Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Here we go!!


Game Day Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open their 25th season in the Okanagan tonight against the visiting Spokane Chiefs. The Rockets are celebrating their silver anniversary after re-locating from Tacoma, Washington to Kelowna for the start of the 1995-1996 season. This is the first time in 8 seasons that the Rockets haven’t opened the regular season against division rival Kamloops. The last time the Rockets opened the season against a team other than Kamloops was September 24, 2011 vs. the Everett Silvertips. The Rockets won the game 5-4 in a shootout. The last time the Rockets opened the season at home to the Spokane Chiefs was way back on September 20, 1996 in a 4-3 overtime loss. Current Rockets assistant coach Kris Mallette played in that game and wore sweater #5. The game was played at Memorial Arena in front of a crowd of 18 hundred and 49 people. The game took 3 hours and 3 minutes to play. The Rockets were 1-2-1-0 against the Chiefs last season, with a 4-3 shootout victory, a 6-5 overtime loss and a 5-4 and 4-0 regulation time loss. After tonight, the Rockets are in Kamloops next Friday to face the Blazers. 

Welcome back! The team essentially welcomes back 17 of the 22 players that wore a Rockets jersey last season. That includes 5 of the teams’ top 6 scorers in Kyle Topping, Leif Mattson, Nolan Foote, Liam Kindree and Kaedan Korczak. Topping led the team with 69 points while Mattson and Foote collected 63 points apiece. Foote led the team in goals with 36. The team said farewell to 20 year-old’s Schael Higson, Dalton Gally and Matt Barberis. The team also parted ways with Lassi Thomson, Conner Bruggen-Cate and Ted Brennan. Adam Foote returns as head coach for his first full season behind the bench with Kris Mallette and Vernon Fiddler as his assistants. Fiddler was added to the staff on July 3rd.

Broadcasters Notebook: The Rockets play 4 of their opening 8 games against teams based in the U.S Division….Nolan Foote was selected in the opening round (27th overall) of the NHL Draft in June by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Foote joins his older brother Cal, who was chosen 17th overall by the Lightning in 2017….Foote attended Hockey Canada’s Summer Development Camp, collecting 2+4=6 in four exhibition games....Kaedan Korczak was chosen in the second round of the NHL Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights….Newly acquired forward Dillon Hamaliuk was selected in the second round by the San Jose Sharks. Hamaliuk was acquired in a trade with Seattle back in May….Jake Lee received a free-agent tryout with the Sharks, attending the teams rookie camp….Leif Mattson and Kyle Topping attended the rookie camp of the Carolina Hurricanes…19 year-old d-man Sean Comrie received an invite to Philadelphia Flyers rookie camp which led to an invite to main camp…On May 2, 2019 the team acquired Dillon Hamaliuk, Jake Lee and goaltender Cole Schwebius from Seattle for the Rockets 10th overall pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft, a 2nd round pick in 2021, a first round selection 2022 and Conner Bruggen-Cate. Hamaliuk and Lee were members of the 2017 WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds…The team will start the season with three-20 year-old’s after obtaining d-man Carson Sass from the Tri City Americans September 11th for a 10th round WHL bantam pick. Sass has played the majority of his career with the Red Deer Rebels…The team will have two-16 year-old’s on its roster this season. Trevor Wong, the Rockets 1st round bantam pick from (18th overall) 2018 is joined by 16 year-old blueliner Elias Carmichael. Carmichael was the teams 2nd round pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft…The Rockets welcome Czech Republic forward Pavel Novak to the team this season. Novak was chosen 13th overall in the opening round of June’s CHL Import Draft. Novak played recently for his country at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, helping the Czech Republic to a 5th place finish...Back on October 3rd, the Rockets were awarded the host site for the 2020 Kia Memorial Cup, beating out bids from Kamloops and Lethbridge. The Memorial Cup will be held at Prospera Place May 22nd to 31st and will represent the 102nd edition of the Canadian Hockey League national championship.

Did you know? Vernon Fiddler played 203 games with the Rockets between 1997 and 2000 before being traded to Medicine Hat in his 20 year-old season….Fiddler played close to 800 NHL games with Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas and New Jersey…..Prospera Place celebrated its 20th birthday on August 28th. It was August 28, 1999 that the facility opened its doors to its first official event, a rock concert with Canadian alternative band – Moist....The team had a record of 2-3-0-1 in six pre-season games. Kyle Crosbie led the team in scoring with 4+1=5 in 6 games. Liam Kindree (2=2+4), Alex Swetlikoff (2+2=4) and rookie Jake Poole (0+4=4) each collected four points in the exhibition seasn….Last season the Rockets were 28-32-6-2 and were just edged out by the Kamloops Blazers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Crosbie focused heading into sophomore season

Shoot the Breeze Photo
Kyle Crosbie is no dummy.

