Brett Bulmer was the last player off the ice in Monday afternoon's practice. He won’t be on it Tuesday's game.
The Kelowna Rockets and Portland Winterhawks continue their first-round playoff series Tuesday night at Prospera Place, and Bulmer won’t be available for the host team. On Monday, the WHL suspended Kelowna’s leading goal scorer for his undisciplined actions in Saturday night’s Game 2, which Portland won 4-0 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Bulmer, whose suspension length was to be determined as of Monday night, earned three kneeing penalties that night, with the last earning him a major penalty and game misconduct midway through the third period. Bulmer also earned two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the first period.
“It’s hard to argue,” Rockets head coach Ryan Huska said of Bulmer’s suspension. “He had three kneeing penalties in the game. You don’t want to see anybody get hurt; it’s not a great way to hit a guy, and I’m hoping it’s just one game.”
Fresh out of the penalty box after serving a kneeing penalty at 9:55, Bulmer was quickly thrown back in after lining up and hitting Portland defenceman William Wrenn along the Winterhawks’ right half-wall at 12:11. Wrenn appeared to have suffered an injury on the hit; he immediately favoured his left leg after getting up, and there was no word from the Winterhawks on Monday as to their captain’s health.
Bulmer scored a team-high 34 goals for the Rockets this season, and was second in team scoring with 62 points, behind right-winger Shane McColgan (18-26-64). Wrenn is a key member of Portland’s blue-line, a 21-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska, who led all Winterhawk defencemen in plus-minus at plus-20.
Which player is more important to his team can be debated endlessly — a high scorer or a defence-first captain. What can’t be debated is that Portland will also be without 6-foot-2 left-winger Oliver Gabriel, as the Edmonton product was suspended on Monday for one game for earning a game misconduct early in Game 2 on Saturday night. No further reason was given for Gabriel’s suspension, though he was handed a slashing minor at 31 seconds of the second period, then was given a game misconduct.
Continuing on with injuries, Rockets captain Colton Sissons left Game 2 part-way through and didn’t return. On Monday, Huska said “we’re expecting him to be back,” while defensive defenceman Mitchell Chapman (undisclosed upper-body injury) is listed as doubtful for tonight.
Having had time to digest Games 1 and 2, Huska said “we need to have short memories. You have to be that way at this time of the season. Portland is a very good hockey team, but we can’t give them too much respect; that’s one thing in the second game that we did a little bit. They’re good, yeah, but we can play hard against them. Harder than we did in Game 2, and that’s the mindset we need to have.”
It’s a plan that’s been used by Kelowna many times, with one immediate example being the 2009 playoffs. The Rockets lost their first two games in a second-round meeting with Tri-City, yet wound up besting the Americans in six games. Of course, Kelowna’s roster that season featured a loaded roster, but also playing a big role was how the Rockets bashed the Americans from pillar to post. The end result was a Tri-City roster which entered the playoffs scuffed, but got further nicked, bruised and heavily bandaged. For example, left-winger Mitch Fadden had a separated shoulder, while left-winger Petr Stoklasa had two separated shoulders and had a harness on each one.
“Yes, (their physical play) affected us,” then Tri-City coach Don Nachbaur said. “It was almost like getting bombed every night in a war, and, after a while, it gets too much for you. They did a good job; their physical presence was a good game plan and their power play and skill came out in the end. And that’s why they're moving on.”
“We’re definitely looking to play more physical against (Portland),” said Rockets defenceman MacKenzie Johnston. “I don’t think we got the body on them, especially on their back-end, that we needed to. We need to be really tough on them, because the longer this series goes, they’re going to be more worn down by the end of it. We definitely have to get more body on them.”
ICE CHIPS: Monday seemed to be a day of suspensions with Kelowna angles. Not only were Bulmer and Gabriel suspended, but Kelowna products Ryan Harrison and Cody Beach were also handed suspensions. Harrison, who plays for Everett, was suspended one game for an interference major and game misconduct in the Silvertips’ 3-1 loss at the Tri-City Americans on Saturday. Beach, a 6-foot-6 power forward who plays for Moose Jaw, was suspended one game for a derogatory comment at the Regina Pats’ bench in the Warriors’ 8-1 win on Saturday. . . . Everett was also handed a $500 fine for violation of the WHL’s social media policy on Saturday (it’s believed a player swore in criticizing the officiating in a Tweet).