In the end, the firepower of the Portland Winterhawks simply proved too much for the Kelowna Rockets.
Ty Rattie scored four times and Sven Baertschi added two assists as the ‘Hawks downed the Rockets 5-3 Thursday night at Prospera Place to sweep the best-of-seven WHL Western Conference quarterfinal series in four straight games.
Brett Bulmer, Madison Bowey and Myles Bell scored for the Rockets who were swept in a playoff series for just the second time in franchise history.
Kelowna had no answer for the ultra-skilled duo of Rattie and Baertschi who combined for 24 points in the series—Rattie had 10 goals and 13 points, while Baertschi racked up 11 points on two goals and nine assists.
Two nights earlier, in Game 3, the two 19-year-old forwards combined for eight points in a 6-3 Winterhawks’ win.
Still, aside from the dominance of Portland’s top two players and a number of tell-tale miscues by the Rockets, head coach Ryan Huska had few complaints with his young club’s effort in the last two games of the series.
“I liked the way we worked in both games here,” said Huska. “It was the mistakes we would make really that got magnified when we talk about Rattie and Baertschi, when they were on the ice, they capitalized on us a lot.
“But I thought our effort was good. In tougher situations and facing some adversity, I saw us push and that was the most important thing,” Huska said. “We had a chance to win, we just weren’t able to get it done.”
The Winterhawks, who finished 30 points ahead of the Rockets during the regular season, were the heavy first-round favourites, and for good reason.
Kelowna was among the WHL’s youngest teams in 2011-12, a situation exacerbated in the post-season by the absence of injured veterans Mitchell Chapman (upper body) and Spencer Main (concussion).
Huska said Chapman, 19, was sorely missed on what was largely a young and inexperienced, albeit promising, defensive corps.
“You need your older guys this time of the year,” Huska said. “They’re the guys that are physically able to handle the heavier minutes. (Mitchell) is also one of those guys who I would have been willing to bet would have got a few good hits on those two guys (Rattie and Baertschi) over the course of this series. It’s difficult when you lose your older, most experienced defenceman.”
At least four players appeared in their last games in a Rockets uniform Thursday.
Forward Brett Bulmer, who returned from a one-game suspension to play in Game 4, was solid in his WHL finale with a goal and two assists.
Bulmer, a second round draft pick of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, is likely to play pro next season.
Over-age forwards Brett Lyon and Cody Chikie played their final games with the Rockets while goaltender Adam Brown capped off his four-year career in Kelowna with a 31-save effort in Game 4.
For the team’s all-time leader in victories (107) it was a bittersweet end to the California native’s major junior career.
“One day you’re a 17-year-old rookie, you’re learning the ropes, and then you blink and then next thing you know it’s over,” said Brown. “It was a heck of a ride and I can’t thank the Kelowna Rockets organization enough for what they’ve done for me. It’s been the best four years of my life.”