The second year forward with the Kelowna Rockes realizes what's in front of him. If he is willing to truly put in the work, the 18 year-old may defy the odds by being selected as an undersized forward in next June's NHL draft. An appearance in the 2020 Kia Memorial Cup this May would only enhance those chances.


Crosbie gained 17 pounds this off season. That's a significant amount of girth for a player who tipped the scales at a feather weight of 150 pounds in his rookie season. The Didsbury, Alberta resident knows that extra bulk on the ice will only help his chances of playing with the puck more often than chasing it.

"I burn calories so fast. That is big for me to put on that much weight. I feel stronger and bigger on the ice. It will be tough to maintain this season as I was taking in between 5 and 6 thousand calories a day."


Last season, Crosbie found the back of the net seven times in 63 games as he made his mark in the WHL with a team that struggled scoring. The Rockets had the third fewest in the league (169), with playoff-less Swift Current (135) and Prince George (152) scoring fewer times. 

"I think we have a lot of talent this year. We have Hamaliuk and Lee. From what I've seen so far, they are great players and Comrie from Denver, he is a solid d-man. Between those guys and the returnees, I think we will have a fast team this year."

Monday, August 19, 2019

An even 30 for Frey

Lorne Frey has seen it all.
The long-time head scout for the Kelowna Rockets will be watching with interest when rookie camp opens at Prospera Place.
"You are always excited to see the new kids. You are always looking for the late developers and we've found them in the past and we are hoping to do it this year".   
This is Frey's 30th training camp, including year one when the team was based in Tacoma, Washington in 1992.
"Is that what it is? I can't count that high," Frey says with a chuckle.   
Frey likes to make fun of himself, but it’s been his keen eye that has landed the likes of Jamie Benn, Damon Severson, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Tyler Myers and Tyson Barrie.  
"This camp may be one of our best camps we have had in a while. There are a lot of good young players coming. For whatever reason, I think last year in the draft, there were a lot of players that didn't get drafted that could have got drafted," Frey added.   
Close to 160 players will be split into teams, with on-ice sessions running until Friday when main camp opens.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Schenn redefining his game at 29!

Luke Schenn with the Arizona Coyotes 


To say it was a turbulent season for Luke Schenn would be an understatement.

The former Kelowna Rockets defenceman was playing in the minors before finally being traded to the Vancouver Canucks.

It was a tough pill to swallow for the 12 year veteran, who had to redefine his game.

"Fifteen or twenty years ago there were tons of stay at home, physical defenceman chipping the puck off the glass and taking care of things in front of the net.  But now you need to find way of being more efficient moving the puck."

That included work both on the ice and in the video room with former NHL'er Adam Oates.

A large part of Schenn's summer has included celebrating a Stanley Cup victory with younger brother Brayden.

"I definitely want to get the chance hopefully. I've never had the chance of getting out of the first round of the NHL playoffs. If you would have told me in January and February when I was in the minors that the first place team in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning, would be calling me,  it would be tough to believe. I am grateful for this opportunity", Schenn added.       

Schenn's contract is a one year deal worth $700,000.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Severson itching to get back at it


It may be early July, but Damon Severson is already preparing for the start of the NHL season.
The New Jersey Devils defenceman, who makes Kelowna his off-season home, says his team should be better with the recent acquisition of PK Subban.
"I think it is exciting for us to add that flavour to our dressing room. I think, on the ice, his play speaks for itself. It is more of will he be able to mesh with us off the ice. It should be just fine".
Severson is coming off a season where he collected a career high 39 points. 
"This is the third year I have been out here (Kelowna) for summer time. I can't complain one bit. It is beautiful. Everyone is friendly. Good people. Obviously, I played here with the Rockets so I know the area well. I can't see myself livng anywhere else in the world', Severson added.    
The 24 year-old was born in Brandon, Manitoba, grew up in Melville, Saskatchewan, but trains in the Okanagan with fellow NHL colleagues Brayden and Luke Schenn. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fiddler comes full circle


Vernon Fiddler has come full circle.

A former player of the Kelowna Rockets in the late 90's, the 39 year-old has been hired as an assistant coach.

"I have been through the trenches. I am looking forward to getting on the ice and developing their skills".

Fiddler played close to 900 games in the NHL before retiring in 2017.

"I am going to be a guy that expects a lot and I hope the players expect a lot out of me".

Fiddler will work primarily with the forwards while assistant coach Kris Mallette will again provide wisdom to the d-core.

"I have played against Adam Foote. We have had many verbal disagreements on the ice. Our coaching staff is going to expect nothing but a full commitment from our team and I am just looking forward to working with those two guys and get this team rolling in the right direction."

