Thursday, February 20, 2020

New coach...new result?

Kris Mallette
·      Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open a four game road trip against the Victoria Royals. This is the 7th of 9 meetings between these two teams this season. After playing tomorrow night in the rematch, the seasonal series wraps up March 11th in Kelowna. The Rockets are 2-3-0-1 in the opening 6 games, including a 1-0-0-1 record in Victoria after a 4-3 shootout loss on October 29th followed by a 1-0 shutout win October 30th. Four of the six have been decided by a single goal. Overall, the Royals have out-scored the Rockets 14-12. Kaedan Korczak leads the Rockets with 2+3=5 in the 6 games. Roman Basran has appeared in 5 of the 6 games. Following these two games on the Island, the Rockets are in Prince George for back-to-back games this Tuesday and Wednesday. The Rockets next home game is Friday February 28th against Everett.
·         Mally the Man! Kris Mallette was named the interim head coach of the Kelowna Rockets on Wednesday. Mallette replaces Adam Foote, who was relieved of his duties. Mallette joined the organization as an assistant coach for the start of the 2014 season under then head coach Dan Lambert. Mallette is a former player, suiting up for the Rockets from 1996 until 1998 before eventually being traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors. The 41 year-old is the first Rockets alumni to assume the head coaching duties.
·         Who’s Hot: Pavel Novak has 3+8=11 in his last 7 games…Matthew Wedman has 7+11=18 in his last 14 games…Kyle Topping has 4+4=8 in his last 7 games…Kaedan Korczak has 2+5=7 in his last 7 games.
·         Broadcasters Notebook: Kris Mallette is 6-0-1-0 as a head coach in the WHL. His most recent win was a 7-3 victory in Tri City in January….The Rockets are 8-4-1-1 in their last 14 visits to Victoria…. The Rockets have surrendered the opening goal in seven of the last eight games ….With 14 games left in the regular season, 7 are on home ice with only 7 on the road. Those road stops include two in Victoria, two in Prince George and singles in Everett, Kamloops and Vancouver… The Rockets are 9-8-0-0 against teams in the US Division….The Rockets are now 19-5-1-0 when scoring the games first goal…The Rockets have played in 28-1 goal games this season…The Rockets are 10-14-1-1 against teams in the BC Division…The Rockets were 5-5-0-0 in December and 4-9-0-0 in January.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Rockets get captain back

Captain Nolan Foote returns to the lineup Saturday

·        Tonight’s Preview: Two former NHL players meet tonight when Adam Foote’s Kelowna Rockets face Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels. Both head coaches played over one thousand games at the NHL level, with Foote playing 1,154 games and Sutter suiting up for 1,111 contests. Both won two Stanley Cup titles. This is the lone meeting of the season between these two teams. Last season, the Rockets went into Red Deer on November 16/2018 and lost 7-0. Red Deer made two appearances at Prospera Place in the 2017-2018 season, with the Rockets winning 5-2 before suffering a 4-1 setback. The Rockets are playing game four of a five game home stand. Wednesday night, the team snapped a five game losing streak with an 8-3 win over the Tri City Americans. Pavel Novak had 1+4=5 while Matthew Wedman scored three times. The Calgary Hitmen pay a visits Monday for a 2 pm affair.
·        Who’s Hot: Pavel Novak has 2+8=10 in his last five games…Matthew Wedman has 6+9=15 in his last 12 games…Kyle Topping has 4+4=8 in his last 5 games.
·        Broadcasters Notebook: The Rockets have surrendered the opening goal in six straight games….The Rockets are 1-1-0-1 in three games against teams in the Central Division. That one win came against the Swift Current Broncos (3-2 OTW October 16, 2019). The one regulation loss came to the Medicine Hat Tigers (8-5 L November 8, 2019)….Matthew Wedman hits a milestone tonight. The 20 year-old plays in his 300th career game….Tyson Feist plays in his 100th career game tonight after breaking into the league with the Spokane Chiefs before eventually being dealt to the Regina Pats….With 16 games left in the regular season, 9 are on home ice with only 7 on the road. Those road stops include two in Victoria, two in Prince George and singles in Everett, Kamloops and Vancouver…After returning for one game after playing for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, Nolan Foote has missed 12 straight games with an injury. The Rockets are 9 and 16 in 25 games without him this season.…..The Rockets are 9-8-0-0 against teams in the US Division….The Rockets are now 19-5-0-0 when scoring the games first goal…The Rockets have played in 24-1 goal games this season, the most in the WHL…The Rockets are 10-14-1-1 against teams in the BC Division…The Rockets were 5-5-0-0 in December and 4-9-0-0 in January….Name the defenceman that played for the Rockets this season and the Rebels last season? The answer - Carsen Sass of the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Rockets vs. Americans


