Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Notes, quotes and anecdotes

Michael Herringer hitting the ice in Med Hat

  • The road isn't an easy place to be for a Western Hockey League team. It requires long hours on the bus, going from hotel to hotel and often getting into bed in the wee hours of the morning. What makes it tolerable is the joy that comes from winning and embracing the small things in life as you pull up stakes and travel from city to city. The Kelowna Rockets enjoyed a rare Monday off in Medicine Hat after a brutal three game in three night Alberta road trip. It featured games in Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. The trip isn't easy on anyone. Road trips take a toll on the body and the mind and with a young d-core it can be overwhelming. Monday was a reprieve from the hectic schedule which allowed the players to enjoy the beautiful prairie sunshine and the rental mountain bikes that the hotel offered for free. Following Tuesday night's game in Medicine Hat, it will conclude a stretch of six consecutive games on opposition ice. 
  • The day off in Medicine Hat consisted of a quick skate at the new home of the Medicine Hat Tigers - the Canalta Centre. It was followed by a Chinese food buffet at a local establishment, much to the delight of the players. Kris Mallette, who handles not only the duties of assistant coach but also as travel coordinator for the team, received many a fist pump from the players who walked by with a plate overflowing with all of the goodness that a Chinese buffet offers. Mallette does a bang up job with the meals. Sometimes I wonder if the players take it for granted. I for one, do not.  
  • The Canalta Centre is nothing short of spectacular. It is hard to imagine that it is located in Medicine Hat, considering the city of 61 thousand has had its junior hockey team play out of the antiquated, yet historically filled Medicine Hat Arena since 1970. The Canalta Centre, located on the Western outskirts of the city is massive. Seating 61 hundred fans, the 75 million dollar building is state of the art. The video score-clock alone is worth 2.5 million dollars. It is essentially 50% larger than the Medicine Hat Arena with massive 52 foot ceilings that make you look up in amazement. The Tigers home dressing room is not complete, so they are using the visitors dressing room for this season. The visiting team, which is the Rockets in this case, use an expandable dressing room which is opposite of where the benches on the ice are located. The first event in the new building was a concert features the Canadian Tenors on September 23rd. The Tigers held their home opener in the new building three days later.    
  • Note worthy performances on this trip include a fight 19 year-old Rodney Southam had with Red Deer Rebels forward Evan Polei Saturday night. It wasn't the fact that Southam dominated the fight, which he didn't, but he had the will to get his nose dirty and drop the gloves with arguably one of the toughest players in the Eastern Conference. Polei is in the heavy weight category. Southam is not. Polei's fight card included two tilts with Keegan Kanzig last season and tussles with Taylor Crunk and Mason Geertsen.  Southam is a warrior and is a tremendous teammate. He appears to be respected and liked by all of his team-mates. When you see him answer the bell, is it plausible that he should be considering as the captain this season? He is a very inspiring player to watch because he exudes 'team player'. 
  • Jeff Truitt is looking forward to May when the Red Deer Rebels host the 2016 Master Card Memorial Cup. Truitt was an assistant coach with the Kelowna Rockets when they hosted the 2004 Memorial Cup in Kelowna. "We told the players that we are not going to talk about it. We want to go through the front door and progress. We want to win the division, the conference and the league. We have to stay focused and the older group we do have, they handle it very well", Truitt told me Saturday night. Truitt, an associate coach with the Rebels, says the key is providing a formidable host when the puck drops in late May. "This is a once in a life time thing to host. You don't want to be an embarrassment when you are out of the playoffs early or go 0 and 4 at the tournament. We like the group we have now and we will see where it goes".   
  • You will want to watch the WHL plays of the week for a massive save goaltender Michael Herringer made Saturday night against Red Deer. Out of position and essentially down and out, Herringer dove across the net and took away a sure goal from Rebels forward Presten Kopeck with a tremendous glove hand grab. Kopeck couldn't believe it, nor the 55 hundred fans in attendance. I hope it makes the plays of the week. It deserves that form of recognition.
  • With a 4-2-0-0 record, let's remember the Rockets didn't play with it's entire line-up until Sunday in Lethbridge. Jackson Whistle came back from a three game injury. Dillon Dube was back from a two game suspension. Nick Merkey, who missed the first three games of the season with an injury suffered in Coyotes camp, was out when Whistle and Dube were healthy. Now that new head coach Brad Ralph has every weapon to work with, let's see what the defending WHL champions can do. 
  • Peter Anholt is a former head coach of the Kelowna Rockets. Anholt, now the GM of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, spent some time with me Sunday to reflect on his two year stint with the Rockets organization in the mid 90's. Anholt remembers coaching a young 17 year-old defenceman by the name of Kris Mallette. "He was one of the crew of tough guys we had. He was a hard worker and he made our team because he was a hard worker and a good team guy. We matched Kris and Karel Betik head to head against the Hossa line in Portland and both did a real good job against a good team. I know Portland didn't want to play us at all in the playoffs. I was told later that they threw their last game so they didn't have to play us. You always have certain players that bring a smile to your face when their name is mentioned and Kris is one of those players". 
  • I liked a conversation I had Monday with rookie defenceman Gordie Ballmore. Knowing little about his personality before our interview, the 18 year-old is well spoken and appears to be a great addition to the team. He too is experiencing a steep learning curve in his first season in the WHL. "It pushes you to be better when you are playing the best of the best. You have guys that could play in the NHL next season, so it pushes you to stop them and it makes you play better". Who was the last Kelowna Rockets player with the first name Gordie? No one. Geordie Wudrick played with the Rockets but no Gordie has ever worn a Rockets uniform. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Whistle wonderful in road win

Shoot the Breeze Photography

  • Eight days off. No game action. No pre-game skate. No problem for veteran goaltender Jackson Whistle. The 20 year-old didn't miss a beat Sunday night in a 6-3 win in Lethbridge. Whistle, who was hurt last Saturday in Kamloops and missed three games with an injury, was named the first star in the three goal win. Whistle's best save came against forward Tyler Wong in the second period when he went old school, stacking his pads, robbing the Hurricanes most dangerous player of a goal. Whistle is now 3-0-0-0 to start the season.
  • Tyson Baillie continues to score. The overage forward found the back of the net with a first period power play goal to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Baillie now leads the WHL in scoring with 6+6=12. 
  • The second period has been a concern for the Rockets in the early stages of the 2015-2016 campaign. The team has surrendered 24 goals in the first six games, with 14 of them coming in the second period. Despite a 3-0 second period lead against the Hurricanes Sunday night, the Rockets would surrender back-to-back power play goals and enjoyed only a one goal advantage heading into the final 20 minutes.
  • Gage Quinney is making some noise in the conversation on who and who shouldn't be the three 20 year-old's on the team this season. Quinney scored twice Sunday night while Cole Linaker was a scratch. Quinney now has 7 points in five games. Linaker has three points in four games.
  • Tomas Soustal continues to impress. The second year forward had another three point night and now has ten points in five games. The Czech forward had just 18 points in 65 games last season.
  • Despite the win, it is hard to believe that both Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley were again both held off the score-sheet for a second straight night. Last season those two had the luxury of playing with Tyrell Goulbourne. While some would suggest Goulbourne had little impact on that line, it now appears it was the 20 year-old's hard nosed play that gave Chartier and Merkley the room they needed to make plays.
  • Playing three games in three night's on back-to-back weekends is never easy. When it was all said and done, winning four times over that stretch is pretty impressive. 
  • The Rockets are 4-2-0-0 after six games. Last season they were 6-0-0-0 after six games. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Rockets game notes vs. Oil Kings

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open an Alberta road trip tonight with a stop in Edmonton to face the Oil Kings. The team plays Red Deer tomorrow, Lethbridge on Sunday and Medicine Hat on Tuesday. This is the third of six straight games on the road for the Rockets, who opened the season with a 4-3 home ice win over the Kamloops Blazers. This is one of only two meetings between the two teams; with the Oil Kings make a lone visit to Prospera Place on November 20th. Last season the Rockets played in Edmonton twice, winning 4-1 on December 16th before suffering a shootout loss January 28th. Jake Morrissey was named the third star in that game. The defending WHL champions play eight of their first 11 games on the road.