Fiddler spent this past winter in Dallas working with the Stars top prospects.

The move should be an easy one for the likable Fiddler, who already owns a home in Kelowna that he and his wife, son and daughter will easily move into. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thumbs up on 2019-2020 schedule

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • When I first looked at the Kelowna Rockets 2019-2020 regular season schedule, I had one reaction. Nice. This schedule, which still has its share of quirks, is significantly better than a season ago. I would have to say that 2019 had the team, far too many times, playing Friday night's at home and then busing for a significant distance to play the next night on the road. While that can't always be avoided, this schedule on paper, looks dramatically better than a season ago. With a team lacking in depth, it felt the ramifications of a hard schedule that only elite teams are able to survive. Ok, lets dive in and take a look.
  • Two other events outside of Rockets home games will be hosted by Prospera Place in October. 'World of Dance Live' is in the building October 7th while 'Skate Canada International' takes over the building for four days from October 24th to the 27th. That pushes the Rockets on the road for the majority of the month. Of the 10 games in October, only three will be at home. It's a tough month with the team playing three games in Prince George, including a single on Wednesday October 23rd. 
  • I like the schedule where the Rockets play back-to-back games in Portland January 18th and 19th. In fact, the trip is part of three straight on the road, with a stop in Everett January 17th. It makes so much sense to make a stop there considering it is along the I-5.
  • The tough trips are the two single dates in Tri City. It would be nice to see those paired with a game in nearby Spokane either the night before or the night after. As an example, the Rockets play at home against Vancouver on January 4th and then bus overnight into Kennewick to face the Americans on a Sunday afternoon at 4:05. Advantage home team. Only once do I remember playing the Americans in a doubleheader at Toyota Centre. I loved it.  
  • Three in three's are common place in the WHL. The Rockets have six of them.
  • The neatest tweak in the schedule is the Rockets going out on the road before Christmas on their Eastern Road swing. That is nothing unusual outside of the fact the Rockets will play a game in Winnipeg, against the newly named Winnipeg Ice, on December 11th. What is new, is the team will play one home game before the Christmas break. After playing 6 games in 9 nights on the prairies, the team will return home to host Vancouver December 18th before cracking open some egg nog.
  • March allows the team to get a breather before what is hoped will be a long playoff run. In March, the Rockets play 8 games. Of those 8, six are on home ice.   
  • Typically the Rockets play the Kamloops Blazers in a home and home series right after Christmas. Not this season. The Rockets host the Blazers December 27th but then travel to Langley to face the Vancouver Giants a night later. 
  • The Rockets play only one game on a Sunday. The date is January 26th against the visiting Vancouver Giants at 5:05 pm. 
  • The home opener is Saturday September 21st against the Dan Lambert-less Spokane Chiefs.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Commish says Kelowna will be solid host of 2020 MC

The face of the Western Hockey League says Kelowna will be a tremendous host of the 2020 Memorial Cup.
Commissioner Ron Robison is confident the team will have success both on and off the ice.
"We know the Rockets are going to be a very, very strong host team. Bruce Hamilton and his organization are more than capable of putting together a championship caliber team. With these young players that are getting drafted, that lineup is going to be very strong."
The Rockets could have 6 players chosen in the NHL Draft later this month in Vancouver.     
"We can't wait until next May to be a part of this. It is going to be a tremendous event. A great community celebration. If we have the Western Hockey League and the Rockets in the final, I will be very happy", Robison added.
The WHL champion hasn't won a game at the Memorial Cup in 4 seasons.
That is an ugly record of 0 and 13 over that stretch with the Kelowna Rockets last winning a game at the Memorial Cup as league champions in 2015. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Tie breaker Tuesday!!


Game Day Preview: For the first time in Kelowna Rockets franchise history a tie breaking game will be needed to decide if the team will make the Western Hockey League playoffs. The Rockets, who tied the Kamloops Blazers for third place in the BC Division with 64 points apiece, will meet at Sandman Centre to decide who will face the Victoria Royals in the opening round. Twelve days ago, the Rockets had a 7 points lead for third place but the Blazers chipped away winning 5 of their last 6 games (5-0-1-0).The Rockets over that same stretch were just 1-2-1-1. The Rockets are coming off a heart palpating 3-2 overtime win against the visiting Vancouver Giants Saturday night. Mark Liwiski scored the game winning goal 3:40 into overtime. The Rockets ended the regular season with a record of 28-32-6-2, identical to the Blazers. The Rockets were 24-22-6-2 in 53 games under Adam Foote.