·       Tonight’s Preview: The Rockets play game three of a five game home stand tonight against the visiting Tri City Americans. This is the fourth and final meeting between the two teams. The Rockets are 3-0-0-0, having out-scored the Americans 15-5. Pavel Novak has 3+3=6 in the three games while Nolan Foote, Dillon Hamaliuk and Matthew Wedman each have 5 points. Roman Basran is 2-0-0-0 in the seasonal series, posting a goals against average of 1.00. The Rockets enter tonight’s game having lost five straight after back-to-back losses last weekend to the Portland Winterhawks. The Rockets welcome Red Deer Saturday. The Calgary Hitmen pay a visits Monday for a 2 pm affair. Overall, the Rockets have lost 11 of their last 13 games. The team has 3 wins in its last 12 games at Prospera Place.
·         Broadcasters Notebook: Welcome back Jaedan Joseph. The 20 year-old played 16 games with the Rockets earlier this season after being acquired from the Moose Jaw Warriors. Joseph collected 1+5=6 in those 16 games before being dealt to the Americans January 9th for a 6th round WHL bantam pick…With 17 games left in the regular season, 10 are on home ice with only 7 on the road. Those road stops include two in Victoria, two in Prince George and singles in Everett, Kamloops and Vancouver…After returning for one game after playing for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, Nolan Foote has missed 11 straight games with an injury. The Rockets are 8 and 16 in 24 games without him this season.…..The Rockets are 8-8-0-0 against teams in the US Division….The Rockets are now 19-5-0-0 when scoring the games first goal…The Rockets have played in 24-1 goal games this season, the most in the WHL…The Rockets are 10-14-1-1 against teams in the BC Division…The Rockets are 6 and 1 in overtime with game winning goals coming from Matthew Wedman, Dillon Hamaliuk, Nolan Foote, Kaedan Korczak (twice) and Liam Kindree…..Jake Lee is one point shy of the 24 he recorded last season with Seattle…Alex Swetlikoff is the only player on the roster that has a chance to dress in all 68 games this season…Kaedan Korczak has a shot on goal in all but one games this season…..The Rockets were 5-5-0-0 in December and 4-9-0-0 in January…During a five game losing streak, the Rockets have been out-scored 24-9….Matthew Wedman will play in his 300th regular season game Saturday against Red Deer….Kyle Topping’s two goal game Saturday was his 7th multiple goal game of his career

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Rockets return to face Chiefs

Pavel Novak - Shoot the Breeze photo

·       Tonight’s Preview: The Rockets host the Spokane Chiefs in a weekend home and home series. The two teams meet tomorrow in Spokane. This is the third meeting of the season between the two teams. On opening night the Rockets were a 4-3 overtime winner. Dillon Hamaliuk scored the game winning goal. Back on November 9th, the Chiefs were a 6-1 winner. The Chiefs fired 55 shots on goal. Mark Liwiski opened the scoring before the Chiefs scored 6 straight. Tonight’s game marks the return of ex-Rocket Leif Mattson to Prospera Place. The 20 year-old was dealt to the Chiefs December 5th for a 2020 3rd round WHL bantam pick. Mattson played 203 games with the Rockets after being acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings on October 6, 2016 for a 9th round pick. Mattson was the Rockets Humanitarian award winner last season.
·         Broadcasters Notebook: Pavel Novak is trying to do something one other European born player has accomplished with the organization. Novak leads the team in points. Vaclav Varada tied for team lead in points (88) with Tacoma in 1994-95…After returning for one game after playing for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, Nolan Foote has missed 7 straight games with an injury. The Rockets are 8 and 12 in 20 games without him this season. Foote did not play against the Chiefs in the season opener as his was still with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning….The Rockets are playing their 48th game of the season tonight, meaning only 20 games remain…The team has 13 home games left and only 7 on the road…..The Rockets are 8-4-0-0 against teams in the US Division….The Rockets are now 19-5-0-0 when scoring the games first goal…The Rockets have played in 24-1 goal games this season, the most in the WHL…The Rockets are 10-14-1-1 against teams in the BC Division…The Rockets are 6 and 1 in overtime with game winning goals coming from Matthew Wedman, Dillon Hamaliuk, Nolan Foote, Kaedan Korczak (twice) and Liam Kindree….Head Coach Adam Foote coached in his 100th game last Sunday against the Vancouver Giants.
·         Milestone Makers: Rockets 20 year-old Matthew Wedman is playing in his 298th game tonight. Nolan Foote is 5 games shy of 200 for his career. Defenceman Kaedan Korczak is one point shy of a career high in points. The 18 year-old has 33 points heading into tonight’s game…Jake Lee is one point shy of the career high 24 points he put up last season in Seattle…Goaltender Roman Basran is three appearances shy of 100 for his career.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

He's back!