This and That: Backing up Kelowna Rockets starting goaltender Michael Herringer tonight against the Oil Kings is 15 year-old James Porter JR. Porter JR plays in Calgary with the Edge School Prep Team. Porter, who hails from Bonners Ferry, Idaho was the Rockets 7th round pick from the 2015 WHL bantam draft…Veteran goalie Jackson Whistle, who was injured last Saturday when he was hit in the throat with a stick against Kamloops, is expected to join the team on this trip….Nick Merkley makes his 2015-2016 regular season debut tonight in Edmonton after missing the first three games with an upper body injury…Dillon Dube won’t play tonight or Saturday after being suspended two games for a kneeing incident last Sunday in Vancouver….Tyson Baillie has 7 points in three games. The19 year-old (doesn’t turn 20 until November 16) has 4+3=7 over that period.…Baillie opened last season with goals in six straight games….Baillie has 99 career goals….If Baillie stays healthy and plays in every game this season, the 20 year-old will end his career with 331 games under his belt… The Rockets were kicked out of the CHL Top 10 rankings this week after being rated fourth heading into the season. The Rockets are an ‘honourable mention’ in this week’s rankings…The Rockets had two players taken in the NHL draft. Nick Merkley was taken in the first round by Arizona. Devante Stephens was chosen in the 5th round by Buffalo…Cole Linaker (Oilers), Tomas Soustal (Flames) and Tyson Baillie (Flames) all received free agent tryouts…Dillon Dube (3+3=6) and Kole Lind (1+5=6) led the team in pre-season scoring…The Rockets were 3-2-0-0 in five games during the pre-season…The team plays three games in three nights four times this season but twice in the first two weekends…In the last three seasons, the Rockets have a combined regular season record of 162-40-8-6 in 216 games. Portland is next with a mark of 154-48-5-9 over that same period.
New Kids on the Block: The Kelowna Rockets named 34 year-old Brad Ralph as the head coach on August fourth. Ralph took over from Dan Lambert, who resigned at seasons end to take an assistant coaching position with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Ralph is the ninth head coach in Rockets franchise history after leaving the Idaho Steelheads after three seasons in the ECHL. On defense, the team welcomes 16 year-old Cal Foote, the son of former NHL’er Adam Foote. Foote was the team’s second round bantam pick in 2013 and his younger brother Nolan was the Rockets second round pick in this past May’s draft. The Rockets selected 18 year-old Swiss forward Calvin Thurkauf in this summer’s CHL Import draft.  Other new faces include rookies Danny Gatenby (Joe’s younger brother) and 18 year-old Gordie Ballhorn, who played last season with the AJHL’s Whitecourt Wolverines.

My memory is good, just short: For a third straight season the Rockets won 50+ games. With a record of 53-13-5-1, the team accumulated 112 points, two fewer than the regular season champion Brandon Wheat Kings. The Rockets won 26 times on home ice and a league high 27 times on the road. The Rockets were one of only two teams to score 300 or more goals (305) with Brandon leading the way with 340. Lost in the team’s successes last season was allowing a league low 183 goals against.
Is a repeat in the cards? The Rockets return their top three point producers from last season. Nick Merkley (90 pts), Rourke Chartier (82 pts), and Tyson Baillie (76 pts) are all back with the team. Merkley was taken in the first round of this summer’s NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes while he and fellow teammate Chartier both attended Team Canada’s summer camp for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships. Baillie received a free agent tryout with the NHL’s Calgary Flames. Jackson Whistle, who played in 50 regular season games and posted a goals against average of 2.55, is back for his 20 year-old season. Whistle suited up for the Vancouver Canucks for a second consecutive season in the Young Stars Classic in Penticton. The hockey club returns 15 players from last season’s championship squad.

Significant off-season losses: Winning a WHL title with an older team means the hockey club lost seven players and a coach following an appearance in the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City. Moving on to pro hockey are Leon Draisaitl, Josh Morrissey, Cole Martin, Chance Braid, Tyrell Goulbourne and Captain Madison Bowey. Defenceman Mitch Wheaton was traded to the Saskatoon Blades in the off season and head coach Dan Lambert resigned July 6th to take a job in the NHL.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Things that make me go hmm..including deviled eggs

Deviled eggs in Vancouver are spectacular 

  • A nice touch by the veteran players who presented new head coach Brad Ralph with the puck after Friday's 4-3 home ice win over the visiting Kamloops Blazers. Ralph won his first game as a head coach in the WHL and then promptly won his first WHL road game a night later in a 7-3 win in Kamloops.
  • Adam Foote was all smiles Saturday night when I met him after the game outside of Sandman Centre in Kamloops. The NHLer witnessed his son, Cal, score his first career WHL goal. Can you blame him? It is nice to see parents being able to witness and share the milestone with their son. Cal told me afterwards it was nice sharing the moment with his team-mates. That statement alone tells me about the character of the Colorado resident and the hope that in the future, he can possibly wear the Rockets 'C' on his jersey like his father did with the Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets. 
  • Speaking of captain, who is the next captain of the Kelowna Rockets? No successor has been named following the departure of Madison Bowey. This is nothing new for the organization in not announcing a captain before the season starts. Bowey was named captain on November 1, which was a full month into the 2013 season. The last two captains (Bowey and Colten Sissons) each served two consecutive terms. Would that happen this season by naming an 18 year-old to the post? With 19 year-old Rourke Chartier such a strong candidate, I can't see them leaning that way.
  • Tyson Baillie can move into an elite group of Rockets players to dress in over 300 games with the organization. If he remains healthy and plays in all 72 regular season games, Baillie will end his WHL career with 331 played. Jason Deleurme is the franchise leader with 341 games played followed by Tyler Mosienko with 338. "Kelowna is the best place to play junior so it would be cool to say I've played in that many games and have been healthy and contributed every season", Baillie said. 
  • Goaltender Michael Herringer has new pads and a new mask this season. The white mask has a small decal on the forehead that shows he is with the Kelowna Rockets, but no paint job will be allowed on the mask. Owner Bruce Hamilton is a traditionalist and doesn't believe a painted mask is necessary for his goalies. Hamilton also forbids his players from wearing excessively high numbers, like #41 or #78 as an example. Does it sound picky? You can't argue with the results the team has had under Hamilton. The older I get, the more old school values I appreciate. It is nice to see Hamilton remains steadfast in his core beliefs when everyone else is showing little to no backbone.      
  • Opening night is pretty special at Prospera Place. Opening night while raising a division, conference and league banner is even sweeter. The Rockets organization do opening night right! If you don't believe me, attend an opening night in another building and make a  comparison.
  • Playing six of your first seven games on the road isn't easy for the defending WHL champions, but the public relations department had to be doing cartwheels when the schedule came out in July. Attendance numbers have been sluggish across the league in the first week of September and it appears not everyone is excited to head to a WHL arena just yet. The Rockets don't have to worry about that to a great degree until they play their second home game on October 9th vs. Victoria.
  • Second year defenceman Lucas Johansen told me before the season started that he was hoping to see more time on the power play. The 17 year-old got his wish. Johansen scored his first goal of the season, on the power play, in a 5-2 loss Sunday in Vancouver.
  • I asked Johansen what he wants to improve on heading into his draft year. "Gee....everything", Johansen laughed when looking at the big season that lies ahead for him personally. Johansen and teammate Dillon Dube are considered 'B' prospects for next June's draft according to NHL Central Scouting. 
  • The Rockets are in Red Deer Saturday for game two of their Alberta road trip. While the team doesn't mind visiting the Rebels in October, they would prefer to visit them in May when Red Deer plays host to the 2016 Memorial Cup. 
  • I am here to state and applaud the Vancouver Giants for having the best media room in the entire WHL. Hey, Spokane, are you listening? The variety of food items is excellent. Shaw TV colour analyst Bill Wilms led me to the secret of the delicious food items on the table. The deviled eggs are SPECTACULAR.  High 5's also go out to the Victoria Royals, Tri City Americans, Prince George Cougars and Kamloops Blazers for making an effort. All I am looking for is an effort to have some sustenance for the media/scouts to munch on before game time.  Seattle and Spokane are the weak sisters out West. Does my harsh critique bother them? Not one bit!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Three in three takes its toll