Year End Award Winners: The Rockets held their annual awards Sunday at the Kelowna Community Theatre. Nolan Foote was named the MVP. Foote had a team high 36 goals this season. Kyle Topping was the Top Scorer and Plus/Minus leader. Kaedan Korczak was the Top Defenceman while Lassi Thomson was named the Rookie of the Year. Connor Bruggen-Cate was the Top Defensive Forward while Dalton Gally was the Unsung Hero. Kyle Crosbie was the Scholastic Player of the Year. 

Rockets Review: The team finished tied for third place in the BC Division, 8 points back of second place Victoria. The Rockets were 14-15-4-1 at home and 14-17-2-1 on the road. The team scored 54 goals on the power play after striking 79 times last season. The team allowed 62 power play goals against, which bettered last season’s mark when they surrendered 71 goals against. Kyle Topping, Leif Mattson and Kaedan Korczak dressed in all 68 games this season.

Broadcasters Notebook: The Rockets haven’t met the Blazers in a playoff game since April 4, 2016 when Tomas Soustal scored in overtime in a game 7 win….The Rockets last playoff road win in Kamloops was game three of that series in 2016 when Michael Herringer made 40 saves in a 1-0 victory. Justin Kirkland scored the game winning goal….The Rockets are attempting to advance to the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season and for the 23rd time in the franchises 24 year history in the Okanagan…The team has missed the playoffs once, in 2006-2007, when they won only 22 times and collected just 53 points...Lassi Thomson has missed four games with an upper body injury…..Trevor Wong, the Rockets first round WHL bantam pick from 2018, has been recalled by the team after the Greater Vancouver Canadians were eliminated this past weekend from the BCMMHL playoffs. Wong had 42 points in 34 games (12+30=42) in his rookie season playing midget hockey….Connor Bruggen-Cate hit the 200 career games played mark Saturday against the Giants….Lassi Thomson’s 17 goals were one shy of the franchise record for goals by a European d-man. Tomas Slovak holds the record (18 goals) in 2002-2003….The Rockets were 7-10-3-0 in 20 games against a US Division team this season. Three of the 7 wins came against Tri City with one victory over Spokane, Everett, Seattle and Portland….The Rockets played 23-one goal games at home this season. Last year they played 15-one goal games at Prospera Place…The team played in 12-one goal games on the road…The Rockets were 13-17-2-2 against BC Division teams this season…..Adam Foote was officially named the new head coach of the Kelowna Rockets on October 23, 2018 replacing Jason Smith.

Season Highs/Lows:
Most goals scored: 8 @ Victoria October 19/18 (8-2 W)
Most goals allowed: 9 vs. Seattle October 10th, 2018 (9-6 L)
Most shots on net: 45 @ Seattle October 6th, 2018 (4-1 L).
Fewest shots on net: 13 @ Edmonton November 17, 2018 (3-1 L)
Most shots allowed: 50 @ Portland November 10, 2018 (3-0 L)
Fewest shots allowed: 16 vs. Victoria December 7, 2018 (2-0 win)
Last time shut out at home: October 3rd, 2018 vs. Vancouver (5-0 L)  
Last time shut out on road: February 1, 2019 @ Spokane (4-0 L)
Last shutout at home: February 23, 2019 vs. Blazers (2-0 W – Roman Basran 18 saves)
Last shutout on the road: January 18, 2019 @ Everett (2-0 W – James Porter 40 saves)
Most power play goals allowed: 4 vs. Seattle October 10th, 2018 (9-6 L). T-Birds were 4/5 on power play.
Most power play goals scored: 4 @ Victoria October 19, 2018 (8-2 W)
Overtime Games (10): vs. Vancouver (3-2 W) March 16, 2019, vs. Spokane (6-5 L) March 13/2019, vs. Portland (2-1 L) March 2/2019, vs. Kamloops (2-1 W) February 2, 2019, vs. Seattle (3-2 L) January 30, 2019, @ Kamloops (3-2 L) December 28, 2018, vs. Saskatoon (5-4 L) December 1, 2018, @ Tri City Nov 30, 2018 (3-2 win), @ PG (4-3 L) November 14, 2018, vs. PG (4-3 win) October 27, 2018. 

Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150


Friday, March 15, 2019

Final weekend pivotal for playoff berth

Roman Basran - Shoot the Breeze Photography

Game Day Preview: Welcome to the final weekend of the Western Hockey League regular season. The Kelowna Rockets wrap up the 68 game schedule with a home and home series with the Vancouver Giants. The Rockets are 1-6-0-0 in seven of the nine games. The Rockets have scored 11 goals in those seven games, with the lone win coming January 27th in a 4-3 shootout victory. The G-Men have shutout the Rockets twice by scores of 2-0 and 5-0. The two teams meet tomorrow night at Prospera Place in the rematch. Leif Mattson leads the Rockets with 0+7=7 in the seasonal series while Nolan Foote has 4 goals in just 6 games against their BC Division rivals. Kyle Topping has 3 goals and Mark Liwiski has two goals against Vancouver. Roman Basran has played in all 7 games, posting a goals against average of 2.98 with a save percentage of .908. The Rockets are coming off a thrilling 6-5 overtime loss to the Spokane Chiefs on Wednesday. Kaedan Korczak had 1+3=4 while Nolan Foote 2+1=3 in the loss, which saw the team score four-third period goals to earn a point. Overall, the Rockets are 11-14-4-2 in 31 games since the Christmas break. The Rockets are 23-21-6-2 in 51 games under head coach Adam Foote.