·      Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets play their 39th game of the season when they host the Victoria Royals. These two teams met last Friday, with the Royals earning a 2-1 win. This is the 6th meeting of the season between the two teams. The Rockets are 2-2-0-1 in the opening five games, having been out-scored 13-12 in the process. The Rockets have a one point lead on the Royals for second place in the BC Division, with Victoria holding two games in hand. The Rockets are riding a two game winning streak after a 3-2 shootout win Saturday over Vancouver followed by a 7-3 win in Tri City on Sunday. Following tonight’s game, the Rockets are in Kamloops Friday before hosting the Blazers Saturday night.
·         
     The Golden Guy: Nolan Foote will be recognized before tonight’s game after helping Canada win gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships. The Rockets captain scored three goals in the tournament and became the 10th player in the organizations history to win gold at the prestigious event. On that list is Blake Comeau, Luke Schenn, Shea Weber, Jamie Benn, Tyler Myers, Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey, Dillon Dube and Cal Foote.
·         Broadcasters Notebook: The Rockets were 5-6-0-0 while Nolan Foote was at the World Junior Hockey Championships….Nolan Foote has 5 goals in his last 5 games…Pavel Novak has 30 in 30. The rookie forward has 30 points in his first 30 games of his WHL career …Matthew Wedman had four assists Sunday in Tri City. Wedman’s only other four point game came as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds back on December 17, 2017 against Spokane (1+3=4)…The Rockets will play three games in three nights three times this month. They do it again January 17-19 before doing it again January 24-26…The Rockets have played in 21-1 goal games this season, the most (tied with Everett) in the WHL.
·         Digg’n Deep: The Rockets are 17-3 when opening the scoring….The Rockets are 9-10-1-1 against teams in the BC Division…The Rockets are 4 and 1 in overtime with game winning goals coming from Dillon Hamaliuk, Nolan Foote, Kaedan Korczak and Liam Kindree….Head Coach Adam Foote is closing in on a milestone. Foote will coach in his 100th game January 26th, at home, vs. Vancouver….Dillon Hamaliuk’s goal Sunday was his first in 9 games…Connor McDonald is 5 assists shy of 100 for his career…Liam Kindree has 4+1=5 in his last five games.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Giant undertaking


·       Tonight’s Preview: The third and fourth place teams in the BC Division meet tonight as the Kelowna Rockets host the Vancouver Giants. The Rockets hold a slim four point lead the G-Men for third place in the division. This is the fourth meeting of the season between the two teams. The Rockets are 0-3-0-0, having lost by scores of 4-0, 4-3 and most recently 6-2. Overall, the Rockets have been out-scored 14-5 in the seasonal series. Connor McDonald leads the team with 3 assists in two games. The Rockets power play is just 1 for 15 (6.7%) against Vancouver. The Rockets are coming off a 2-1 loss last night to the Victoria Royals. Kaedan Korczak had the lone goal. The Rockets are playing three games in three nights for the second time this season. The team is in Tri City on Sunday (4:05 pm). Back in late September the Rockets played three games in three nights, losing in overtime in Kamloops (3-2), beating Everett at home (5-1) before losing (4-0) in Vancouver.    
·        Broadcasters Notebook: The Rockets will play three games in three nights three times this month. They do it again January 17th, 18th and 19th before doing it again January 24th, 25th and 26th …Liam Kindree has three goals in his last four games….Nolan Foote is playing for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships, becoming the 18th player in the organization to do so…12 of the Rockets last 15 games have been decided by one goal…The Rockets have played in 20-1 goal games this season, the most in the WHL…The Rockets have played in a Western Conference high 20 road games. 
·        Digg’n Deep: The Rockets are playing their 6th straight game against a team based in the BC Division. The Rockets are 1-4-0-0 in the five games….Kaedan Korczak has goals in back-to-back games. The 18 year-old has 7 goals this season in 36 games. It took him 140 career games to score 7 goals heading into this season…Roman Basran has started in 6 of the teams last 7 games….The Rockets are 8-10-1-1 against teams in the BC Division…The Rockets are 4 and 1 in overtime with game winning goals coming from Dillon Hamaliuk, Nolan Foote, Kaedan Korczak and Liam Kindree….Head Coach Adam Foote is closing in on a milestone. Foote will coach in his 100th game January 25th, on the road, in Vancouver (Langley)….Dillon Hamaliuk plays in his 150th WHL game this evening…Connor McDonald is 5 assists shy of 100 for his career.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Rockets open unofficial second half vs. Blazers

Devin Steffler - Shoot the Breeze Photo

·     Tonight’s Preview: Welcome back to the unofficial second half of the season for the Kelowna Rockets. The team has played 32 games to this point, sporting a record of 18-11-1-2. That is good for second place in the BC Division, 6 points back of first place Kamloops in the BC Division (Rockets have one game in hand) and three points up on third place Victoria (Royals have one game in hand). The Rockets face the Kamloops Blazers tonight in the 6th time this season. The Rockets are just 1-3-1-0 in the five previous games, with three of them decided by a single goal including a 4-3 win back on November 16th.  The Rockets are in a portion of their schedule playing 6 consecutive home games against teams in the BC Division. After tonight’s game, the team is in Vancouver (Langley) tomorrow night before welcoming Prince George Monday (7 P.M) December 30th.   
·         Senior Citizens Settle in:  The two newest members of the team made their home debuts before the Christmas break. Matthew Wedman, acquired in a trade with Seattle December 5th, showcased his talents in front of the home town faithful on December 18th. The 20 year-old led the T-Birds in scoring last season with 40+37=77 and played 275 games in a Seattle uniform. Twenty year-old d-man Conner McDonald also made his debut December 18th with three assists in a 4-3 loss to visiting Vancouver. McDonald was obtained from the Edmonton Oil Kings Saturday night. McDonald scored 19 goals back on the blue-line last season, which was the second highest total only behind Giants rearguard Bowen Byram.   
·         The Price is Right: The Rockets also completed a trade with the Moose Jaw Warriors November 24th by acquiring 20 year-old Jadon Joseph. Joseph was a member of the Vancouver Giants last season that went all the way to the WHL final. Joseph has 58 games of playoff experience under his belt, the most on the Rockets roster.     
·         Broadcasters Notebook: Nolan Foote is playing for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships, becoming the 18th player in the organization to do so….10 of the Rockets last 11 games have been decided by one goal…The Rockets have played in 18-1 goal games this season, the most in the WHL…. Roman Basran was named the WHL Eli Wilson goaltender of the week in back-to-back weeks ending December 1st…Nolan Foote was named the 25th captain in franchise history (Tacoma/Kelowna) October 18th…The Rockets have played in a Western Conference high 19 road games.  