Dillon Dube - Shoot the Breeze Photography

  • Tired. No jump. Little push back. Those words would best describe the Kelowna Rockets effort Sunday night in a 5-2 listless loss to the Vancouver Giants. It seemed like the 20 man roster were all feeling fatigue. No one player stood out in a game that saw the Giants score two ugly goals in building up a 5-0 lead. One goal went off defenceman Devante Stephens arm and over the head of goaltender Michael Herringer and into the back of the net and another saw designated tough guy Taylor Crunk score from an almost impossible angle along the end red line to open the scoring. It was an ugly game to be frank. Despite an inspired effort in the third period, the G-Men snapped a 13 game losing streak against the Rockets that dates back two seasons.
  • Michael Herringer started in goal with Jackson Whistle hurt after receiving a stick in the neck Saturday in a 7-3 win over the Blazers. It was not Herringer's finest hour. Looking steady and as solid as a rock in brief appearances in last year playoffs, the 19 year-old was fighting the puck and never did make a big save for his team. But in defending Herringer, he wasn't alone in the number of veterans that just didn't have it Sunday night. The defending champions played a perimeter game and just weren't hungry enough to find pucks and get them back.
  • The power play is an earlier concern to the season. It had six chances last night to score and only found the back of the net once on a Lucas Johansen shot from the blue line. Awarded four consecutive power plays in the third period to rally, the power play didn't create many good looks. Simply put, it wasn't very dangerous when it should be with the personnel on it. The only two power play goals this season have come from defenceman.
  • Head Coach Brad Ralph pulled Michael Herringer with just under four minutes to play in the third period when the score was 5-2. It was designed to get back in the game with a couple of quick goals. While the Rockets dominated territorial play, the number of shots that got through to Giants starter Payton Lee was minimal. In some cases shots were blocked, but in other instances, the Rockets were hesitant to shoot and hunt down rebounds.
  • Despite the negative results, it was the team's third game in three nights. While this isn't unusual for the WHL, it is something new for the Kelowna Rockets, who in my 15+ years behind the mic have never started the season playing three consecutive games. No matter how you see it, playing three in three to start a season is a tall task when two of those three are on the road.
  • Tyson Baillie is off to another terrific start to the season. The 19 year-old is tied for the league lead in points with seven. Had the Rockets won Sunday night and Baillie had scored, the Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta resident would have likely been named the WHL POW. Instead the honour rightfully went to Victoria's Alex Forsberg.
  • Tomas Soustal now has four goals in three games to start the season. Who does he think he is....Leon Draisaitl? I don't anticipate the 18 year-old continuing at this pace, but if he can chip in with a 20+ goal season, it would make up significantly for the loss of scoring punch from Madison Bowey on the defensive core. 
  • Outside of the loss itself, the most disappointing aspect of last night's game in Vancouver was the crowd. While it was announced that over four thousand were in the building, it was extremely small for a Sunday night. Yes, it is late September. Yes, it was a beautiful day in Vancouver, but it was one if not the smallest crowds - visually - I have ever seen at Pacific Coliseum. Owner Ron Toigo has to be concerned. 
  • We will have to see if the WHL hands out a suspension to Rockets forward Dillon Dube for his five minute kneeing major penalty in the second period. Dube was ejected from the game while Giants d-man Brennan Menell had to be helped off the ice. The good news is the Giants believe Menell could play this weekend. It would be tough to lose Dube for the first game of the Alberta road trip.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Baillie is a pain in the neck while Whistle has one

  • Tyson Baillie has been a pain in the neck for the Kamloops Blazers over his five year career in the Western Hockey League. The 19 year-old (doesn't turn 20 until November) just scores goals against BC Division foes. Goaltender Jackson Whistle was dealing with a pain in the neck too after helping his team to a 7-3 win in Kamloops Saturday night. While Baillie scored twice in the Rockets first road win of the season, Whistle was sent to hospital in the third period after getting what appeared to be a stick in the neck. Whistle had problems breathing as he left the ice during the goal mouth scramble, but by games end, the 20 year-old remained over night in Kamloops before heading home to Kelowna today while his teammates travelled to Vancouver for a date against the Giants this evening. 
  • Outside of the win, it was a rough night for the Rockets, who lost their number one goaltender for an undetermined amount of time and then had a flat tire between Hope and Chilliwack in the early morning hours. It delayed the teams arrival into Vancouver by close to two hours. 
  • Back to the game. The Rockets surrendered 44 shots on goal, but many were from the outside. I thought the team played a cleaner game in its own zone. The breakout passes were better and the forwards were willing to do more to help out the young d-core. I didn't think the Blazers forecheck was as relentless as it was a night earlier, so the combination of a series of factors had the Rockets playing a cleaner game defensively. Is there still room for improvement in that area? Without question. 
  • It was a good night for 16 year-old Cal Foote. Pictured to the right, the young d-man scored his first career WHL goal after Blazers goaltender Connor Ingram attempted to fire the puck up the middle of the ice on a Rockets power play. The puck instead was knocked down by Foote, who fired it past the glove hand side of Ingram to make the score 2-0. Foote's father Adam was in attendance to see his son's first WHL goal. It was indeed a proud moment.
  • Tyson Baillie is off to a tremendous start. With two goals and an assist in back-to-back games, Baillie is off to a sizzling pace. This isn't unusual for Baillie, who had a six game goal scoring streak to start the 2014-2015 season. 
  • Tomas Soustal has really been a nice story two games into the season. The 18 year-old really evolved into a power forward late last season and made an impact at the 2015 Memorial Cup. Soustal has three goals in two games. It took him 11 games to score three goals in his rookie season.  
  • I like when players show emotion. Defenceman Devante Stephens played with it last night when he found himself in a scrap with Blazers 20 yeaar-old Ryan Rehill. Common sense would tell you to stay away from Rehill, who is a proven fighter, but when you are agitated to a certain point, emotions take over and you fight back regardless of the predicted outcome. Stephens took more than a few punches but didn't cower. On character alone, I think it showed what 'Devo' is all about.
  • Biggest surprise of the night? Blazers head coach Don Hay elected to pull starting goaltender Connor Ingram after the Rockets third goal. But then again, did Ingram make a massive save to give his team a chance to win? Probably not. In relief, Dylan Ferguson allowed four goals but made two solid stops which could have easily been goals.
  • I think the Blazers are a much improved team from last season. I saw some good things from Don Hay's crew over the weekend. Clearly, the teams younger players are carrying the mail two games into the season. But where are the veterans? Collin Shirley was extremely quiet on the weekend and Luke Harrison was just average for a 20 year-old player. I sure like newcomer Garrett Pilon and Nolan Kneen. If the veterans can follow the rookies passion, mark my words, the Blazers are going to win their far share of games this season.     