Race for third place: The Rockets and Blazers are separated by just one point. The Rockets have 2 games left in the regular season finishing off against Vancouver (twice). The Blazers have 2 games left in the regular season. They face the Prince George Cougars in a home and home series.

Better than before: Kyle Topping has a career high 23 goals, 44 assists and 67 points this season, surpassing the 22+43=65 points he put up a year ago. Nolan Foote has 22 more points than last season with a career high 36 goals and 62 points. Foote is one assist shy of his career high 27 assists set last season. Leif Mattson has a career high 62 points after collecting 60 a season ago. Mattson has 5 more assists (40) than a year ago. Kaedan Korczak has 16 more points this season with career highs in goals (4), assists (28) and points (32). 

Who’s Hot: Liam Kindree has points in 5 of his last 9 games. Kindree has 0+5=5 over that period…Kyle Topping has 6+17=23 in his last 22 games…Leif Mattson has 5+11=16 in his last 16 games….Alex Swetlikoff has 5+5=10 in his last 15 games….Nolan Foote has 15+8=23 in his last 22 games….Lassi Thomson has 8+5=13 in his last 21 games …The Rockets have points in 18 of their last 26 home games (13-8-5-0). Mark Liwiski has 7+2=9 in his last 15 games…Shael Higson has 1+6=7 in his last 13 games…Nolan Foote has a shot on goal all but one game this season.

Broadcasters Notebook: Mark Liwiski returns to the line-up after serving a three game suspension. Liwiski was suspended for a hit against the Portland Winterhawks forward Seth Jarvis….Lassi Thomson’s 17 goals are one shy of the franchise record for goals by a European d-man. Tomas Slovak holds the record (18 goals) in 2002-2003….The Rockets were 7-10-3-0 in 20 games against a US Division team this season. Three of the 7 wins came against Tri City with one victory over Spokane, Everett, Seattle and Portland….The Rockets have played 22-one goal games at home this season. Last year they played 15-one goal games at Prospera Place…The team has played in 11-one goal games on the road…The Rockets are 12-16-2-2 against BC Division teams this season…..Adam Foote was officially named the new head coach of the Kelowna Rockets on October 23, 2018 replacing Jason Smith.,.The Rockets are 10-14-2-0 when playing the second game of back-to-backs.

Season Highs/Lows:
Most goals scored: 8 @ Victoria October 19/18 (8-2 W)
Most goals allowed: 9 vs. Seattle October 10th, 2018 (9-6 L)
Most shots on net: 45 @ Seattle October 6th, 2018 (4-1 L).
Fewest shots on net: 13 @ Edmonton November 17, 2018 (3-1 L)
Most shots allowed: 50 @ Portland November 10, 2018 (3-0 L)
Fewest shots allowed: 16 vs. Victoria December 7, 2018 (2-0 win)
Last time shut out at home: October 3rd, 2018 vs. Vancouver (5-0 L)  
Last time shut out on road: February 1, 2019 @ Spokane (4-0 L)
Last shutout at home: February 23, 2019 vs. Blazers (2-0 W – Roman Basran 18 saves)
Last shutout on the road: January 18, 2019 @ Everett (2-0 W – James Porter 40 saves)
Most power play goals allowed: 4 vs. Seattle October 10th, 2018 (9-6 L). T-Birds were 4/5 on power play.
Most power play goals scored: 4 @ Victoria October 19, 2018 (8-2 W)
Overtime Games (9): vs. Spokane (6-5 L) March 13/2019, vs. Portland (2-1 L) March 2/2019, vs. Kamloops (2-1 W) February 2, 2019, vs. Seattle (3-2 L) January 30, 2019, @ Kamloops (3-2 L) December 28, 2018, vs. Saskatoon (5-4 L) December 1, 2018, @ Tri City Nov 30, 2018 (3-2 win), @ PG (4-3 L) November 14, 2018, vs. PG (4-3 win) October 27, 2018. 

Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150

Monday, March 11, 2019

Will the Rockets make the playoffs?