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Rockets don't cower with less than loaded lineup

  • 12 points up for grabs. 8 collected. Cha Ching! The Kelowna Rockets completed its longest road trip of the season in fine form Saturday night in Moose Jaw with a 5-4 overtime win. A loss against the Warriors would have stung. The trip would have only been regarded as partially successful had that happened, considering the team roared out of the gates with three straight wins (PA/Saskatoon/Brandon). Had the team lost three in a row to end the trip, the bus ride home, while still painful, would have felt twice as long. The good news was Kaedan Korczak didn't allow that to happen. The 18 year-old (turns 19 in late January) scored a massive shorthanded goal in the third period and then scored the game winner in overtime. The Rockets left Mosaic Place with a 4-2-0-0 record while claiming the final game of the road trip without five regulars in the lineup. One word - impressive.
  • Not once on this swing did the team play with a full lineup. A 2-1 win in Prince Albert had rookie sensation Pavel Novak serving the 7th game of an 8 game suspension. Since the 17 year-old dynamo has been serving his sentence, the power play has really gone flat. When he finally returned Tuesday in Brandon, the power play unit got kicked in the teeth again with the loss of Nolan Foote to the world junior's. It was believed Dillon Hamaliuk, who missed the opening two games with illness would return for the games in Manitoba, but the team sent out a news release saying the 19 year-old was fighting a virus and wouldn't play at all on the trip. Another blow and more adversity for a team who did get an injection of hope before the trip began when GM Bruce Hamilton made a significant trade acquiring 20 year-old forward Matthew Wedman. Wedman played in every game on the trip, providing some spark offensively while taking massive pressure away from several players that just aren't ready for prime time.
  • Novak had four points (2+2=4 in four games) on the road trip. That's impressive when you consider his age. I really like him. While quiet on the bus, his teammates love him and I think he really loves playing here in North America. I sit right across from him on the team bus and he often has a smile on his face. I'm glad that he is happy with his decision to play in Kelowna and that its met his expectations. Novak has far exceeded mine.  
  • Grinding through four games in five night's, the team suffered another blow Friday when 19 year-old Sean Comrie separated his shoulder after crashing into the end boards in a disappointing 4-3 loss to the lowly Regina Pats. The result at the Brandt Centre was the low point of the trip, where I thought the team looked as gassed as they did two days prior in a 3-1 setback in Winnipeg. Losing Comrie for the last game of the trip was a setup for disaster, or so many thought. Thankfully several players stepped up to earn their 18th win of the season. Take a bow Michael Farren and Alex Swetlikoff. 
  • Kaedan Korczak led the Rockets with 8 points in 6 games. The defenceman looked especially good in Regina and Moose Jaw, but those two teams are at the bottom of the Eastern Division standings. The second round draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights often dominated. End to end rushes were common place, and really for the first time since I saw him skate on WHL ice, the Yorkton, Saskatchewan product looked like a gifted offensive d-man. Last season he could sit back and watch Lassi Thomson let loose with the puck, but with the Ottawa Senators first rounder applying his trade in Finland, Korczak has accelerated his offensive play. Will it work against better teams is the question mark. Against weaker teams, Korczak was able, for the most part, to cover up high risk mistakes. I would think more caution will be needed against top end teams that make you pay for any misgivings you make that could be considered as high risk plays. In my opinion he was the best player on the ice in the final two games and looked the freshest physically. 
  • Alex Swetlikoff had a fairly decent road trip. Required to play bigger minutes, the 18 year-old had a three point game in Moose Jaw (1+2=3) and had several quality chances to score in Regina the night prior. With 22 shots on net in the six games, that's a great sign for a player who has equaled his point total from all of last season. The only thing he needs to do is play a more pissed off game. Play to your size. Nope, fighting is not what I am suggesting, but get involved physically and play a bigger man's game. At 6'4 and 190 pounds, that size is ideal in the centre ice position if he plays with power. My suggestion is watch Matthew Wedman. Play like Matthew Wedman. Be a mirror image. 
  • The goalies saw time between the pipes on the trip. Both had ups and downs. Roman Basran was solid in the opener in Prince Albert and was the first star in a surprising win in Brandon. Against lesser teams, the 18 year-old struggled by allowing 4 goals in back to back games against the Pats and Warriors. That said, a massive paddle save in the third period in Moose Jaw could have been considered a game saver. Cole Schwebius let in a softy against Winnipeg, but rebounded nicely with solid stops to keep the score close. I love Schwebius' mental resilience.  
  • Only once in the six games were the Rockets able to carry the lead into the third period. That happened in Prince Albert with a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes. In five games they either trailed or were tied (1-1 with Brandon in game three) going into the final frame. 
  • Is it any surprise with the players out of the lineup that 5 of the 6 games on the Eastern Division swing were decided by one goal? The Rockets have played in a WHL high 17-1 goal games this season. Without Kyle Topping, Liam Kindree, Dillon Hamaliuk and  missing leading scorer Nolan Foote for four games really hurt the teams ability to generate quality scoring chances. With Pavel Novak missing in action against the Raiders and Blades, it was easy to accept the team wasn't going to blow the doors off of anyone. 
  • The toughest part of the trip came at the conclusion of the overtime win in Moose Jaw. The team made a trade, acquiring 20 year-old Conner McDonald from the Edmonton Oil Kings for a first and third rounder. Considered an overpayment, the move had to be made to find a d-man who can quarterback the power play. Kaedan Korczak can play a role on it, but they need someone else to fill the massive void left by Lassi Thomson. McDonald is that guy after scoring 19 goals last season. The sad part was saying goodbye to good guy Carsen Sass. Sass wasn't flashy in anyway, but Rockets head coach Adam Foote paid tribute to the player who changed the culture of the dressing room in the short time he wore Kelowna Rockets colours.                 
  • So after copious amounts of time on the bus and kilometers under their belt, the team faces one last test before Christmas against the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday. No Nolan Foote. No Bowen Byram. After 18 days away from Prospers Place, it would be nice to see the team reward the fans with a win. Call it opening a Christmas gift early.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Road trip can go from good to great