Saturday, September 26, 2015

No easy wins this season

Shoot the Breeze Photography

  • It won't be easy winning hockey games for the defending WHL champions this season. Don't expect many blow outs. The Kelowna Rockets learned that first hand last night with a hard fought 4-3 home ice win over the Kamloops Blazers. Tyson Baillie scored twice and added an assist as the Rockets scored three times in the second period to take a 4-2 lead. The Blazers showed no quit in this one though. A determined bunch, Don Hay's team wouldn't quit and had several good looks in the dying stages of the game with starting goaltender Connor Ingram pulled for the extra attacker. That's where Jackson Whistle's experience came in handy as the 20 year-old slammed the door shut.
  • The game winning goal came with some controversy. Justin Kirkland scored on a second period breakaway when the play appeared to be offside. Defenceman Devante Stephens fired a long pass to Kirkland, who skated in all alone and beat Ingram with a nice backhand move through Ingram's legs. I immediately looked at the Blazers bench for a reaction, but they didn't look overly animated that the play was offside. 
  • The Rockets scored the opening goal just :53 seconds into the game. You could see the home team was charged up after the opening ceremony which saw the team raise three banners high to the rafters at Prospera Place. With that early strike, I was wondering if some players thought that goals would come easy, and often times, you could clearly see many forwards cheating in their own zone in an effort to go to the offensive side of the game.
  • The Blazers played a smart road game. The forwards would often dump the puck into the offensive zone and force the Rockets young d-core to make plays. It resulted in either a turnover or the Blazers simply winning board battles and created good chances on net.  Rookie Spencer Bast's goal would be the best example as he willed his way towards the net and chipped it past a startled Whistle.
  • The best Blazer for my money was Nolan Kneen. The 16 year-old was physical and was involved in a fight with Riley Stadel in the third period. The first round bantam pick from two years ago plays with an edge and made an immediate impact. 
  • Rockets rookie forward Calvin Thurkauf was hit hard in the second period in the neutral zone, but after a few minutes on the ice, made his way to the bench without any problem. After one quick shift a short time later, the 18 year-old didn't see the ice for the remainder of the game. I would suspect the Swiss forward is doubtful for the rematch tonight in Kamloops.
  • Gage Quinney was the odd man out as the team could only dress three 20 year-old's. The same can be said for Ryan Rehill, who also didn't play for the Blazers because of the three overage rule.
  • Nick Merkley did not play last night because of injury. That seemed to have an adverse affect on veteran forward Rourke Chartier who played a very quiet game.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bring on the regular season!!!

Cal Foote makes WHL debut Friday
Tonight’s Preview: The Rockets organization opens their 25th season in the Western Hockey League tonight when they welcome the visiting Kamloops Blazers. Before tonight’s game, the team will raise a Western Hockey League championship banner to the rafters at Prospera Place after eliminating the Brandon Wheat Kings in four games in last season’s league final. This is the fourth straight season the Rockets have opened at home against the Blazers. Back on September 20, 2014 the Rockets earned a 6-1 win before a crowd of 5 thousand 325. Tyson Baillie and Kris Schmidli each had a goal and two assists in the win. This is the first of eight meetings between these two teams this season. They renew acquaintances tomorrow night at the newly named Sandman Centre. Last season the Rockets were 9-1-0-0 against their BC Division rivals, who along with the Vancouver Giants, failed to make the playoffs in 2014-2015. The Rockets have a busy weekend ahead of them with three games in three nights. The Rockets are in Kamloops tomorrow before facing the Giants in Vancouver Sunday. The defending WHL champions play eight of their first 11 games on the road.

Banner Raiser: The Kelowna Rockets raise two new banners before tonight’s game after winning the BC Division with 112 points and capturing the WHL title with a series sweep over the regular season champion Brandon Wheat Kings. It is the Rockets fourth WHL championship banner after winning the league crown in 2003 (vs. Red Deer), 2005 (vs. Brandon), 2009 (vs. Calgary) and 2015 (vs. Brandon). The BC Division title is the teams sixth, after earning 30 more points than the Victoria Royals, the BC Divisions second place team last season. The Rockets also won the BC Division in 2013-2014, 2012-2013, 2010-2011, 2003-2004 and 2002-2003.   

New Kids on the Block: The Kelowna Rockets named 34 year-old Brad Ralph as the head coach on August fourth. Ralph took over from Dan Lambert, who resigned at seasons end to take an assistant coaching position with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Ralph is the ninth head coach in Rockets franchise history after leaving the Idaho Steelheads after three seasons in the ECHL. On defense, the team welcomes 16 year-old Cal Foote, the son of former NHL’er Adam Foote. Foote was the team’s second round bantam pick in 2013 and his younger brother Nolan was the Rockets second round pick in this past May’s draft. The Rockets selected 18 year-old Swiss forward Calvin Turkauf in this summer’s CHL Import draft.  Other new faces include rookies Danny Gatenby (Joe’s younger brother) and 18 year-old Gordie Ballhorn, who played last season with the AJHL’s Whitecourt Wolverines.

Significant off-season losses: Winning a WHL title with an older team means the hockey club lost seven players and a coach following an appearance in the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City. Moving on to pro hockey are Leon Draisaitl, Josh Morrissey, Cole Martin, Chance Braid, Tyrell Goulbourne and Captain Madison Bowey. Defenceman Mitch Wheaton was traded to the Saskatoon Blades in the off season and head coach Dan Lambert resigned July 6th to take a job in the NHL. 

My memory is good, just short: For a third straight season the Rockets won 50+ games. With a record of 53-13-5-1, the team accumulated 112 points, two fewer than the regular season champion Brandon Wheat Kings. The Rockets won 26 times on home ice and a league high 27 times on the road. The Rockets were one of only two teams to score 300 or more goals (305) with Brandon leading the way with 340. Lost in the team’s successes last season was allowing a league low 183 goals against. Everett was next at 199. The team eliminated Tri City in round one, Victoria in round two and Portland in the Western Conference final. They quickly dispatched Brandon in the WHL final in four games.

