This is a fine mess the Kelowna Rockets are now in. Sad thing is, they only have themselves to blame.
On Tuesday night, Kelowna will host Game 3 of their playoff series with the Portland Winterhawks, a best-of-seven affair the Rockets trail 0-2.
With the series having started in Portland, it isn’t surprising that Kelowna is down two games; the Winterhawks compiled an impressive home record of 31-4-1-0 this season, and they continued that trend on the weekend, dismantling Kelowna 6-3 and 4-0.
What was surprising was how badly Kelowna was outshot: 55-29 in Game 1, then 39-20 in Game 2. Total thus far: a mirror image in many ways of 94-49.
Elsewhere in the WHL playoffs, the Vancouver Giants are up 2-0 on the Spokane Chiefs after recording 7-5 and 7-3 home-ice wins. The Rockets could be in the Giants’ shoes right now, facing a team on equal footing instead of trying to slay the Western Conference’s version of Goliath. During the regular season, Vancouver finished 14 points ahead of Kelowna, and now the Giants are reaping their regular-season efforts with a better first-round opponent.
Had Kelowna won just one extra game every 3.5 weeks — just one — well, the Rockets wouldn’t be playing Portland. And goaltender Adam Brown, the best ’keeper in franchise history, wouldn’t be facing a barrage of shots.
For the record, Kelowna was 2-2 against Spokane this season and 5-1-2-0 against Vancouver.
The regular-season ship has sailed, though, and now the Rockets have to win four of the series’ next five games if they want to advance to the second round. That’s an extremely tough task, winning four of five. And they might have to do it without forward Brett Bulmer.
On Saturday, Bulmer ran up a string of penalties: two for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first period, at 3:16 and 5:51; kneeing in the second, at 7:39; kneeing in the third, at 9:55, then a major kneeing penalty and game misconduct at 12:11.
“That’s part of playoffs. Especially with teams that are less talented than us, which is most teams in our league,” Portland goaltender Mac Carruth told The Columbian of Kelowna taking 53 penalty minutes, 23 of them to Bulmer. “They’re going to get chippy. They’re going to try to get us off our game. I think our guys did a really good job of staying together tonight.”
The WHL has an online version of its rulebook, albeit from 2008-09, and Rule 50 is about kneeing. Here are the definitions.
Rule 50 - Kneeing
50.1 Kneeing — Kneeing is the act of a player or goalkeeper leading with his knee and in some cases extending his leg outwards to make contact with his opponent.
50.2 Minor Penalty — The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor penalty, based on the severity of the infraction, to a player or goalkeeper guilty of kneeing an opponent.
50.3 Major Penalty — The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the severity of the infraction, to a player or goalkeeper guilty of kneeing an opponent (see 50.5).
50.4 Match Penalty — The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player or goalkeeper attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by kneeing.
50.5 Game Misconduct Penalty — When a player or goalkeeper has been assessed a major penalty for kneeing he shall also be assessed a Game Misconduct.
In Bulmer’s case, three kneeing penalties in one game is a flashing red light flashing, one that will certainly draw attention. However, in regards to possible supplementary discipline, 50.6, which involves fines and suspensions, had been crossed out. Here’s the rule:
50.6 Fines and Suspensions — There are no specified fines or suspensions for kneeing, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion.
Confusing the picture is the NHL’s online version of rule 50.6, which has the exact same wording, but isn’t crossed out.
Time will tell if Bulmer gets a suspension of sorts, but maybe his being on the sidelines isn’t a bad thing. With this being his last season in the WHL, and Kelowna’s roster filled with youth, spreading out his ice time to others can be, in the long term, a valuable learning experience. That’s assuming, of course, there isn’t a major roster shake-up in the off-season following this Jekyll-and-Hyde season.
Yes, win or lose, these next two home games are going to say a lot about who’ll be back for next season.