  • After two games this week in Manitoba, the Kelowna Rockets head back to Saskatchewan where it all began. The bi-annual trek through the prairies started last Friday with an upset of the defending WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders. With 6 games in 9 night's, I didn't project the team to win at the Art Hauser Centre. I also didn't envision a victory against high flying Brandon, but this group, which is playing without four of its top forwards, is finding lightning in a bottle. They are getting it done. Style points? No. Gutsy, gritty efforts? Yepper! Sure, a lackluster effort in Winnipeg Wednesday night put a blemish on the road trip, but two wins this weekend against Regina and Moose Jaw and the Memorial Cup hosts can head home with a 5-1-0-0 record. That would be spectacular and something I would have taken in a heartbeat when the team left Prospera Place 9 days ago.
  • The Brandon win was an impressive one. The Wheat Kings were coming off a wild 5-4 shootout loss to the Kamloops Blazers five days prior. The Wheat Kings are like a race horse. The Rockets are like a Clydesdale that has superior pulling power. Sure, a little slower but tough to play against. I loved how the Rockets managed the clock, opened the scoring with the power play and kept within striking distance by getting the game into overtime. Starting goaltender Roman Basran weaved his magic by playing sharp before newly acquired Matthew Wedman scored the winner in the skills competition. From a purely tactical standpoint, it was executed pretty much to perfection.
  • The game I questioned coming into the road trip was a stop in Winnipeg. While only separated by 213 kilometers (Brandon to Winnipeg), the team was playing back-to-back games and arrived at the hotel at 1 am in the morning to only magnified things. Plus, the Ice had won 7 straight at home and visiting team's, for whatever reason, struggle playing at the Wayne Fleming Arena. The Ice are now 11 and 4 in that antiquated facility. The Rockets looked out of sync. Tired possibly? A little apathetic maybe? The passing was off, the desperation wasn't there and Cole Schwebius, in his second start on this trip, would have had to been flawless for the visitors to escape with a victory. The Ice looked off too as the skill level was reduced with several key forwards absent from both rosters which resulted in  several trips to the penalty box and both teams combined for three too many men penalties. That is usually a sign of a lack of mental engagement when line changes should been pretty much seamless at this time of the season. The Rockets weren't good. It wasn't there night. While they were rolling with 5 straight road wins and points in 9 straight, you knew the dam would eventually break, which it did.
  • So with 3 wins in 4 games with tons of travel, the team should have a good mindset heading into tilts with the Pats and Warriors to close out the trip. Both east division teams are struggling this season. The Rockets have 17 wins. Regina and Moose Jaw have 17 wins combined! Friday's opponent, the Pats, have 3 wins on home ice, the fewest (Red Deer has 3) in the WHL this season. If the Rockets play like they can, with Thursday to regroup despite a 6 hour bus ride from Winnipeg to Saskatchewan's capital, two points are attainable. Play like they did Wednesday and this trip turns from delicious to disappointing. Friday night's tilt is a biggy.                 
  • I always think this road trip comes at just the right time. It allows many of the Rockets players to showcase themselves in front of family and friends. Many with son's from Saskatchewan and Manitoba follow the team along the way and it can't but provide a psychological lift for many of them. It was nice to run into the Wilton's and the Ernst's along the way. Both Dallon Wilton and Ethan Ersnt are playing with some added pop in their game on this road trip.
  • It was nice to see rookie Pavel Novak return to the lineup Tuesday in Brandon. While assisting on a power play goal from Matthew Wedman to open the scoring, it will take the 17 year-old some time to regain the form he showed prior to an eight game suspension back on November 11th. It's a mental battle for a player who also can't wait to return to his home in the Czech Republic for Christmas.      
  • Matthew Wedman has 1+2=3 in four games with his new team. The 20 year-old has also taken a penalty in all four games he has played. After failing to record a shot on goal in Prince Albert to start the trip, the 7th round NHL draft pick of the Florida Panthers has 14 shots in his last three games. Wedman is tied for the league lead in penalty minutes with 58. 
  • Roman Basran has played in two of the four games, getting night's off against Saskatoon and Winnipeg. In his last 6 starts, the 18 year-old (doesn't turn 19 until July) has allowed one goal or less 5 times. You would think he will carry the mail the rest of the way with back-to-back starts this weekend. 
  • It would be nice to see a few players finally score for the first time wearing Kelowna Rockets colours. Jadon Joseph has yet to score in five games with his new team while Devin Steffler and rookie Elias Carmichael have yet to light the lamp. It would be nice to see those three be rewarded against two of the weaker sisters in the WHL this weekend. 
  • I will never forget defencive defenceman Cole Martin scoring his first career WHL goal in Regina in December of 2011. That night Martin had a goal and an assist and was named the third star. Martin would go on to score only 10 career goals in 280 games, but it was that night in Regina that things went wonderfully for him offensively. 
  • When you are traveling as extensively as we have over the past week, practice time is kept to a minimum. To this point in the trip, with four games in six night's, the team has been on the ice only twice, with a practice in Strathmore Alberta on the way out here and a pre-game skate in Brandon before Tuesday's game at Westoba Place.
  • The Rockets are within four points of the Blazers in the fight for first place in the BC Division heading into the weekend. The Rockets have the easier schedule. Kamloops closes the prairie road trip with stops in Saskatoon and Prince Albert.  