Is a repeat in the cards? The Rockets return their top three point producers from last season. Nick Merkley (90 pts), Rourke Chartier (82 pts), and Tyson Baillie (76 pts) are all back with the team. Merkley was taken in the first round of this summer’s NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes while he and fellow teammate Chartier both attended Team Canada’s summer camp for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships. Baillie received a free agent tryout with the NHL’s Calgary Flames. Jackson Whistle, who played in 50 regular season games and posted a goals against average of 2.55, is back for his 20 year-old season. Whistle suited up for the Vancouver Canucks for a second consecutive season in the Young Stars Classic in Penticton. The hockey club returns 15 players from last season’s championship squad.
This and That: The Rockets had two players taken in the NHL draft. Nick Merkley was taken in the first round by Arizona. Devante Stephens was chosen in the 5th round by Buffalo…Cole Linaker (Oilers), Tomas Soustal (Flames) and Tyson Baillie (Flames) all received free agent tryouts…Dillon Dube (3+3=6) and Kole Lind (1+5=6) led the team in pre-season scoring…The Rockets were 3-2-0-0 in five games during the pre-season…The CHL Top 10 rankings have the Rockets as the fourth best team in the nation heading into the season. Last year before the puck was dropped the Rockets were ranked fifth….The team’s first ever goal in Kelowna was scored by Brett McLean in the fall of 1995…The Rockets have won the last three home openers against the Blazers. Last season the score was 6-1 and the year prior it was a 5-2 victory…This is the fourth straight season the Rockets open the season against the Blazers…The team plays three games in three nights four times this season but twice in the first two weekends…In the last three seasons, the Rockets have a combined regular season record of 162-40-8-6 in 216 games. Portland is next with a mark of 154-48-5-9 over that same period.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Things that make me go hmm...

Kole Lind - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • In less than a week the Kelowna Rockets open the 2015-2016 Western Hockey League regular season. The franchise celebrates its 25th season and the Western Hockey League rings in its 50th anniversary as the Rockets raise a league banner up into the rafters at Prospera Place. Banner raising ceremonies never get old, and honestly doing it in front of the Kamloops Blazers makes it extra special. The Blazers, despite recent struggles, are still the model franchise with six; count them six WHL titles, the most of any team in the 22 league circuit. By comparison, the Rockets have four (2003-2005-2009-2015). The Blazers also have the bragging rights of being the last team to win back-to-back WHL titles in 1994 and again in 1995.
  • The Rockets closed out the pre-season schedule Saturday night with a 3-0 shutout win over the visiting Vancouver Giants. Jackson Whistle and Michael Herringer combined for the goose egg. It was interesting to see those two veterans dressed for the final exhibition game. Whistle has nothing to prove. Herringer and Jake Morrissey do. Morrissey had his chance to solidify the back up spot Friday in a loss in Vancouver. 
  • The Rockets were 3-2-0-0 in five pre-season games. Alarming? No. The team played mostly with a rookie line up and never iced a team with it's three deadliest weapons; Tyson Baillie, Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier. 
  • Austin Glover won the team scoring title in pre-season last year. Tyson Baillie was atop the leader board in his 16, 17 and 18 year-old seasons. That honour this year goes to Dillon Dube and Cole Lind. Dube had 3+3=6 while Lind had 1+5=6 in five pre-season games. 
  • Riley Stadel was used as a forward late last season and proved be an effective player at that position. But while his muck and grinding style is fun to watch, as he caused havoc inside the offensive zone, don't be surprised if the team uses him in his natural position as a defenceman when the puck drops on Friday. 
  • I've conducted many interviews with European players over the years, and not one until now has said he will block shots. I had a great conversation with 18 year-old Calvin Thurkauf last week and he spoke about doing whatever it takes to help the team win....shot blocking if necessary. Thurkauf is very mature for 18. I like him. From my experience, European players are typically shy and reserved and take some time to warm up to their North American teammates. I don't see Thurkauf having that problem.  
  • I am often asked at this time of the year who I think will finish first in the Western Conference. I am a realist, not an optimist, which tends to be the line of thinking at this time of the year. Do I think the team can repeat as conference champions? You bet I do, even with the loss of Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey, Cole Martin, Leon Draisaitl, Chance Braid and Tyrell Goulbourne. Throw in a solid coach in Dan Lambert and those are seven significant losses. That said, the returning forwards should be among the best in the WHL this season. While I believe the Rockets will finish first, massive challenges are coming courtesy of Prince George, who should be fighting for first place in the BC Division.
  • Three games in three night's is nothing new for the Kelowna Rockets. What is new is three games in three night's to start the season. In my 16 years in the Okanagan, the team has never opened the regular season with such a heavy schedule on the opening weekend.      
  • Now that Jackson Whistle has returned for his final season in the WHL, it will be interesting to see how the goaltending unfolds with Michael Herringer and Jake Morrissey also in the crowded crease. Something has to give. I will go on record as saying that Jackson Whistle is an untouchable 20 year-old. Ok, untouchable is an overstatement, but I see him locked as an overager on a team that is very young on defense. With a d-core that doesn't have one player over 18, I anticipate significant play inside the d-zone as that group finds its footing. A veteran goalie is valuable to help those young guys develop in front of him. The other untouchable in an overage spot is Tyson Baillie, should he return from the Calgary Flames. Do you trade a possible 40 goal scorer? The answer is no. 
  • While all eyes are on new head coach Brad Ralph to see how he guides this years team, the biggest assignment may fall on the shoulders of assistant coach Kris Mallette. The sophomore assistant coach, who is in charge of the d-core, will need to show patience with a young group that will make mistakes, but will learn from them. Mallette had the luxury last season of having Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey and Cole Martin as regulars he could send out on the ice against the other teams top forwards. Without question, Mallette will earn his keep this season. 
  • While the Rockets open their 25th season Friday with a bang, we will do the same on AM 1150. We will have a 60 minute pre-game show starting at 6 pm with myself and new colour analyst Kent Simpson. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Goaltending battle intriguing/Dube is dynamite/Foote shows offensive flair