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • We knew a goaltender with the first name Dylan would play a prominent role in this weekend's home and home series between the Kelowna Rockets and the Kamloops Blazers. What we didn't know is the last name Garand, not Ferguson, would steal the spotlight. With Blazers MVP Dylan Ferguson on the shelf with a lower body injury, 16 year-old backup Dylan Garand took centre stage and backstopped the Blazers to back-to-back 2-1 wins to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Garand provided even more anxious moments for a Rockets team that now have a slim 4 point lead for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. In allowing only two goals in two games, Garland has given the Blazers a fighter's chance. Without question, the Blazers are still in trouble with four games remaining, but Garand's strong play has them nipping at the heels of a Rockets team that had a 7 point lead coming into the weekend.
  • Am I surprised by the weekend results? In a way yes. In a way no. With the way the Rockets were playing coming into the weekend, with three points against Portland last weekend, I thought they would jump all over the Blazers. It looked like a mismatch heading into the two games with the Blazers, who had only one win in 6 games including a lacklustre 5-0 home ice loss Wednesday to the Vancouver Giants. It was in that game that Dylan Ferguson was injured. The Blazers were mentally fragile and the Rockets had them by the throat, but sadly they didn't seize the opportunity Friday night and played one of their most listless games of the season.
  • We should mention the Rockets lost defenceman Lassi Thomson to injury Friday night after a collision with Blazers captain Jeramine Loewen in the second period. Thomson's absence leaves a significant hole on the d-core, specifically one that generates very little in the way of offense. But Thomson's defending is also underrated and his value at both ends of the ice is evident when you don't see the 18 year-old patrolling the blue line. Logging big minutes, it adds additional pressure to everyone including Kaedan Korczak, who has been primarily responsible for shutting down the others teams top players. Without Thomson, Korczak is tasked with being a defender, a penalty killer, a puck mover and a key component on the power play. Rookies Devin Steffler and Cayde Augustine are asked to log bigger minutes and are doing their best in an effort to make an impact. 
  • The loss of Mark Liwiski to a three game suspension was also a factor in the two losses. Arguably one of the hottest goal scorers the team has had in the last month, the 17 year-old excels against heavy teams like the Blazers, while not as physical as a season ago, still like to send you to the ice if you don't have your head up. Liwiski missed both games on the weekend while serving games one and two of a three game suspension. Liwiski is 5th on the team in goals with 10. 
  • Before we get carried away and throw the baby out with the bathwater, I would be extremely concerned if the Rockets lost both games by scores of let's say; 5-1 and 7-3. Both were one goal losses with the Rockets clearly the aggressor in the final stages of Saturday's game but were unable to find the equalizing goal. Did the pressure get to them? Perhaps. The team is still in the drivers seat even though a 7 point lead on Kamloops has been reduced to 4 points. I rather be in the Rockets position than the other way around, but with three games left to go, sub-par efforts, whoever is in and out of the lineup isn't acceptable.   
  • Heading into the final week of the regular season, could I have envisioned the Rockets being in this spot? To be honest, I'm glad they are in this position. Before the puck dropped on the 2018-2019 campaign, I knew it would be a struggle to earn a playoff berth. I was not under an illusion that the loss of the teams top 4 scorers (Lind/Dube/Foote/Twarynski) wouldn't have an impact on this seasons roster. For no impact to be felt, the returning core of players would need breakout seasons. Kyle Topping, Leif Mattson and Nolan Foote are the top three scorers. Topping and Mattson have reached and just exceeded their point totals after playing second fiddle last season. Now those three are the 'go to guys'. Foote has more goals and points, having played in 13 more games while staying out of sick bay. Those three have done the heavy lifting with Lassi Thomson putting up an impressive 41 points on the back end. The problem lies with several players that either haven't scored or have gone through huge stretches where they haven't found the back of the net. It adds up to the team having scored the third fewest goals in the WHL after scoring the 5th most a season ago.  The Rockets should feel fortunate that both the Blazers and Prince George Cougars are having down years. Had that not happened, the final three games of this season likely would have meant little with a non-playoff berth already decided.  
  • What happens from here? The Rockets have three games left and the Blazers have four. The Blazers play Tuesday ( home to Spokane), Wednesday (home to Victoria) before facing the Prince George Cougars in a home and home series this weekend. The Rockets host Spokane (Wednesday) before closing out the regular season this weekend against the Vancouver Giants. 
  • You can't but scoreboard watch this week. It is absolutely unavoidable. The best case scenario for the Rockets is this. If the Blazers lose Tuesday and Wednesday in regulation time and the Rockets earn no less than a point Wednesday against the visiting Chiefs, then the team is off to the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season. If the Blazers earn even a point in their next two games, the situation changes and the games on the weekend (Rockets and Blazers will have two each) are of massive importance. In a season full of challenges both on the ice and off it, it only seems fitting that the Rockets are faced with this situation with the regular season schedule winding down.   