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Prairie air is perfect!


  • Maybe the cold prairie air isn't so bad? For the Kelowna Rockets, its darn right refreshing. Two games in the books and two victories. One in Prince Albert and the other in Saskatoon. Shucks, winning is fun, especially when its accomplished on the road. The Rockets are riding a season high four game road winning streak, having carved out wins over Seattle (3-2), Tri City (2-1), Prince Albert (2-1) and Saskatoon (4-3 in a shootout). The theme over those four games is a slim margin between winning and losing, but learning to play in those tight games, and winning them, is extremely valuable. Remember, this is all being accomplished essentially without Kyle Topping, Liam Kindree, Pavel Novak and most recently Dillon Hamaliuk. 
  • Let's look back at Friday's win in Prince Albert. Sure, the Raiders didn't have their leading scorer in the lineup that night, but as mentioned, the visiting team didn't exactly have a loaded gun either. The Rockets really played that game they way they need too in order to beat a Raiders club that had previously lost only once at the Art Hauser Centre this season. The Rockets generated only 15 shots on net, but the Raiders took several foolish penalties and the visitors power play clicked at the most opportune time. 
  • Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid had a great quote after the game, believing the referee's coward to Rockets head coach Adam Foote's every request. "There were three soft calls. They talked to him all night. I don't know if they (referee's) wanted his autograph because he is a Stanley Cup champion or what? It didn't look good. They talked to him all night. He ran line changes. He did whatever he wanted. He slowed the game down and they just let him do it. I don't know if they wanted his autograph or what the deal was"? That quote is gold...but it may get Habscheid fined. 
  • A night later in Saskatoon, the Rockets were able to get a late third period goal to send the game into overtime before winning it in a shootout. The tying goal had some controversy surrounding it after Nolan Foote's follow through clipped Blades d-man Scott Walford. With the 20 year-old face down on the ice with blood visibly cascading on the ice, the Rockets maintained possession of the puck with Foote setting up rookie Trevor Wong for the equalizer. Should the play have been whistled down? It is at the discretion of the referee's, but because the Rockets maintained possession of the puck, play continued. It was Wong's first goal in 15 games.
  • In the dying moments of regulation time, Blades 20 year-old Nolan Kneen made contact with forward Nolan Foote at the Rockets blue-line. Boarder line dirty, Foote went down and grimmest in pain as teammate Matthew Wedman engaged in a fight with Kneen, who felt obligated to answer the bell. Foote was able to skate off the ice and did return for overtime and the shootout while Wedman showed the organization his value by standing up for a teammate.
  • Why did Rockets head coach Adam Foote elect to use 17 year-old Ethan Ernst in the shootout? Ernst has just one goal this season. The third round bantam pick has just two goals in 84 career WHL games. The fact is, in practice, where they work on these things, Ernst is pretty good at it. Boy, did he show quick, slick hands on the deke to score the game winning goal. Ernst had family and friends from Weyburn in attendance to cheer him on.
  • It was nice to see Michael Farren score in his return to Sask-Tel Centre. The 19 year-old had a little more jump in his step against his old team and opened the scoring on a real nice individual effort. It has been tough for Farren to find traction in Kelowna after putting up a career high 11 goals with the Blades in 2017-2018. In his rookie year, again with Saskatoon, Farren had a career high 30 points, so much was expected from him to be an elite goal scorer. Turning 20 in April, the Richmound, BC product is looking forward to a strong second half. 
  • The Rockets trailed 3-2 heading into the third period. It marked only the second time this season they were able to battle back and eventually win. The team is now 2 and 7 when trailing after 40 minutes.
  • The most amazing statistic is this one. Without Pavel Novak in the lineup for 8 games (suspension), the Rockets went 7-0-0-1. At the time of his suspension, the 17 year-old was leading the team in scoring. Novak is back in the lineup Tuesday in Brandon.  
  • The Rockets have points in 8 games (7-0-0-1) with 7 of the 8 decided by a single goal. The only game over that stretch not decided by one goal was a 4-1 victory over the Victoria Royals.
  • Can we hand out the teams top defenceman award already. Kaedan Korczak is a slam dunk winner. 
