GDB 51.0 WRAP UP: CLIFFHANGER
I wasn’t supposed to watch, but I always found a way.
My Dad loved 80’s action movies. I mean… who doesn’t? They still hold up today. I was a young-buck back in the late 90’s, and Dad had an affinity for watching an 80’s action flick before bed. I would hear the gunshots, explosions and occasional profane words drift out of the living room, come creeping out of bed, and watch from the stairwell as long as I could before I got caught and sent back with an ear full.
I will never forget watching some gloriously epic scenes from Stallone’s Cliffhanger. I’m afraid of heights, so it both fascinated and terrified me at the same time. They don’t make R rated action romps like they used to…that’s for sure.
Cue the cheesy segue!
Tonight the cliffhangers’ were the Kelowna Rockets. They put themselves in a position to succeed, then found themselves holding on for dear life as the game reached its grand conclusion. Anyone who’s watched an 80’s action flick knows the central character never dies, and somehow or another, the Rockets pulled it off and escaped with the win.
The Rockets came out of the gate flying, generated the better chances and an early powerplay. After a big kill, the Canes started to find their feet and Kroeker,Babenko and Burke were able to generate a handful of good chances. It was all for not and, minutes later, an aggressive offensive zone overload by the Canes defense resulted in a Rockets 3 on 1 goal. Tomas Soustal broke in down the left wing and fired one passed Skinner from the circle to give the Rockets a 1 – 0 advantage. The two teams would go back and forth with Kelowna getting the better chances for the remainder of the opening frame.
There were no more goals scored, but of greater significant (at least to Hurricanes fans), Giorgio Estephan sustained what looks to be a pretty serious leg/ankle injury in the period’s final minutes. Estephan crashed the net, lost his footing, then fell awkwardly into the end boards. He immediately writhed in pain and motioned to his ankle. Estephan would need help off the ice and didn’t return.
After being outplayed in the 1st, the Hurricanes were much better in the 2nd. It was arguably their best stretch on this Western road trip and they started to wrestled the game away from the home side. Michael Herringer, the de facto starter (Jackson Whistle is injured indefinitely), was the star for Kelowna in the 2nd. Despite some decent chances, the Hurricanes just couldn’t score.
The goals started to come in the 3rd period. Tomas Soustal converted on a breakaway early in the 3rd so put the Rockets up 2 – 0. It was an errant pass by Atwal that was intercepted in the neutral zone and quickly moved up to Soustal who was home free thanks to a defensive line change by the Canes. After the goal, the Canes defence was best described as “leaky”. The Rockets generated two more clear breakaways in the next two shifts, but in both cases Stuart Skinner was equal to the task.
Moments later, Jordy Bellerive (skating on a line with Wong and Vandervlis) fired a no look backhand under Herringer and in off the post to pull the Canes back within one. It was a huge goal and it dramatically shifted the outlook of the game. From that point on, the Hurricanes were thinking all out offense. Soustal rang one off the bar in search of a hat trick, but what the game really came down to was the final two minutes. Lethbridge was all over the Rockets, but with Skinner pulled, just could not find the equalizer. Herringer was brilliant and Kelowna emerged victorious. Final score, 2 – 1.
- I thought Darian Skeoch had a great game. He drew a penalty, made a few crucial goal saving defensive plays, and as always, used his size and weight to impose himself on the Rockets.
- Ryan Vandervlis got down and dirty with a fight in the opening frame. Great to see him get engaged in the rough stuff. Vandervlis has been a pleasant surprise this year and getting involved in by fighting only adds to his game.
- After laying eggs against the Royals and the Giants, it was good to see the Hurricanes string together some good hockey in this game. It wasn’t a great opening period, but you could see the Canes start to sharpen up their game in the 2nd period.