Jake Morrissey - Marissa Baecker photo
  • The Kelowna Rockets are now 2 and 1 in the pre-season. What this exercise has essentially allowed the coaching staff is the ability to see numerous prospects in a game situation. The defending WHL champs are icing a young, young team with close to eight regulars attending NHL training camps. They will look vastly different when Rourke Chartier, Tyson Baillie, Nick Merkley, Justin Kirkland, Jackson Whistle, Devante Stephens and Cole Linaker return. Whistle, Stephens and Linaker have all played one pre-season game. The others haven't. Veterans Riley Stadel and Tomas Soustal haven't seen the ice in pre-season either. Essentially the team's top four returning forwards won't wear a Rockets uniform until opening night on September 25th.
  • With a mostly rookie line up, several players have stood out. Cole Lind, in my opinion, has been one of the best forwards at camp. The Shaunavon, Saskatchewan resident is tied for the team lead in points (1+2=3 in three games) and looks confident with the puck. Lind had several scoring chances as a 15 year-old call-up last year and simply couldn't finish against better quality WHL goaltending. I can't see why Lind can't make a solid contribution on the hockey club this season.
  • Cal Foote has the biggest upside among the defenceman in camp. Foote is big, smart and knows his limitations. A three assist effort Saturday in a 4-3 pre-season win over the Kamloops Blazers was impressive. Surprisingly, Foote isn't overly aggressive. But in saying that, I anticipate that coming along as he becomes more accustomed to the WHL game. Clearly his offensive instincts are there. What is Foote's greatest attribute? Likely his modesty. Foote doesn't think he is better than he is. You want a player to have confidence, but to respect the game and be cautious with the puck by making calculated decisions with it. My belief is Foote recognizes danger, which is often lost in a younger defenceman who likes to handle the puck. 
  • The goaltending battle is an intriguing one. Jake Morrissey and Michael Herringer are calmly going about their business to see who will back up Jackson Whistle. It is a dead heat if you look at statistics alone. Both have had solid starts with goals against averages mirroring one another. If these two goalies are so close, how do you decide who goes and who stays? Age favours Morrissey. The Calgary resident is just shy of being two years younger than Herringer. The Rockets aren't in a massive rebuild though, which usually allows a team to play a younger goalie. If you have a veteran group, which the Rockets do, why would you go with a younger goaltender, or is the train of thought that with a 20 year-old like Whistle as your starter, you can insulate Morrissey and bring him along slowly with twenty odd appearances this season? Let's dig deeper to separate these two goalies. You have to ask the question on who is the better teammate? Who brings a positive attitude to the rink? Who works hard at practice? Who is more committed to his craft? Those are small details, but important ones as a back up. Only the coaches know that answer.
  • Thanks to a long playoff run in 2014-2015, Dillon Dube played 64 Western Hockey League games. While being a rookie, the Golden, BC born Dube didn't look wide eyed. Dube found the back of the net 22 times, so is a 25 goal season out of the question in his draft year? Dube only played three regular season games in the first two months of the season in 2014-2015 because of injury. If he can stay healthy, the high end prospect, who is rated as a first round pick in next summer's draft, will be a major player in the team's offensive success. 
  • If Rourke Chartier returns for his 19 year-old season, which I believe he will after a long look by the NHL's San Jose Sharks, a good possibility exists that we could see him playing with fellow first round bantam picks Nick Merkley and Dillon Dube on the power play. That's a lethal unit to put out on the ice if you are looking at generating a goal. Thanks to head scout Lorne Frey, Chartier was the team's first round pick in 2011. Merkley was taken in the opening round in 2012 and Dube was taken with the team's first pick in 2013. That's hitting a home run in three consecutive drafts. 
  • Of the 'big three' first round bantam picks, Dube was chosen 21st. That is the second to last pick in the opening round. Chartier was chosen 15th overall while Merkley was plucked as the ninth best player in the bantam draft from 2012.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A new chapter for Kelowna Rockets radio

Kent Simpson - Colour Analyst AM 1150 
I was honestly taken aback by the number of responses from those interested in joining me in the broadcast booth upon the announced departure last week of colour analyst Gord McGarva.

I am pleased to announcement this morning that Kent Simpson is the new colour commentator on our AM 1150/Kelowna Rockets home broadcasts this season.

The 40 year-old is no stranger to the Western Hockey League or the broadcast booth. After seven seasons as the colour analyst with the Edmonton Oil Kings, Simpson left the Alberta capital last fall for the Okanagan where he joined his brother,Todd, in West Kelowna as a successful realtor.

The North Vancouver resident has a solid hockey resume, having played pro in the ECHL with the Johnstown Chiefs, suiting up for the Canadian National team and playing overseas in Denmark, England and Britain.

I am looking forward to Simpson joining me in his Kelowna Rockets radio debut on opening night (September 25th) against the Kamloops Blazers when the team raises a Western Hockey League banner high into the rafters at Prospera Place.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Winds of change in broadcast booth

   In the summer of 2008, I was looking for a colour analyst to join me on our hockey broadcasts on AM 1150. As fate would have it, a school teacher, who
Goofing around before taping our opening segment on videotron
spent a good portion of the winter as an off-ice official in the penalty box at Kelowna Rockets home games, would send a resume expressing interest in joining me in the broadcast booth.That gentleman was Gord McGarva.
    I didn't exactly know what I was getting when I invited McGarva for a 'try out' during a pre-season game that fall. I wanted to see if he had any ability to form a sentence and relay what he saw on the ice to the listening public. Sounds easy right? Just try it. Even the most well-spoken individual struggles.
    On that fateful night, McGarva was neither good nor bad. He had potential though and was eager to learn. That in itself was enough to convince me that McGarva was the right man for the job heading into the 2008-2009 season.
    Call him good luck. In his first year, McGarva had the luxury of seeing the team go all the way to the Western Hockey League final where they would beat the heavily-favoured Calgary Hitmen in six games. To top it off, despite his day job, he managed to join me in the broadcast booth in Rimouski, Quebec for the 2009 Memorial Cup. McGarva was that faithful.
    Gord rarely missed a game over seven seasons. Whether ill or just not into broadcasting a game on a week night after a long day as a full time high school teacher, McGarva showed up, didn't complain and always did his best to put on a good product for those listening at the other end of the radio. He travelled with me on the Rockets bus or in a station vehicle to many road games, which even included a playoff stop in Prince George, a place McGarva often vowed he would never visit.
    While our friendship has blossomed over the last seven years, two things remained a constant: McGarva has been faithful as a colleague and his love for the Kelowna Rockets, specifically as a fan of the coaches and players, has never waned. He was a homer and I expected nothing less. McGarva was part of the Kelowna Rockets broadcast and always  wanted the 'good guys' to win every time they hit the ice.
Like Superman's angst for Kryptonite, McGarva would often express his dislike for WHL officiating. In saying that, he had friendly banter with the officials before the game when they would make a brief appearance in the media area for a quick cup of coffee. McGarva knew many of the officials on a first name basis.
Always anticipating a home win. Rockets delivering.
    Despite seven great seasons, change is inevitable however. 'Gordie', as I called him on the air in celebration after the Rockets overtime win to capture the WHL title in 2009, won't be joining me for the start of the 2015-2016 season. While he will be stepping aside as my regular analyst, McGarva will occasionally make a guest appearance if needed. Now it is time to look for the next 'Gord McGarva'. While the voice will be different, I will look for many of the same qualities that McGarva exhibited in a good colour analyst.
    I want to publicly thank 'Gordie' for all he has done for me personally over the years. We had fun on the road. We laughed (sometimes too much) and celebrated many victories including those two league titles in 2009 and again in 2015. That is a pretty good run over that seven year span. Simply, McGarva added immensely to our AM 1150 broadcasts and never subtracted from it.

    Thank you, Gord, for making the Kelowna Rockets and me sound better on the radio. It's been a pleasure working with you, my friend!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Main camp observations

Calvin Thurkauf (left) participating in drills.
  • One prospect not attending Kelowna Rockets main camp is 16 year-old Jordan Sandhu. The fourth round pick from 2014 will be playing with the BCHL's Alberni Valley Bulldogs this season.
  • On the surface, it appears the Rockets have a good play making forward in European Calvin Thurkauf. Chosen in this June's CHL Import draft, the 18 year-old can sure shoot the puck and has good size. That said, until you see a player perform against elite competition in a game type of situation, the jury is always out of what type of impact a first year forward will make.
  • Cal Foote is no ordinary 16 year-old defenceman. The Colorado resident is well put together and should fit in fine with this years team. I can't see why he isn't a lock to be on this years squad with three key defenceman in Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey and Cole Martin moving to pro hockey.
  • One veteran player who isn't participating in main camp is Tomas Soustal. Soustal is in Kelowna and would be skating but has suffered an undisclosed injury.  
  • Nineteen year-old veteran goaltender Michael Herringer is sporting new pads and gloves to start training camp. Starter Jackson Whistle has the same gear he wore at the Memorial Cup in late May. 
  • I can't see the Rockets again using three goalies over the entire season, so the back up spot will be won or lost in training camp. Michael Herringer and Jake Morrissey are battling it out to see who finds themselves winning the job behind starter Jackson Whistle.
  • The veteran players are looking a little different at training camp. All are now sporting new visors that give them a more streamlined look. The visors on the helmets are less 'bubbly' and appear to look exactly what the NHL players wear.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hamilton optimistic

What type of team will the Kelowna Rockets have this season?