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Race for 3rd place

Blazers goaltender Dylan Ferguson is questionable for this weekend vs. Rockets

Game Day Preview: The Kelowna Rockets face the Kamloops Blazers for the 9th of 10 times this season. The Rockets are 4-3-1-0 in the opening 8 games, having won two of the last three including a 2-0 victory February 23rd. Four of the 8 games have been decided by a single goal with both teams earning wins in overtime. The two teams meet again tomorrow night at Prospera Place to wrap up the seasonal series. The Rockets need a combination of four wins or Kamloops losses in order to clinch third place in the BC Division and a berth in the 2019 post season for the 23rd time in the teams’ 24 year history in the Okanagan. The Rockets are coming off an impressive 4-3 home ice win against the Portland Winterhawks Sunday afternoon. Dallon Wilton scored the game winning goal on a beautiful setup from Liam Kindree late in the third period. Following these two games, the Rockets close out the final week of the regular season with a home game against Spokane (Wednesday) and a home-and-home series with the Vancouver Giants to close out the 68 games regular season schedule. Overall, the Rockets are 11-13-3-1 in 28 games since the Christmas break. The Rockets are 23-20-5-1 in 48 games under head coach Adam Foote.

Race for third place: The Rockets have 5 games left in the regular season. They face the Blazers twice this weekend before hosting Spokane and finishing off against Vancouver (twice). The Blazers have 6 games left in the regular season. They face the Rockets twice this weekend before games against Spokane, Victoria and back-to-back games next weekend against the Prince George Cougars.

Who’s Hot: Liam Kindree has points in 5 of his last 6 games. Kindree has 0+5=45 over that period…Kyle Topping has 5+14=19 in his last 19 games…Leif Mattson has 5+10=15 in his last 13 games….Alex Swetlikoff has 5+5=10 in his last 12 games….Nolan Foote has 12+6=18 in his last 19 games….Lassi Thomson has 8+5=13 in his last 20 games …The Rockets have points in 17 of their last 24 home games (13-7-4-0). Mark Liwiski has 7+2=9 in his last 15 games…Shael Higson has 1+5=6 in his last 10 games…Nolan Foote has a shot on goal all but one game this season.

Broadcasters Notebook: Mark Liwiski serves game one of a three game suspension this evening. Liwiski was suspended for a hit Sunday on Portland Winterhawks forward Seth Jarvis….Lassi Thomson’s 17 goals are one shy of the franchise record for goals by a European d-man. Tomas Slovak holds the record (18 goals) in 2002-2003….Kyle Topping hit the 100 career assist mark Sunday against the Winterhawks……The Rockets are 7-10-2-0 in 19 games against a US Division team this season. Three of the 7 wins have come against Tri City with one victory over Spokane, Everett, Seattle and Portland….The Rockets have played 20-one goal games at home this season. Last year they played 15-one goal games at Prospera Place…The team has played in 10-one goal games on the road…The Rockets are 12-15-2-1 against BC Division teams this season…..Adam Foote was officially named the new head coach of the Kelowna Rockets on October 23, 2018 replacing Jason Smith.,.The Rockets are 10-13-2-0 when playing the second game of back-to-backs.

Season Highs/Lows:
Most goals scored: 8 @ Victoria October 19/18 (8-2 W)
Most goals allowed: 9 vs. Seattle October 10th, 2018 (9-6 L)
Most shots on net: 45 @ Seattle October 6th, 2018 (4-1 L).
Fewest shots on net: 13 @ Edmonton November 17, 2018 (3-1 L)
Most shots allowed: 50 @ Portland November 10, 2018 (3-0 L)
Fewest shots allowed: 16 vs. Victoria December 7, 2018 (2-0 win)
Last time shut out at home: October 3rd, 2018 vs. Vancouver (5-0 L)  
Last time shut out on road: February 1, 2019 @ Spokane (4-0 L)
Last shutout at home: February 23, 2019 vs. Blazers (2-0 W – Roman Basran 18 saves)
Last shutout on the road: January 18, 2019 @ Everett (2-0 W – James Porter 40 saves)
Most power play goals allowed: 4 vs. Seattle October 10th, 2018 (9-6 L). T-Birds were 4/5 on power play.
Most power play goals scored: 4 @ Victoria October 19, 2018 (8-2 W)
Overtime Games (8): vs. Portland (2-1 L) March 2/2019, vs. Kamloops (2-1 W) February 2, 2019, vs. Seattle (3-2 Loss) January 30, 2019, @ Kamloops (3-2 Loss) December 28, 2018, vs. Saskatoon (5-4 Loss) December 1, 2018, @ Tri City Nov 30, 2018 (3-2 win), @ PG (4-3 Loss) November 14, 2018, vs. PG (4-3 win) October 27, 2018.  

Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150

Monday, March 4, 2019

Nothing short of successful weekend

Shael Higson settling things down - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • For a team that sits in the precarious position of squeezing into the WHL playoffs, this past weekend can only been described as a huge success. Nope, the Kelowna Rockets didn't run the table against two of the best teams in the Western Conference, but earning 3 out of a possible 6 points can only be considered a huge step forward. Despite a 7-4 loss Friday in Vancouver, against the BC Division leading Giants, the team regrouped in a big way with a 2-1 overtime loss to Portland Saturday and then gutted out a 4-3 victory against the Winterhawks in the lone game played on a Sunday this season at Prospera Place. Those three points against the Hawks coupled with the Kamloops Blazers inability to win three games on the weekend have the two teams separated by 7 points in the standings with two weeks left in the regular season. 
  • It wasn't leading point producer Kyle Topping or leading goal getter Nolan Foote leading the team to Sunday's win. While both played roles in the clubs 27th victory of the season, it was unlikely sources like Teddy Brennan and rookie Dallon Wilton that led the charge. Brennan opened the scoring with his first goal in 27 games. Wilton, a health scratch Saturday, found the back of the net with his first goal in 45 games.
  • It was nice to see Liam Kindree involved with the primary assist on the game winning goal. What I like about that sequence was Kindree's ability to work away from a check at the Winterhawks blue-line and create the two-on-one with Wilton. If Kindree isn't determined, he is easily rubbed off the puck and its a dead play. The 18 year-old chose to boldly work away from 6 foot 5, 200 pound d-man Brenden De Young to set up the game winner. Kindree is also very good in his own end when pressured. I like when he controls the puck along the end boards and makes the decision to hold onto the puck when feeling the heat. Often times, holding onto the puck and making a shifty move is the best option rather than making an ill advised pass which creates a turnover. I also like the 18 year-old's ability to make a deft five foot pass to a teammate when the oppositions forecheck is applied.  
  • The Rockets kept WHL leading scorer Joachim Blichfeld to two assists in two games, only five shots on goal and a -2 rating. Mission accomplished. 
  • Here is a rare occurrence. For the first time this season, leading goal getter Nolan Foote failed to fire a shot on goal in Sunday's win. Foote did chip in with two assists and played with significantly more jam. Foote is playing a bit more of a power game which will serve him well. Jamie Benn, Foote's favourite player, also played a heavy game. Both posses heavy shots. 
  • It was interesting to see the Winterhawks employ goaltender Shane Farkas in both games against the Rockets. Farkas, a Penticton kid, was solid in both games, but having Joel Hofer sitting on the bench has to be a tough pill to swallow for some. The Winterhawks gave up 6 draft picks for Hofer including two first rounders. From the outside looking in, it makes you wonder if Hofer isn't exactly what the Winterhawks believed they were getting when they obtained him from the Swift Current Broncos at the trade deadline.
  • Congratulations to rookie Cole Carrier for picking up his first WHL point with an assist on Teddy Brennan's goal.
  • While we are speaking of goaltenders, Roman Basran was named the first star in Saturday's 2-1 overtime loss and was the second star in Sunday's win. Basran's save against Winterhawks d-man John Ludvig Saturday night will make the WHL Saves of the Week. It was a desperation, pad stack stop that took a sure goal away. As spectacular as it was, I am still a fan when Basran plays a more conservative style. I find when the action is fast and furious around him, when he flips and flops, it provides additional anxiety for his teammates. Playing controlled, much like he did Saturday with quick reactionary saves is what will catch the eye of NHL scouts. In my opinion, desperation saves is often an indicator that he was unable to track the puck and was out of position. Watch the best goaltenders in this league and tell me what they all have in common? Less is always more.    
  • It was a long time coming but leading scorer Kyle Topping finally earned his 100th career assist on Lassi Thomson's power play goal in Sunday's win. It was Topping's first point in five games. Up until Sunday's assist, Topping was on his longest pointless streak of the season.
  • I'm a big fan of Shael Higson. The 20 year-old d-man is playing terrific right now. Bringing more bite on the blue-line, Higson is joining the attack and his intimidating, bruising style without taking bad penalties has been impressive to watch. Higson has points in 6 of his last 7 games and has 10 shots over that stretch. 
  • I thought Kaden Korzcak was lights out terrific, specifically Saturday and Sunday. His calm demeanor on the penalty kill with ice in his veins was evident when the Winterhawks were afforded a 5 on 3 power play chance in Sunday's third period. 
  • We will have to see if Mark Liwiski is suspended for his third period hit on Portland forward Seth Jarvis. Liwiski was given a five minute major for boarding while the 16 year-old never returned.