(1090 The Fan) — The celebration for Seattle stopped Sunday. Now the preparation begins.
The Seattle Thunderbirds reached the second round of the WHL playoffs late Saturday night by beating the Everett Silvertips 5-0 in Game 5, taking the best-of-seven series four games to one. It is the team’s first trip beyond the first round since 2008.
So after taking the night to celebrate a well-earned series win over a very good Everett squad, the focus turned early Sunday to the new task at hand — beating Kelowna.
The Kelowna Rockets finished the regular season as the WHL’s best team with a dominant 57-11-0-4 record, good for 118 points and a five point lead over Portland, last year’s Memorial Cup winner. The team advanced to the second round by defeating Tri-City in five games.
“They are a very good team, so we got to be ready for them,” Seattle forward Branden Troock said after his team dispatched Everett, Saturday night. “I’m really excited, I didn’t get to do it last year. It’ll be a fun series.”
Over the course of the season, Kelowna was among the top differential teams in the WHL with 310 goals for and allowing 182 against. Those numbers average out to 4.3 goals a game offensively, while the defense, led by goalie Jordon Cooke, limited opponents to 2.5 goals a game.
Cooke, 20, finished second to Edmonton’s Tristan Jarry in the race to be the league’s top goaltender. In 51 outings this season, Cooke posted a .922 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average.
Seattle and Kelowna, it could be said, are two teams relatively familiar with one another.
After suffering a heart-breaking series loss to the Rockets in seven games last season in which the team led three games to zero, Seattle rebounded to go 2-1-0-1 in its four regular-season contests against the Rockets. However, both teams earned a total of five standings points from the series.
“It’s going to be a great, great series again against the Rockets,” Seattle captain Justin Hickman said, Saturday. “They obviously were the best team in the WHL, one of the best teams in the CHL this year. So we’ve got a big, big test as a group, but we’re all excited for it.”
Could that excitement be from the knowledge that the team was just one goal away from beating them last year?
“For sure,” confirmed Hickman. “There’s still guys (on our roster) who were in that game seven, overtime. So that’s in our minds. But we’re a confident team, just got to take it day-by-day, shift-by-shift when we play them.”
In the teams’ most recent meeting, Kelowna opened up a 6-0 lead into the third period before eventually dispatching the T-Birds 7-3 back on February 10th. The Rockets received a balanced scoring effort in which their first six goals were scored by six different skaters.
That is, essentially, how the Rockets beat you. Besides being led by one of the league’s best goalies and allowing a stingy 2.5 goals a game, the team from Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada features a very balanced scoring attack.
Myles Bell, 20, led the team with 77 points and 42 goals in 69 games over the regular season. He was joined by center Ryan Olsen (64 points, 30 goals) and defensemen Damon Seversen (61 points, 15 goals) and Madison Bowey (60 points, 21 goals) as Rockets with over 60 points. Another three skaters provided at least 50 points.
They should have a tough time going against Seattle. The T-Birds fared well against the elite goal scorers for Everett, holding the foursome of Josh Winquist, Jujhar Khaira, Ivan Nikolishin and Mirco Mueller to a combined five goals in the 5-game series. That effort was led by defensemen Shea Theodore, Adam Henry, Jared Hauf, Evan Wardley and fore-checkers Scott Eansor and Russell Maxwell. The latter two were instrumental in the series versus Everett, scoring a combined five goals.
The best-of-seven series gets underway Thursday with Game 1 in Kelowna. Game 2 will be Saturday in Kelowna before the series shifts to Kent for Games 3 and 4 Tuesday and Wednesday April 8th and 9th.
-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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