  • Most improved player? Jake Poole. I think he has come miles since he opened the season with the team. Tip of the cap to Poole for working on his game and the coaches for putting him into situations to succeed. It is hard for me not to believe that bigger is better. At 6'1 and closing in on 190 pounds, when 'big boy hockey' is required, those with a larger frame seem to really stand out.
  • Speaking of 'big boy hockey', both games out here on this prairie road trip have been extremely physical. The timid and shy better sit this one out, as the Raiders and Blades were not scared to set the tone with hard hitting hockey. When the game gets a little greasy and board battles are the name of the game, the Rockets best defender for me is Jake Lee. Lee won't dazzle you with great foot speed or a pounding blast from the blue-line, but heck is he ever effective when bodies are flying everywhere and hard nosed play is required.
  • You can tell the Rockets are playing a heavier game with the acquisition of Jadon Joseph and Matthew Wedman. The team looks visually bigger and those two players likely make everyone play with a little more courage and bite in their game.  
  • The atmosphere in Prince Albert was really, really good. Winning helps that obviously and the fans up there deserve to support a winner and feel proud about their team. I went down during the first intermission and walked through the 'Ches Leach Lounge' where it was absolutely packed. Fans are wearing Raiders green and its really impressive to see. These are true, prairie hockey fans at its finest. It is an awesome spectacle. Good on ya Prince Albert.     
  • The Blades game Saturday night featured a 'Girls Rock Night' theme. I liked it. I remember a similar event in 2011 when the Rockets paid a visit where Haley Wickenheiser was the featured guest. The best part of the event, in my opinion, was an 11 year-old girl introducing the Blades starting lineup over the PA system. Showing lots of enthusiasm, it was a nice change to the 34 home games the Blades play at Sask-Tel Centre. 
  • It is off to Manitoba now for games in Brandon (Tuesday) and Winnipeg (Wednesday). The rest of the road trip will be played without leading scorer Nolan Foote (World Juniors), but Pavel Novak is back in the lineup and Dillon Hamaliuk is expected to return after an illness. I am told Tuesday night's low in Brandon is expected to be -28! Buckle up...here we go!    

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Point taken!!

Jadon Joseph - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Thankfully, Tuesday night's home game against the Edmonton Oil Kings wasn't Teddy Bear Toss Night. That would have been unfortunate. The good news is the promotion is planned for Saturday evening against the visiting Prince George Cougars. Last night at Prospera Place, the Rockets were held off the score sheet in a 1-0 shootout loss. This game was almost played to perfection by the home team, who didn't want to get into a track meet by exchanging scoring chances with an Oil Kings squad that likes to free wheel. Despite being out-shot 8-1 at one point in the first period, the best player on the ice, goaltender Roman Basran, stood tall and allowed his team to escape with a single point.      
  • Scoring chances by either team were few and far between. That was good news for the Rockets, who are playing without Pavel Novak and Kyle Topping, two top 6 forwards, so a more structured defensive game is the best bet in earning a win. You have to play to your strengths right now, so the coaches deserve much credit for getting the players to buy-in to a more responsible style of play where puck management and shot blocking by the entire five man unit is key in keeping  within striking distance of the top teams in the WHL standings. Heck the Rockets are 4 points out of first place in the Western Conference standings. Not bad. Not bad at all. 
  • While 60 minutes didn't decide anything, the overtime session, which is typically entertaining, was like watching paint dry. Three on three hockey produced little in the way of scoring chances as both teams looked more interested in settling things in the shootout. As my colour analyst Kent Simpson put it, "The shootout resembled a game of keep away".
  • Jadon Joseph made his Rockets debut last night and didn't disappoint. The likable 20 year-old, who hasn't even practiced with his new team after being acquired from Moose Jaw on Sunday, showed some good offensive instincts in a game where execution in the offensive zone by either team was below average. Joseph did create and showed tremendous speed, specifically late in the third period. I like him. He will only get better, trust me.
  • The Rockets did earn a point last night, so the gap between the first place Blazers is only down to one. Impressive considering, again, that the team is without two key forwards and they lost 19 year-old Liam Kindree to a second period upper body injury.
  • Up next is a home date with the Prince George Cougars Saturday night at Prospera Place. Bring your Teddy!!!!         

