season with the AHL’s Ducks. Cincinnati was eliminated from the AHL playoff preliminaries two games to one by the Chicago Wolves. The winning goal-scorer for the Wolves’ two wins? Green’s former junior teammate and line-mate of the famed ‘Money Line’ of Kootenay’s 2000 Memorial Cup run, Zdenek Blatny. “He was a healthy scratch for game one and then he goes and does this,” quipped Green. The other third of that successful triumvirate, Jaroslav Svoboda is playing with the Carolina Hurricanes
. . . The league’s worst-kept secret was officially announced last Friday when Seattle Thunderbird owner Bill Yuill announced that he would be taking over the WHL expansion club in Everett, Washington slated to begin play in 2003-04. The T-Bird’s are now up for sale and are expected to be sold in the coming weeks. To whom is anyone’s guess . . . In Victoria the city’s electorate voted 73% in favor of building a 7000-seat complex to replace the aging Memorial Arena. The city is actively courting an existing WHL to relocate to the B.C. capital . . . Game Five of the Western Conference finals goes tonight (Friday) at the Cranbrook Rec/Plex at 7:00 P.M.