Rockets season flames out
The Kelowna Rockets were outskilled and outworked by a team used to playoff success.
The Portland Winterhawks put an exclamation point on a Western Conference final that was more lopsided than many predicted.
Portland dumped the Rockets 7-3 Friday at Prospera Place winning the series in five and advancing to a fourth straight WHL final.
"I hate to say it but we got outcompeted," Rockets coach Ryan Huska stated following Friday's game.
"Everybody can point to penalties and power-plays all they want. They have more skill on the other side than we do but the disappointing fact is I felt we got competed for a majority of the series."
After coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win game one the Rockets were unable to contain the Winterhawks top players for more than a period in any of the remaining four games.
While many will point to the last three minutes of game three when Portland scored twice to erase a 3-1 deficit and eventually won in overtime as the turning point, Huska didn't.
"Game two. We stood around and watched. When they pushed we needed something back and we didn't have a rebuttal," said Huska.
"I come back to the compete factor, that's the one-on-one battles, that's having more urgency to play the game. You can stomach being outskilled...but the part we are more disappointed about is we didn't have enough compete in a lot of the games."
The Winterhawks again came out of the block quickly in the decisive fifth game Friday.
They led 2-0 after 20 minutes and extended the lead to 3-0 on Taylor Leier's power-play goal 24 seconds into the second before the Rockets began to respond.
Tyson Baillie and Jesse Lees both scored power-play goals midway through the second to pull Kelowna to within a goal.
Kris Schmidli had a chance to tie it minutes after Lees made it 3-2, however, Corbin Boes made a spectacular pad save from in close.
Kelowna didn't come close the rest of the way.
Any chance of a Kelowna comeback was snuffed out early in the third when Matt Dumba and Brendan Leipsic scored two minutes apart to increase the lead to three.
The Winterhawks scored two more quick goals near the midway point of the period before Justin Kirkland closed out the scoring for the Rockets.
"They played like we expected. They played hard and a good all around game. We just didn't have the compete and the drive to match that," said Rockets captain, Madison Bowey.
"This is really tough. We had higher hopes and higher goals and that was to win a championship. It's over now."
Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston says for him game three was the turning point in the series.
"Probably the biggest turning point was game three where I thought we really played well and we kind of pulled it out of the fire," said Johnston.
"Sometimes you are fortunate to be able to do that with two late goals with the goaltender pulled. But really there wasn't a lot between either team. They have an excellent hockey team and have one of the top organizations in the league."
Johnston disagreed with Huska that his team outcompeted the Rockets throughout most of the series.
"I totally disagree. I think we did have some big game players that rose up at certain moments and made a difference," said Johnston.
"I think guys in our room would say they are banged up, they're bruised. That was a hell of a series and we're just thankful it didn't go six."
Friday was also the final game in the junior careers of goaltender Jordon Cooke and forwards Marek Tvrdon and Myles Bell.
"It's been fun. We've had our ups and downs but I'm pretty blessed that must starting years we had pretty unbelievable seasons," said Cooke.
"We set some records and I have a couple of banners up there so that's kind of a nice note to leave on."
Huska was also able to confirm Bell suffered a knee injury in game four of the opening round series with Tri-City.
"I think he was close to coming back but he is most likely going to have to have some work done on it," said Huska.
"He had a pretty significant injury. He tried to come back but I think at the end of the day it wasn't stable enough for him to do it.
Portland forward Nic Petan, with four goals and seven assists was named the Western Conference final MVP.
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