Rockets ready for 'real season' to start

  • The 2021-2022 edition of the Kelowna Rockets will be remembered for playing one of the best team games - ever. While having individual skill, I'd argue the success was a direct result of playing for each other. With eight players with 40 or more points, it's a clear indicator that no one player was doing the heavy lifting.  With 250 goals scored, the team ended the regular season 9th in that category. That's a significant jump from the 2018-2019 team that scored 169 times - or 81 fewer goals. I use that comparison because it is the last time the team played a full 68 game regular season. The 2018-19 team had just four - 40+ point producers. Attention to defending was praised and applauded while offensive expression was discouraged. It often translated into overthinking and poor execution in an effort to get out of trouble. This season, head coach Kris Mallette has tried to stress the importance of defensive structure while loosening up the reins in the offensive zone. The 42 wins came as a direct result of making good decisions with the puck, calculated decision in the d-zone and transitioning it up ice without expending copious amounts of time and energy getting it out of danger. 
  • The Rockets won 25 times on home ice this season. It's the second most wins in the Western Conference behind only Everett, who won 26 times in front of the home town crowd. With only 6 regulation losses at Prospera Place, only Everett again was better with 4 setbacks.  
  • Colton Dach delivered. In his first season with the Kelowna Rockets, the just turned 19 year-old was the team leader in scoring. Considered a pure shooter coming into the season (he was 7th in the WHL in 2021-2022 in shots with 274), I envisioned him scoring goals, but honestly, his ability to set up teammates was likely even more impressive. What Dach did so well was winning puck battles in the corners or along the end boards and finding teammates in good scoring areas. Another aspect of Dach's game that may go unnoticed is how steady he is on his skates. He never falls down. I'd suggest his edge work is among the best on the team and his stability on his skates is exceptionally good. Another aspect of Dach that I like is his up tempo personality. In a time when many players are quiet/reserved and to themselves, the Fort Saskatchewan product is a lively personality that dressing rooms need. He isn't a dead head. Dach is focused and dialed in when it counts, but he is able to joke around with his teammates and keep them loose. In my experience with Colton Dach, in an interview setting or just observing him around his teammates, I have nothing but good things to say about his influence both on and off the ice. 
  • Pavel Novak led the Rockets in home goals with 21, which was three better than Colton Dach and Andrew Cristall. Dach was the team leader in home points with 54 and finished the season on a career high 9 game point streak. I'd again suggest Novak could be a massive difference maker in a playoff series with Seattle with his ability to provide secondary scoring and not playing on what would be considered the teams number one line. He should get better matchups that allows him to thrive. This will be a physical series though, where courage will be needed to play in traffic. Perimeter play will be the easy way out - but it will also lead to an early playoff exit. 
  • Jake Lee played in his final WHL regular season game Saturday night. It was his 142nd with the Rockets and 277th overall. Despite scoring just twice in his final 23 regular season games, my sense is the 21 year-old was concentrating more on defending, transitioning the puck up ice and trying to be a threat to score on the power play. It appeared to me he was dialing it down a notch when playing even strength. I think that's the smart move heading into the playoffs, where Lee will play huge minutes and will be busy defending against a T-Birds team that can come at you in waves. Lee is my pick for defenseman of the year for logging tons of ice time and anchoring the blueline.  
  • John Babcock earned the best +/- rating on the Rockets roster this season. It is a big deal for a defender to go through a rookie season +28. Trust me, it could be worse. Look at Medicine Hat defender Dru Krebs, who was a league worst -58.  Babcock will turn 18 this Sunday. 
  • Andrew Cristall had a magically season didn't he? A record breaking 28 goals for a 16 year-old and tying the franchise record for points by a 16 year-old with 69. Moving alongside Shane McColgan and surpassing him once (more goals), Cristall will garner a lot of attention from the T-Birds in the playoffs playing on a line with Mark Liwiski and Colton Dach. In a conversation with a few scouts over the weekend, they will be watching Cristall closely in this opening round series in an effort to get a better read on him when he becomes draft eligible next season. In fact, the number of scouts watching games, specifically this series, will be large with one telling me the other series in the Western Conference are irrelevant and not worth dissecting, with the balance of power so heavily tilted towards Everett, Kamloops and Portland, little can be gained by watching draft eligible players in those respective series. I am not sure that is accurate but an interest observation nonetheless. 
  • The Rockets played in 30-one goal games this season. The team earned points in 23 of them which tells you pressure packed hockey was the norm all season long. 
  • The one stat I loved this season was the teams ability to lock it down in the third period. With just 55 goals surrendered in the final frame, only Winnipeg (51) and Portland (52) were better and keeping the door shut. 
  • It was interesting watching things unfold Saturday night for playoff positioning in the Western Conference. With all the hype over a log jam for the 8th and final playoff spot and the prospect of a play-in game to decide things, it all fell flat when Victoria was eliminated with a loss to Spokane and Vancouver and Prince George made post season despite losses to the Blazers and Rockets respectively. To think, the Royals were 4 seconds away.....FOUR...from potentially earning a playoff birth this season. Instead of playing conservatively with the power play in a game in Kamloops April 8th, they surrendered a shorthanded goal in a 4-3 loss when Matthew Seminoff put the dagger into the Royals hearts at 19:56. When points are pivotal down the stretch and even a single one counts, it was best to play for the tie that night then go for the win. 
  • 53. That was the number of points needed to earn a spot in the playoffs in the Western Conference this season. It is the fewest points since Portland earned a playoff birth in 2002-2003 with only 51. Tri City also had 51 points in 1996-1997 and was off to the playoffs despite only 22 wins that season. 

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