- Colton Kroeker played one of his best games as a Hurricane tonight. He was getting great looks, putting himself in scoring positions, and was good defensively. He probably should have drawn a penalty shot or a powerplay in the 1st period on a breakaway, and was instrumental in breaking up a Rocket 2 on 1 later in the game. Overall, I enjoyed watching him tonight. I think Anholt found a real nice player in Colton.
- Andrew Nielsen was dynamic tonight. Some of his aggressive offensive moves that don’t always work out – worked out tonight. He was aggressive when he needed to be, and was good in his own end. I loved the physicality he played with. Andrew was separating attackers from the puck using his body and was able to avoid taking penalties.
- Lethbridge has a great backcheck, and tonight they were really aggressive on the forecheck as well. Their gameplay was to overload the Rocket defenders with two high fore checkers and to activate the defense whenever possible. It was great when it worked, buuuut…
- … there’s always risk when you play a high pressure forechecking game and activate the defense. Tonight the Canes gambled wrong and got caught being a little too aggressive a few times, including Soustal’s first goal. The Rockets were able to exploit the mistakes and generate odd-man rushes, and while the Canes backcheckers were usually equal to the task, it was a nerve racking sight to see.
- The game winning goal was entirely avoidable. He’s been fantastic this season, but the lion’s share of the blame has to fall on overage defenseman Arvin Atwal. Atwal made an errant pass out of the zone then peeled off for a change. It was intercepted and immediately converted into a breakaway feed for Soustal. It was a fantastic heads up pass from Jonathan Smart who recognized the Canes were changing and rifled it up the middle to the open man.
- No matter what the outcome of this game, the potential long term loss of Giorgio Estephan means it was a bad night. We won’t know for sure the severity of the injury for a few days, but the optics were terrible.
THIS AND THAT
- I said it before the game and I will say it again. Kelowna is terrifying on the rush. They are efficient at turning the play up ice quickly. They generate more rushes than most other teams I’ve seen this year, and it doesn’t surprise me they are one of the more potent teams in the league.
- I was very impressed with Michael Herringer tonight. I understand that’s not a unique opinion, (he was afterall named the game’s 1st star), but it wasn’t just the final few minutes. Herringer was steady all night long. With Jackson Whistle out indefinitely, Herringer has become the de facto starter on a high profile club. Whistle was having an amazing season and it’s no small task filling the hole left by his absence. Herringer has played a lot of hockey of late, and tonight he made some key saves, and ultimately was the difference when the game hung in the balance.
- Talk about a breakout game for Tomas Soustal. He apparently hadn’t scored in 15 games, and tonight he had both of the Rockets’ goals and came very close to scoring more.
This is not a time to hit the panic button Hurricanes fans. I repeat. This is NOT the time to hit the panic button. Yes, Lethbridge just lost their third game in a row, but this was a good game by the road team. Ya, things were a little iffy in the opening frame, and ya, they were leaking chances like the Titanic post iceberg, but overall the Canes showed well tonight. They lost arguably their best offensive forward in the opening frame, then pushed on and gave the Rockets all they could handle in the final forty.
Both teams hit posts, both teams got some massive saves, and both teams made some mistakes. There were stretches were Kelowna was the better team, there were stretches where Lethbridge was the better team. It was a well contested meeting, it just didn’t end the way the Hurricanes would have liked.
When the game was really on the line, Michael Herringer was the difference maker. It may not have been a text-book defensive lockdown, but like Sly, the Rockets hung on for dear life and pulled out a win in the clutch.
It’s been a wild ride for the Hurricanes. Over the last month the roster has been in total flux – a carousel in and out of the infirmary if you will. It’s hard to maintain chemistry when the lines are constantly needing to be juggled. I also think the Canes are missing Justin Gutierrez more than we know. Gutz is fantastic at using his size and range to open up lanes and generate space for Babenko. Egor has really struggled to find open ice without the tall versatile centre at his side.
With Gutierrez listed as day to day, it’s possible he could return as early as the weekend, but will his return be tainted by bad news on the Estephan front?
We will have to wait and see.