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Rockets acquire veteran forward

Jadon Joseph - Shoot the Breeze Photo
This deal makes a lot of sense. The Kelowna Rockets are better today with the acquisition of 20 year-old forward Jadon Joseph. Why? Joseph is an upgrade in one of three 20 year-old spots because of a higher skill set.  While Kolby Mohr was a solid character player, Joseph will bring more offensive punch to the lineup. Splitting time with three teams last season (Lethbridge/Regina and then Vancouver), Joseph scored a career high 22 goals. Not bad for a player who had to deal with new teammates on numerous occasions before helping the Giants to an appearance in the WHL final.
Joseph is a right handed centreman the team was looking for. How valuable is the right handed centreman? The team only has one when Ethan Ernst, a fourth line player, is used in that spot. Kyle Topping, Liam Kindree and Alex Swetlikoff all shoot left. Plus, Joseph is penciled into your top 6 forwards, taking significant heat off of Kindree and Swetlikoff to be point producers.
Some will suggest the price to acquire Joseph was steep. James Porter wasn't even with the team after he lost out in a bid for the backup goaltending duties to Cole Schwebius. Kyle Crosbie was often a health scratch while Kolby Mohr was more of a checking forward than a point producer. The third round pick is something the team will be able to recoup over the next two years.
Joseph also has bushels of playoff experience. The Sherwood Park Alberta product has 58 playoff games of experience under his belt, after going to the conference finals with Lethbridge and then as previously mentioned, helping the G-Men to last year’s WHL finals before losing in seven games to the Prince Albert Raiders. That's the most playoff games played of anyone on the Rockets roster.
Joseph will make his Kelowna Rockets debut Tuesday against the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Rockets look to rebound against Royals

Cole Schwebius - Shoot the Breeze Photo

·        Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open a stretch of playing three games in four nights when they host the Victoria Royals at Prospera Place. The Royals make a return visit after handing the Rockets a 6-3 loss on November 6th, the start of four straight losses. The road team has won two of the three games, with the Rockets also earning a point in a 4-3 shootout loss in Victoria on October 29th. Two of the three games have been decided by a goal with the Royals out-scoring the Rockets 10-7. Pavel Novak (2+1=3) and Ethan Ernst (1+2=3) lead the team in points in the seasonal series. Cole Schwebius has appeared in two games against the Royals, once as a starter and the other in a relief appearance. The 18 year-old has a goals against average of 1.65. Roman Basran has an average of 4.74 in the seasonal series. After this game, the Rockets are off to the US Division where they visit Seattle (7:35 pm) Friday and Tri City (7:05 pm) Saturday night. The next home game is next Tuesday against visiting Edmonton in the teams’ third to last home date before the Christmas break.   
·        Who’s Hot: Alex Swetlikoff has goals in four of his last six games…Nolan Foote is riding a six game point streak (3+6=9)…Rookie Jake Poole has 1+3=4 in his last two games…Michael Farren has 2+7=9 in his last 9 games…Leif Mattson has three goals in his last six games.
·        Broadcasters Notebook: Michael Farren played in his 200th career game Saturday against Kamloops…Pavel Novak is serving game one of an 8 game suspension issued by the WHL for a checking from behind major and game misconduct penalty Monday in Kamloops. Novak won’t return until December 10th against Brandon…Leif Mattson is two games shy of 200 for his career…Nolan Foote, Dillon Hamaliuk and Kaedan Korczak played for Team WHL in the Canada-Russia Series. Foote had an assist on the tying goal Wednesday in Team WHL’s 2-1 overtime victory. Then in the rematch, Thursday, Nolan Foote scored twice in regulation time and then the shootout winner in a 4-3 victory…Pavel Novak remains a ‘C’ prospect for next June’s NHL Draft. Those new rankings were updated by NHL Central Scouting. A ‘C’ prospect is regarded as a player selected between the 5th and 7th round. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Montreal.
·        Player Move: The Rockets solidified the goaltending situation, sending 19 year-old James Porter to the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. Porter was beat out for the backup job by 18 year-old Cole Schwebius. Porter played in 72 regular season games with the Rockets but was a healthy scratch for all 15 games this season. 
·        Sign here please: Dillon Hamaliuk signed an entry level contract with the San Jose Sharks October 25th. Hamaliuk was chosen in the 2nd round by the Sharks in June’s NHL Draft. The 19 year-old joins Nolan Foote, who was signed by Tampa Bay back on June 25th.     
·        Nolan Named Captain: Nolan Foote was named the 25th captain in franchise history (Tacoma+Kelowna) October 18th. Foote joins brother Cal, who captained the Rockets during the 2017-2018 season. Both are first round selections of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning too. The Rockets selected Foote in the second round, 42nd overall in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. This is Foote’s fourth and likely final season in the WHL.