Tyson Barrie's power play marker at 8:13 of the first overtime period of Game 6 was the goal that sealed the deal and made Kelowna the 2009 WHL Champions.
In what was one of the most entertaining games I've seen all year in any league, the Rockets put an end to the resurgent Calgary Hitmen with a complete effort from start to finish . The Hitmen deserve a lot of credit for staging a late comeback to force the extra session and netminder Martin Jones had the game of his life (as Dean Millard said on Global TV tonight) but it wasn't enough.
It might be a cliché but tonight it was true; this game had everything.
Huge hits including one that won't soon be forgotten by anyone who saw it. Calgary Flames prospect Mikael Backlund was absolutely crushed by Hitmen defender Michael Stone (PHX) with a devastating open ice hit that sent chucks of the Swede flying in all directions. Backlund's helmet, stick, glove and mouthpiece all ended up scattered across the ice surface but give the import credit, not only did he get up and make his way to the bench but he'd be back in the game soon after and looked no worse for wear.
The Bloodoff brothers (Evan and Lucas) went to work shortly after and started hammering Hitmen left and right. Alex Plante and Curt Gogol exchanged body checks and there was just a constant snarl to every play for most of the second half of the game.
Maybe it's goaltending you like? Mark Guggenberger was really strong in the first few games of the series and Martin Jones has been much better as the series has gone on. Both were on top of their game on Saturday making some 12-bell saves and at critical times in the game.
The first goal of the night went to Bostjan Golicic who had just stepped out of the penalty box to accept a breakaway pass from the Calgary end. He went in and beat Guggenberger and the pressure was squarely on Kelowna. It was a costly turnover in the offensive zone by Tyler Myers (BUF) that Kyle Bortis converted into the pass to Golicic.
The 1st period goal held up until the mid point of the middle frame when Colin Long (pictured) evened the score. Just minutes after a Rockets goal was disallowed because the net was bumped off its mooring, Long deftly wired a shot from the circle to Jones' right that found its way through several pairs of legs and into the back of the net.
Two minutes later the Rockets would get a flukey one to take the lead. Jamie Benn's behind the back blind pass to the slot bounced off the leg of Lucas Bloodoff and careened past a helpless Jones. It was the type of goal that you just pitied the netminder for because it was a broken play that inexplicably ended up behind him.
Kelowna dominated Calgary in shots, it was 31-18 after two periods, so you know the Hitmen were desperate just to get rubber at Guggenberger in the third. Calgary's power play finally clicked when Brett Sonne's centering pass was intercepted but fumbled by Myers (not a great night for him) and ended up on the stick of 53-goal man Joel Broda who promptly fired it into the twine.
Game tied and headed to overtime with neither team really having momentum over the other and the outcome very much in doubt.
Calgary had an opportunity when Bostjan Golicic tried to catch a bouncing puck at the side of Kelowna's net, mishandled it, the puck bounced to another Hitmen forward behind the net (I think it was Broda) who banked it in off of Guggenberger and in for the win... only to see the referee wave it off because of a glove pass. It was hardly a pass but it did hit Golicic's glove so it was the right call.
Unfortunately for Calgary the next referee call would also go against them. Former Hitmen Ian Duval and Alex Plante jostled behind Calgary's net for a loose puck and the Oilers prospect hauled the smaller forward down. Whether Duval embellished it or not, it was a play that would be called at any point in regulation time but probably not in overtime but wasn't ignored by the officials tonight.
With Plante in the box the Rockets called a time out then proceeded to set up the eventual Tyson Barrie goal that will send them to Rimouski to play for the Memorial Cup.
The shots ended up 50-26 in favor of Kelowna who deserved to win the game and the series with the way they played. I don't know if the Hitmen deserved a 7th game but WHL fans who were fortunate enough to have been watching this series live in person or on Shaw TV definitely did.
The Rockets received two inspired performances from Jamie Benn and Kyle St. Denis, both returning to the line up after missing the last few games. St. Denis was a catalyst using his speed to create offensive chances. Benn is a constant threat who was instrumental in setting up the winning goal but also woke up his team when he jumped Michael Stone after he leveled Mikael Backlund. Cody Almond (pictured) was one of the Rockets I noticed a lot in this series, not as much tonight, but at times I thought he was one of their best players.
The 2009 Memorial Cup starts on Friday May 15th and will feature the host Rimouski Oceanic taking on the Kelowna Rockets. The OHL champion Windsor Spitfires will play their first game of the tournament on the 16th against the QMJHL champion which is yet to be determined. The Shawinigan Cataractes and the Drummondville Voltigeurs are headed to Game 6 with the Volts up 3-2.
The 2009 Memorial Cup Coach's Show airs this Tuesday night on The Pipeline Show from 7-9 PM Mountain time (9-11 PM Eastern time) and can be heard on the TEAM 1260 or via the web at www.thepipelineshow.com