Putting a scare into the bear
Craig Cunningham finally left Prospera Place after a playoff series with a smile on his face. The Portland Winterhawks forward, who was a part of a Vancouver Giants team that lost a heart breaker in the 2009 Western Conference final against the Rockets, scored the game winning goal last night leading the Hawks to a 4-2 win. The Hawks eliminate the Rockets in six games and advance to the Western Conference final. The Rockets season is now over after 82 games.
While the final score read 4-2, this was a one goal game until Hawks defenceman Joe Morrow scored into an empty net with three seconds remaining in regulation time. The Hawks built up a 3-0 lead, yet the Rockets pulled out all the stops with goals from Geordie Wudrick and Brett Bulmer to make the visitors sweat.
In the end though, depth and skill prevailed. The Hawks are a good team and are built for a long playoff run. They were suppose to win. For the Rockets, to be essentially within a goal of sending the series to a game seven is pretty incredible.
The series loss on home ice is rare. The last time the Rockets season came to an end at Prospera Place was April 27/2004 in a 2-1 overtime setback to Everett. That series went to a game seven.
Geordie Wudrick's career came to an end where it started. Wudrick played 400 WHL games, which includes the regular season and the playoffs. The 21 year-old's first ever game was at Prospera Place as a member of the Swift Current Broncos.
We also said goodbye to the junior careers of defenceman Zak Stebner and Evan Bloodoff. Stebner played with six teams over his career and you could tell in his voice on our post game show that it was an emotional time for him when the final buzzer sounded. I love that emotion because it really tells the listeners that these players care and wanted to win. Bloodoff admitted after the game that it hadn't sunk in that his time in Kelowna was over. Bloodoff was a five year player with the Rockets and is one of only nine to accomplish that feat.
Tyson Barrie and Mitchell Callahan also say goodbye. While both players are 19, they have signed contracts with Colorado and Detroit respectively. More thoughts on those two players in a later post.
Two Hawks impressed me in this series, and no, neither are a top end forward. Goaltender Mac Carruth was suppose to be the weak link in this series, yet the Hawks goaltender really came to play. He honestly surprised me at how good he was. Maybe he will get the Kelly Guard treatment because he plays behind such a good team? Guard put up big numbers in 2004 but played in front of a solid defensive core, and outside of Kelowna, may have never received the praise and respect that he deserved. The other Hawk that showed me something was Taylor Jordan. The tallest player on the ice used to be one dimensional. The big man showed in this series that he can take a regular shift and can do some good work on the penalty killing unit. It is always neat to see a player transform and improve his game.
The one sour note from last night's game was the ending when Hawks forward Brad Ross used a golfing gesture with his stick towards the Rockets. It may sound comical to some, but I would be embarrassed if a Rockets player did the same. Winning with class and respect for your opponent is what 19 of the 20 players on the Hawks roster did. Too bad Ross can't follow the lead of the Johansen's and Niederreiter's. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he too will learn to be gracious when it is all said and done.Stir the pot during the game but show you are above that when the buzzer sounds.
The road team won five of the six games in this series. The Rockets failed to win three games on home ice while the Hawks were victims to two setbacks at the Rose Garden.
I want to congratulate the Hawks organization for winning the series. It was a lot of fun. The Hawks players I spoke to in this series were excellent. I have a better appreciation of Johansen, Cunningham and Niederreiter after short interviews. All three are well spoken and are great ambassadors of the team. Coach Mike Johnston and I met up a couple of times for some good conversations. I wish all the best to this skilled team and look forward to the Western Conference final against either Spokane or Tri City.
Fifteen year-old Madison Bowey made his playoff debut against the Hawks. The Rockets second round bantam pick saw limited ice time. I will say that this series against the Hawks was a great learning experience for the Rockets younger players.