Rockets, Generals to Clash Again for Memorial Cup

• Kelowna Rockets Team Preview

• Quebec Remparts 4, Kelowna Rockets 3

• Kelowna Rockets 7, Rimouski Oceanic 3

Oshawa Generals 2, Kelowna Rockets 1


The Kelowna Rockets have been hit-and-miss at this Memorial Cup, but they hit one out of the park in Friday’s semifinal.

Rourke Chartier, Justin Kirkland and Tyson Baillie — three of Kelowna’s better forwards — scored their first goals of the tournament as the Rockets rolled to a 9-3 rout of the host Quebec Remparts, lighting up world-junior goalie Zach Fucale in his last junior appearance and his team’s final game at le Colisée.

2015 Memorial Cup LogoChartier and Kirkland both tallied twice in the blowout, boosting their confidence heading into Sunday’s championship game against the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, who edged the Rockets 2-1 in their round-robin meeting on Tuesday to clinch first place and an automatic berth in the final. This is the rematch everybody outside of Quebec wanted to see and it promises to be a barnburner between evenly matched teams.

Braid’s Big Impact

Chance Braid wasn’t among the three stars in the arena Friday night — they went with Leon Draisaitl (1 goals, 2 assists), Kirkland (2g,2a) and Josh Morrissey (1g,2a) — but you can bet he was within Kelowna’s dressing room. Braid, an over-ager acquired at the WHL trade deadline but overshadowed by big-name ringers Draisaitl and Morrissey, had arguably his best game since joining the Rockets in January. Not only did he even the score at 1-1 midway through the first period, but he settled another score in the middle frame by squaring off with Yanick Turcotte in a heavyweight tilt. Turcotte had set the physical tone 13 seconds after the opening face-off by dropping the gloves and getting the better of Rodney Southam, a gritty forward but not necessarily a fighter. With the Rockets leading 4-1 in the midst of scoring five unanswered goals, Braid — Kelowna’s resident tough guy — engaged in a spirited scrap with Turcotte. Call it a draw, but it gave the Rockets that extra lift to overpower the Remparts in almost reaching double-digits. Braid later added an assist on Cole Linaker’s third-period goal to complete the Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

No Contest

Playing its third game in as many days, Quebec got off to a good start but was unable to keep pace with Kelowna. Adam Erne opened the scoring for the Remparts on a partial breakaway just over 3 minutes into the game — the Tampa Bay prospect’s CHL-best 24th goal in 27 post-season games — but that celebration was shortlived as Braid’s one-timer of a Tomas Soustal pass beat Fucale to quiet the boisterous crowd.

Tied 1-1 after 20 minutes, Draisaitl struck 17 seconds into the second period by roofing a shot on Fucale from in close to give Kelowna a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Then came Kirkland’s outburst, scoring his back-to-back goals only 43 seconds apart, and the Rockets were well on their way to avenging a 4-3 tournament-opening loss from the previous Friday. Kirkland’s first came on a power play as he patiently outwaited Fucale from the top of the crease, showing off the talent that made him a third-round pick by the Nashville Predators despite being a bit player in Kelowna’s playoff run.

Morrissey blasted a point shot past Fucale before the end of the second period and the Remparts offered little push-back in the third. Chartier and Baillie finally got some favourable bounces after being snake-bitten in the round robin, and Chartier added a top-corner snipe for good measure to round out the scoring.

The Remparts were clearly running on fumes as the clock counted down, and Fucale had all but thrown in the towel by that point. It wasn’t his best effort by any stretch, but he’ll be remembered for the games he won, including the gold-medal game for Canada at the world juniors in January.

Sideshow Scene

The semifinal wasn’t without controversy, at least in the eyes of Quebec’s fans. They were perturbed by a couple missed calls on behalf of the two Quebec-based referees and let their displeasure be known by littering the ice with debris. Enough debris that play needed to be stopped and the telecast sent to a commercial break for clean-up.

There was some history behind their frustration, with Remparts coach Philippe Boucher already fined $10,000 for criticizing the QMJHL officials following a 4-0 round-robin loss to the league rival Rimouski Oceanic. And granted, the officiating was bad at times, that lack of sportsmanship was worse.

It was a rowdy bunch from beginning to end, but the attendance was only 9,870 — failing again to reach five-figures in a building that holds 15,176 and in a city that boasts a population nearing 800,000.

Moving On

With the host team now eliminated and thousands of tickets already sold for the championship game, there is a good chance those passionate fans will shift their support toward the Rockets.

Why, you ask? Kelowna coach Dan Lambert was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques and briefly played defence for them in the early 1990s before anybody on these rosters was even born. But Lambert has been well received in his return to le Colisée and, being bilingual, has been a big hit with local media, which paints the Rockets as favourites for a feel-good story.

Looking Back

On the ice, the undefeated Generals will enter as slight favourites, having already beat the Rockets in running the round-robin table. Oshawa controlled the first half of that initial encounter — limiting Kelowna to 6 shots at the game’s midpoint — but the Rockets came on strong over the latter half and were two posts away from forcing overtime or even winning in regulation.

Looking Ahead

If Kelowna can pick up where it left off in that contest, plus carry over its momentum from Friday’s onslaught, then the Rockets will have a good shot at winning the Memorial Cup. But the Generals are a different beast from the QMJHL teams and proved that by shutting down the Rockets less than 24 hours after Kelowna dominated Rimouski 7-3 on Monday. Oshawa kept Kelowna’s top line of Draisaitl, Chartier and Nick Merkley off the scoresheet — much like it did Connor McDavid in the OHL final — but if that trio is able to breakthrough on Sunday, it would certainly bode well for the Rockets.

Anything can happen in a one-game winner-takes-all scenario — it could come down to goaltending again — but it’s been a great ride to this point for both the OHL and WHL champions. Rather than make a prediction, may the best team win.

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