General Manager Bruce Hamilton is optimistic.

"When you look at (Rourke) Chartier, (Nick) Merkley and our overage guys like (Tyson) Ballie, those kind of players. Throw in young (Dillon) Dube now, this team will score some goals. We will be really solid in goal". 

Hamilton isn't ruling out acquiring a veteran defenceman this season with the loss of captain Madison Bowey and overager Cole Martin.

"I don't anticipate us having many problems on defence. All those young guys that will have to play, played lots with the older guys, so we are excited about our team. At this time of the year all teams think they have a chance to win and that's important to start the season that way", Hamilton added.

The Rockets are trying to become the first WHL team since the Kamloops (94-95) Blazers to win back-to-back league titles.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rockets new look to celebrate 25 seasons

The Kelowna Rockets will be wearing commemorative 25th anniversary jerseys when they take to the ice this fall.

The Rockets unveiled the new look during a noon hour press conference on Monday.

Majority owner Bruce Hamilton likes the new jerseys, which hearkens back to the franchise coming into the Western Hockey League as the Tacoma Rockets in 1991.
"We are pretty consistent the way we operate our team. Those old jerseys are pretty special to me and so I was strongly pushed for us to go back to them this year".  

The old Tacoma Rockets logo is featured on the front of the jersey, with the word 'Tacoma' replaced by 'Kelowna.'

The colour scheme remains the same.

A twenty-fifth anniversary patch is located at the bottom left side of the jersey and shoulder patches, which were a mainstay on the old Tacoma Rockets jerseys from in the early 90's, is also a prominent part of the new look.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wishnowski ready to make up for lost time

Tanner Wishnowski
Kelowna Rockets forward Tanner Wishnowski can't wait for training camp to start.

Can you blame him?

The 18 year-old missed all of last season with a concussion, but is now healthy enough to take body contact.

"I have to choose my hits. I have to keep my head up basically. I can't play different and I don't think I will. I'm not afraid out there. I think I will do fine and I'm not to worried about it."

Wishnowski was an integral part of helping the Okanagan Midget Rockets to a birth in the Telus Cup in 2014 where he was named the top forward.

"I am really in good shape now, so I hope to come out strong. It will take me a little bit to get used to the speed a bit because I haven't played in a game since the Telus Cup", Wishnowski added.    

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Brad Ralph - new head coach of Kelowna Rockets

Many names were bantered around on who would be the new head coach of the Kelowna Rockets. Many high profile coaches were mentioned to replace Dan Lambert, who resigned in July to join the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.
That said, a virtual unknown in Western Hockey League circles is the new head coach of the defending league champion.
Let me introduce 34 year-old Brad Ralph. 
Name sound familiar? Likely not. Ralph has been the head coach of the East Coast Hockey League's Idaho Steelheads for the last four seasons and has been mighty successful.
Ralph was born in Richmond, Ontario and played his junior hockey with the OHL's Oshawa Generals. Ya, that is the same team that just beat the Rockets in the Memorial Cup final. Don't hold that against him.
Ralph played just one game in the NHL, suiting up for the Phoenix Coyotes (now Arizona), the team that drafted him in the second round in 1999.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Who is the next HC of the Kelowna Rockets?

  • How odd does that image to the right look? That is Dan Lambert wearing a track suit with the Buffalo Sabres logo on it. Nope, it isn't a dream. Lambert isn't a guest coach at Sabres prospects camp. Lambert is now an assistant with the NHL team. I am still trying to come to grips with it. I didn't want to see a coaching change on so many levels. 
  • Close to 50 resumes have come across the desk of GM Bruce Hamilton over the last two days after Lambert's shocking announcement. That can't be a surprise. Kelowna, and specifically the Rockets organization, has to be one of most highly coveted coaching gigs in all of major junior hockey. If you are a family man, the lifestyle alone is a massive attraction and the successful track record would have any coaching wanting to throw his resume into the ring for consideration.
  • So who is the new coach? Bruce Hamilton has made it clear it won't be assistants Kris Mallette or Travis Crickard. Without knowing who has and who hasn't applied, is Ryan McGill not the first name that comes to mind? It was suggested McGill was up for the Vancouver Giants job, which Lorne Molleken ultimately won. While Kelly McCrimmon was being courted by the Toronto Maple Leafs as early as last month, McGill's name resurfaced again as a possible successor to McCrimmon with the Brandon Wheat Kings. McGill is familiar to both Hamilton and Rockets director of player personnel Lorne Frey. The 46 year-old's father Bob was a scout for the Rockets for several years and Ryan is a former player with the Swift Current Broncos, the team Frey was an assistant coach with during the 1986-87 season.
  • Lambert appeared on CJOB Winnipeg's 'Sports Show' with Jim Toth this week. Lambert admits he spoke with Sabres HC Dan Bylsma at the NHL draft and five days later he was offered an assistant coaching job with the Sabres. 
  • It is nice to see Jackson Whistle participating at Vancouver Canucks prospects camp this week. Isn't it interesting that the Canucks have shown a real interested in the West Kelowna resident when the Vancouver Giants didn't? Ok, that's not exactly fair considering it was the Giants that drafted Whistle in the fourth round of the WHL draft in 2010. The Giants traded Whistle on September of 2012 to the Rockets for a third round bantam pick. The Canucks invited Whistle to Penticton last fall for the Young Stars tournament and elected to invite him back for development camp this week. It will be interesting to see if Whistle impresses to the point that he indeed finds himself wearing Canucks colours again at the Young Stars in September.
  • Ironic to see defenceman Mitch Wheaton traded on the same day as Dan Lambert's announcement to leave the team. It was Lambert who was a major factor in recruiting Wheaton. The big defenceman was on the fence about coming to the WHL after being a 10th round pick of the team back in the 2010 bantam draft. Lambert was a trustworthy voice in persuading the St. Albert product to leave the Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL) and join the Rockets for the start of the 2012-2013 campaign.
  • Either Tyson Baillie has come into Calgary Flames prospects camp this week in wicked shape or it's a misprint. My guess is a misprint. Baillie is listed as 5'10 and 165 at Flames prospects camp. Baillie was listed at 5'10 and 195 pounds with the Rockets this season. If it were the case that the 19 year-old weighed just 165, Baillie would be the lightest forward on the Flames prospect camp roster.
  • Josh Morrissey is attending Winnipeg Jets prospect camp this week. He told the Winnipeg media that he took three weeks off from skating after the Memorial Cup, the longest he has ever spent away from the rink in recent memory. Here is the link to a story on Morrissey from Ken Wiebe, a Winnipeg Sun sports writer I had the privilege of meeting in Brandon during the WHL finals in April. http://www.winnipegsun.com/2015/07/06/josh-morrissey-says-bulking-up-for-last-years-winnipeg-jets-training-camp-was-a-mistake
  • NHL Central Scouting released it's 'futures watch' for the 2016 NHL draft. Kelowna Rockets Lucas Johansen and Dillon Dube are on it. Johansen doesn't turn 18 until November. Dube doesn't turn 17 until July 20th.
  • What does colour analyst Gord McGarva do during the summer off-season? Gord is in Scotland, where he spends the majority of the next three months golfing and caddying. Since joining me in the broadcast booth for the start of the 2009 season, it has been common place to see him head overseas for some r and r. As hard as I try to scare him away, McGarva routinely shows up in September for the start of another Kelowna Rockets season.
  • Congratulations to Justin Bernhardt and his marriage last weekend. 'Bernie' played just 53 games with the Kelowna Rockets between 2006-2008 before being dealt to the Prince Albert Raiders. Bernhardt will always go down as one of six players involved in a massive trade between the Rockets and Regina Pats on December 7, 2006.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The winds of change blow again!

