Generals, not Rockets, off to Final at Memorial Cup

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• Quebec Remparts 4, Kelowna Rockets 3

Kelowna Rockets 7, Rimouski Oceanic 3

Ken Appleby and the Oshawa Generals are off to the Memorial Cup final.

Leon Draisaitl and the Kelowna Rockets will need to take a longer road to get there.

Appleby, Oshawa’s undrafted goaltender, can thank his lucky posts for a 2-1 victory over the Rockets, who started slow but came on strong in hopes of forcing overtime in their first-place showdown on Tuesday night. But Appleby held the fort, withstanding a full minute of a 5-on-3 disadvantage late in the third period, as the Generals remained undefeated (3-0-0) and advanced directly to Sunday’s championship game.

Kelowna Rockets square logoOshawa will await either Kelowna (1-2-0) or one of the QMJHL teams with the host Quebec Remparts (1-0-1) facing their league rival Rimouski Oceanic (0-2-0) in Wednesday’s round-robin finale to determine the other semifinalist or whether a tiebreaker game is needed. Rimouski defeated Quebec in the QMJHL championship series, winning Game 7 in double overtime.

Against Oshawa, the WHL champion Rockets resembled the team that lost 4-3 to the Remparts in their tournament opener on Friday night rather than the juggernaut that routed Rimouski 7-3 on Monday evening. At least for the better part of 30 minutes, as Kelowna was sluggish out of the gate and fell behind 2-0 on goals by Cole Cassels, a back-door one-timer, and Tobias Lindberg, a great individual effort on an odd-man rush. The latter stood up as the winner, with Lindberg — an Ottawa Senators prospect — standing out as one of Oshawa’s most dangerous players throughout to earn first-star honours.

Kelowna’s top line of Draisaitl, tournament scoring leader Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier were kept off the scoresheet, suffering a similar fate to Connor McDavid throughout the OHL championship series when the Generals limited the projected first overall pick in next month’s NHL draft to just 1 assist in three road games en route to beating the Erie Otters in five games. Draisaitl was kept in check and didn’t get a sniff of the offensive success he enjoyed as WHL playoff MVP or even the previous night against Rimouski. Chartier was one of Kelowna’s best forwards against Oshawa and rung a shot off the crossbar on the first period of the third period, while Merkley also came close to netting the equalizer shortly thereafter but dinged the iron as well.

Oshawa’s little known shutdown tandem of captain Josh Brown and over-ager Dakota Mermis did a bang-up job of taking away time and space to neutralize that line, while big Micheal McCarron was leaning on Draisaitl at every opportunity. Not that Draisaitl is a small man — solidly-built at 6-foot-1 — but McCarron is a monster for the junior ranks, standing 6-foot-6 and using that size to his advantage.

The Rockets finally pushed back after the Generals went ahead 2-0 late in the second period thanks to Lindberg, who toe-dragged around a sliding Cole Martin and fired a shot through Jackson Whistle. It was a goal that Whistle probably would have liked back despite the nice dangle by Lindberg, but Kelowna’s goaltender had no chance of stopping Cassels, a Vancouver Canucks draft pick who opened the scoring at 4:15 of the second period after being left alone at the far post for an easy finish.

Just 58 seconds after Lindberg scored, Gage Quinney got Kelowna on the board with his tournament-leading fourth goal, also capitalizing off the rush as Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey headmanned the puck up to Tyson Baillie, who fed it through to Quinney and he beat Appleby to the blocker-side.

The Rockets were a different team from there, putting on a full-court press for the final two minutes of the second period and picking up where they left off to start the third. Kelowna came close to evening the score when Chartier was robbed by Appleby reaching back with his paddle in the final minute of the second, but that surge gave the Rockets hope heading into the third period — something they didn’t have much of midway through the game with the Generals outshooting Kelowna 15-5. At one point, New York Islanders first-rounder Michael Dal Colle had 5 shots on goal to Kelowna’s 6 as a team, which was telling of he tilted ice surface for the majority of two periods. Dal Colle assisted on the goal by Cassels to pull into a tie with Merkley for the tournament lead with 5 points, though Merkley has 3 goals to Dal Colle’s 2.

The Rockets were fortunate to get out of the first period in a scoreless tie, as the Generals hit two posts and held a territorial advantage for most of the opening frame. Dal Colle rung a shot off the crossbar at the five-minute mark after cycling along the boards with 6-foot-6 forwards McCarron and Hunter Smith, then McCarron was denied by the far post in the final minute after his shot from a horrible angle snuck under Whistle’s pad.

The Generals had a couple other close chances, while the Rockets failed to generate much of anything offensively through 20 minutes. McCarron’s line was getting the better of Kelowna’s top trio in a penalty-free period that saw plenty of line-matching between the coaches, with Kelowna’s Dan Lambert having last change on Oshawa’s D.J. Smith. The Generals were also winning the majority of face-offs, which helped give them the upper hand in terms of puck possession, though they couldn’t buy a goal in the early stages.

Missed Opportunity

Strangely, Tyson Baillie, who led the WHL playoffs with 5 game-winning goals, whiffed on a wide-open net during the 5-on-3 that sealed Kelowna’s fate. He doesn’t miss many of those opportunities, but the puck hopped over Baillie’s stick after bouncing off the end boards, and time eventually ran out on the Rockets’ comeback bid.

In the end, considering the posts wound up even at 2 apiece, the Generals deserved the ‘W’ for controlling a larger stretch of play and containing Kelowna’s best players. It was an impressive and calculated display from the OHL champions, who ran the round-robin table after previously downing Rimouski 4-3 on Saturday and defeating Quebec 5-4 in overtime on Sunday.

What’s next for the Rockets remains to be seen, but they will most definitely need a better, more complete effort to earn a rematch with the Generals on Sunday.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.