Kelowna Rockets Memorial Cup review

By Jason Ahrens

The defending champion Kelowna Rockets had a string of bad breaks that began in the Western Hockey League final when starting goalie Derek Yeomans was injured late in the first game, ending his season. In their first game at the Memorial Cup, Kelowna thoroughly outplayed the Ottawa 67s but ran into a hot goalie and had trouble finishing. They threw 64 shots at the net but lost 3-2 in overtime.

Kelowna had to turn around and play the London Knights the next day and their tired legs showed in the second period when London took it to them and built up a comfortable lead and held on to win 4-2. Their final game saw them run into more bad breaks, a post and a crossbar hit at key moments of the game, a bouncing puck on a breakaway. It was just not their week and they lost 4-3 to Rimouski and went home with no wins and three losses. The Rockets came in with a reputation as a team that had a stifling defense, but they gave up far more shots than normal in this tournament, which was probably a product of tired legs and stiff competition. It seemed all week if there was an open man the Rockets would take that extra second to get the puck to them and by that time the scoring chance was gone. With some better luck, this team could have had two wins and been playing in the semi-finals. No team played more games this year than the Rockets and they will be returning the most players of any of the Memorial Cup teams, which is impressive since they have been at three consecutive cups.

Below is a recap of how each of their drafted players performed.

Shea Weberb> (NAS) came in with the reputation of being a dominating physical defenseman and was fresh off of being named the WHL playoff MVP. Weber looked tired and a step slow, perhaps playing with an injury or he might have aggravated an injury that he suffered in the first round against Vancouver that caused him to miss six games. Weber didn’t throw out any of the big hits that he had the reputation for and although he had three assists in three games, he didn’t display the offense that he showed in his WHL playoff run. He had trouble getting his shots through and had a glorious opportunity to score on an empty net against Ottawa but he couldn’t get the puck through quickly enough and it hit a body and then rang off the post. He saw a lot of Corey Perry (ANA) and Sidney Crosby and although he played them hard they did pick up two points each against Kelowna.

Blake Comeau (NYI) created all kinds of scoring chances in the tournament and buried three of them. He was very effective at coming off of the wing and driving the net and gave lots of defensemen trouble with his speed and size. On the down side he could have had a lot more than three goals and he took five penalties in the tournament, many of them foolish ones and he was in the box when Ottawa scored in double overtime.

Tyler Spurgeon (EDM) was one of the Rockets better offensive players and picked up one goal and two assists in the tournament. He liked to camp in the high slot on the power play looking for a seam in the opponent’s box, but he had trouble getting the shot away quickly enough.

Troy Bodie (EDM) gave the Rockets two early leads but they couldn’t hang onto them. He scored both of his goals by driving wide around a defenseman and then cutting back to the net, using his large body as a shield for the puck. He hit the crossbar against Rimouski, just another bad break in a long stretch of bad luck for the Rockets. He was physical and played a pretty solid tournament.

Justin Keller (TB) was the Rockets go-to guy for the entire season, but he only managed two assists in the tournament and had trouble burying his chances. He had a number of good scoring chances on one-time shots on the power play but couldn’t finish them. He was one of the smaller Rockets but is very creative with the puck.

Mike Card (BUF) saw a lot of ice as one of the Rockets top four defenseman and played a solid tournament. He saw some time on the power play and had a couple of good chances in the third period against Rimouski but didn’t bury them. He played physical but ran into some better offenses than he was used to playing against.

Lauris Darzins (NAS) was a spark plug on the third line and made some spectacular individual efforts, but like his teammates, he couldn’t’ finish them and ended up with no points and was –4. He showed some good skating and stick handling and was able to beat the occasional opponent one-on-one.

2005 draft eligible players

Derek Yeomans did not play due to injury but after being passed over in last year’s draft, he may be selected this time.

Goaltender Kristofer Westblom had to step in and fill Yeomans’ skates and at 6’2 he has decent size and he reacted fairly well to the pressure. He played a good game against Ottawa, was a little shaky against London and played a good game against Rimouski. He was under intense pressure for a backup goalie, and had to deal with all kinds of media attention and he handled himself gracefully in that regard. He never made the big save to turn the game around for the Rockets, but with the exception of maybe one goal by the Knights, he didn’t allow any weak ones.

Brent Howarth patrolled the left wing on the third line and could end up being a late round pick for a team looking for a grinding forward with a bit of size and grit. He doesn’t have much offensive upside and didn’t create many chances in the tournament but he will go out and finish his checks and compete hard on a nightly basis.

Graduating players

Defensemen Brett Palin and Darren Deschamps will be moving on as is center Tyler Mosienko.

Weber will most certainly be playing pro next year, while Darzins and Bodie could return as overage players if they don’t land a pro contract. With three key defensemen leaving, the team may swap one of the goalies for some help on the blue line and will almost be certainly be shopping for an overage defenseman as they should have at least one overage spot open, if not two.

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