Dan Lambert - great communicator
I can't take this!
I know, I know, its sports where change is inevitable.
The Kelowna Rockets lost another great head coach when it was revealed Monday that Dan Lambert is stepping aside. It came as a shock to many. How can it not? Lambert spent one short season at the helm of the team as head coach and took them all the way to within one goal of winning the 2015 Memorial Cup.
Lambert's stint wasn't supposed to be this short was it?
With connections in pro hockey, you knew his time would be limited in Kelowna, but I would have never expected him to set sail after just one season.
While wet behind his ears as a WHL head coach, the 45 year-old originally joined the franchise for the start of a the 2009-2010 campaign as an assistant to Ryan Huska.
Clearly he grew leaps and bounds under Huska's tutelage.
What are the Kelowna Rockets losing? Lambert had passion for the game, wore his heart on his sleeve and was a player's coach through and through. He wanted to win, not for his own resume, but for his players to experience what he did as a 19 year-old defenceman with the Swift Current Broncos in 1989. Lambert is a Memorial Cup champion and MVP.
The Western Conference nominee for coach of the year in 2015 had immense pressure to bring a team together last season after it was torn apart, from a chemistry standpoint, with trades involving Carter Rigby, Colton Heffley, Jesse Lees, Austin Glover, Kris Schmidli and Dalton Yorke. Many tears were shed when the existing six players were traded away. It was a massive shake up within that Rockets locker room. It created a lot of turnover in a short period of time and resulted in very strong personalities invading the dressing room in Josh Morrissey and Leon Draisaitl. Acquiring new faces with high end talent often backfires. Just ask the 2011 Saskatoon Blades.
Lambert, with the help of assistants Kris Mallette, Travis Crickard and athletic therapist Scott Hoyer deserve ALL, not some of the credit, for getting the players to buy in while putting their personal agenda's to the side in order to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Mission accomplished.
Lambert, like his predecessor Ryan Huska, will go down as one, if not the most, media friendly head coach I have had to deal with,. Huska was a delight. Lambert was off the charts fantastic. I knew as the broadcaster of the team that I had something special going on between head coach and radio guy and never once took it for granted.
Lambert showed his true colours at the Memorial Cup in Quebec City when he met with the media daily. 'Lambo' was calm, cool and almost giddy at the fact his team was one of four playing in the late stages of May. He was smelling the roses as he saw his team advance to the Memorial Cup final by enjoying every minute. Maybe even then Lambert knew it was his final appearance as a coach on the major junior hockey stage? Whatever it was over those 10 days in Quebec City, Lambert was a rock star with the media and won over a lot of hockey people in that short week in province de Quebec.
For the first time ever, the Kelowna Rockets franchise will have three different head coaches in three consecutive seasons. Ryan Huska was at the helm in 2013-2014. Lambert guided the ship in 2014-2015 and the new hire _________ will patrol the bench for the start of the 2015-2016 campaign.
It is hard to imagine that the next bench boss will have the same 'people skills' and 'media savy' that Lambert exhibited. In fact, I can guarantee he won't.
I for one will deeply miss not only a quality coach, but in this case a friend.
Best of luck Lambo in the new adventure that awaits you and your family.
You will be, as the French say, spectaculaire!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A media friendship forged

Potenteau with a passion to tell a story, even through a lens
It is a bitter sweet day as colleague Doyle Potenteau officially leaves the sports department at the Kelowna Daily Courier. I have known for a while now that Doyle was likely on the 'back nine' at the 2015 Memorial Cup in Quebec City and was contemplating a change. The writing was clearly on the wall. Potenteau wanted to change the direction of his journalism career which would allow him to spend more time with his family. For that alone, I applaud a man who I have developed a close relationship with over the years.
Potenteau in Brandon 2007 on one of many Rockets road trips
I dare say that Potenteau and I have a very unique relationship among competing media in the city of Kelowna. While he was covering the Rockets as the Courier's beat writer for print, I was trying to get the leg up on him as the radio broadcaster of the team. Our relationship wasn't built on competition though, but more on a mutual respect we had for one another's craft.
With the Memorial Cup in Rimouski 2009
Our friendship blossomed thanks to countless days and nights spent on the road together. We were travelling companions who ending up treating each other as brothers.
Potenteau speaking to a soft spoken Jamie Benn in 2008
My first introduction to Potenteau came in the fall of 2000 when I left the Swift Current Broncos to join the Kelowna Rockets and Potenteau arrived a few months earlier at the Kelowna Daily Courier after a stint on the lower mainland. We were both new on the scene and quickly gravitated to one another more out of support than anything else. Quickly that developed into a friendship.
We almost always roomed together on Kelowna Rockets road trips. We spent 15 seasons travelling with one another, going in and out of hotels, covering hockey games, eating at restaurants and most importantly laughing at what life threw our way. We travelled endless miles/kilometers in a radio station vehicle over those 15 years, many times in the early morning hours with very little sleep. The only thing keeping us awake, with Doyle at the wheel, was often an 80's song cranked on the radio or CD player that prompted us to break into song.
Doyle or I would take lead vocals while at others we attempted to sing in harmony.
We attended four Memorial Cups together with many a late evening in a local watering hole. We would sometimes put our life in danger by visiting an establishment that came on the recommendation of a local citizen, but we always seemed to come out unscathed.
A trip to Portland in 2015 WHL playoffs
I will always remember the time, in 2002, when Doyle and I hesitantly exited a warm Kelowna Rockets bus on a -34 degree day in Regina, with a windchill to match, and feverishly ran as quickly as our legs could carry us inside a warm restaurant. We often marvelled how we became so soft living in the warm climate of BC despite both originally growing up in Saskatchewan.
On the road, Doyle and I were pretty much inseparable.
In a media world full of egos, Potenteau doesn't carry that with him. Doyle has the right to considering he has the ability to churn out a game story with pin point accuracy, clarity and quotes in the blink of an eye. Potenteau isn't arrogant. He isn't cocky. Doyle is confident in his abilities, but cranking out story after story while covering one of the best junior teams in all of Canada will do that.
Potenteau is smart, honest, trust worthy and generous. I mention generous because more often than not, Potenteau was the first to pick up the bill at any establishment we happened to frequent. Sure, I have alligator arms, but one of Doyle's greatest attributes is his generosity. Potenteau is a giving person. He gives of himself which makes him such a valuable friend.
Seeing Doyle officially resign from the Daily Courier sports department is a sad day for me selfishly. I won't have him by my side as a wing man on those long Kelowna Rockets playoff runs we both are accustomed to enjoying.
While Potenteau and my relationship as colleagues on the Rockets beat is now over, our friendship remains as strong as ever and will remain that way. The only problem I see is finding a new singing partner that enjoys 80's music and is willing to break into song without hesitation on a long playoff road trip.
Something tells me it just won't be the same without Potenteau at my side.