Saturday, August 18, 2018

Let the games begin

  • A sure sign that summer is almost over. Smokey skies. No that's not it. I should say Kelowna Rockets rookie camp is about to start at Prospera Place. The Rockets are getting the quickest start of any team in the WHL when it opens camp on Monday with close to 100 - fourteen and fifteen year-old's lining up for registration before officially taking to the ice on Tuesday. The Kamloops Blazers, by comparison, don't start camp until Thursday. The Victoria Royals open rookie camp on Tuesday. Heck, with the grayish skies outside, why not focus on hockey. It sure isn't beach weather.
  • Is rookie camp intriguing or a bit of a yawnfest? For the average fan it may be a little dull, but it is often my first chance to see the crop of players that Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey and his scouting staff selected in May's WHL bantam draft. My eyes are on those players specifically. That doesn't mean the 80 or so other hopeful's don't have a chance to impress, but it is often hard for me to weed out the real players from the pretenders. That said, I was able to identify Ethan Ernst out of the huge pack of players at last years rookie camp as a standout. Ernst will now attend main camp this season and is a sure bet to make the roster in 2018-2019 unless something horribly goes wrong. 
  • I attended last years rookie camp with only one intention. I wanted to see Ethan Bowen up close. I had never seen him play. Bowen was the Rockets first pick in 2017, but they had to wait to take the Chilliwack resident in the second round as they had no first round pick after dealing it away in the Reid Gardiner trade. The question remains. Will Ethan Bowen attend main camp despite making a verbal commitment to the University of North Dakota? 
  • Who am I really watching at rookie camp? The honest answer is Trevor Wong. Wong was the Rockets first pick, 18th overall, in the 2018 WHL bantam draft. Highly skilled, Wong is an elite player and his offensive  numbers are no fluke. I won't come on this blog and lie to you by suggesting I know much about him. I don't. I've seen video clips. I have looked at 'Elite Prospects' to get a better idea of his success over the years, but I need to see him first hand. I spoke to both Trevor his father Ed after the draft and both seemed excited about the Rockets selected him despite his verbal commitment to play NCAA hockey down the road. It will be interesting to chat with them both, face to face.
  • For the record, I have already made the mistake of calling Trevor Wong, Tyler Wong. Tyler Wong, for all of you WHL followers, was a marquee player for the Lethbridge Hurricanes who scored 51 goals in his 20 year-old season as the team captain. If Trevor Wong indeed chooses the WHL, let's hope he generates the type of numbers Tyler did in his time in major junior hockey.
  • The Rockets selected 11 players in the 2018 WHL bantam draft, including one goalie by the name of Justin Dueck. Dueck is intriguing for me for one reason only. The 10th round pick grew up where I did, in southwest Saskatchewan. While I am originally from Swift Current, Dueck is from Waldeck, Saskatchewan and played bantam hockey in Swift Current. Dueck is still too young to make the team, but if he does down the road, he would be the first Saskatchewan born goalie since Kristofer Westblom to wear Kelowna Rockets colours. Westblom was taken in the 4th round back in 2002 and was born in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.  
  • As always, on-ice sessions are open to the public. Rookie camp starts with registration Monday and on-ice scheduled from Tuesday through Thursday. Main camp begins Friday with the veterans arriving for the start of physical testing under the watchful eye of athletic therapist Scott Hoyer. I will dive into main camp and what I hope to see in a blog post later this week.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A worthy weekend cause

Josh Gorges and Blake Comeau   
  • In what can only described as the best charity event I have been involved with in my time in Kelowna, the KGH Foundation's first ever Gorges-Comeau 'Home Base' Slo-Pitch tournament was a massive success. The support the Foundation received during Friday's celebrity slo-pitch game at Kings Stadium was astonishing. I didn't know what to expect, but I had a good feeling that the event would be a massive hit when Josh Gorges and Blake Comeau put their names behind raising funds for JoeAnna's House. But again, you just don't know how it is going to be perceived in the community. For those wondering, JoeAnna's House will be a home away from home for families with out of town patients receiving specialized care at KGH.     
  • Being involved in this particular event was special on a number of levels. As a parent of twin boys, who are now healthy 15 year-old's, we were treated like gold at Kelowna General Hospital when they were born, prematurely, in February of 2003. Connell and Jace were required to stay in incubators for two weeks and were syringe fed so they could eventually gain enough weight to go home with us. Had we not lived in Kelowna, how could we afford to see our babies on a daily basis while  facing the challenge of the high risk pregnancy? That is where a place like JoeAnna's House comes into play. For parents of sick children at KGH, they will now have a place to stay - for free. 
  • The other reason why I was so pleased to be involved in the Gorges-Comeau celebrity game Friday night was my affiliation with the players. With all the participants, I have had some form of interaction with them over my 23 years in the Western Hockey League. I traveled many miles on the bus with Gorges and Comeau and have had the luxury of seeing the likes of Carey Price, Brent Seabrooke and Brendan Gallagher play junior hockey before they became household names. Only Tyson Jost, J.T Compher and Alexander Kerfoot were somewhat foreign to me. Jost, who played midget hockey with the Okanagan Rockets, played his junior hockey with the Penticton Vees while Compher and Kerfoot went the NCAA route. To say the event was right in my wheel house would be an understatement considering the  relationships built over the years.
  • Speaking of the players, hats off to them for volunteering for the event. Without them, it doesn't have the star power that it justly deserves. I am sure both Josh and Blake were busy recruiting players with many of them bending over backwards to attend. It really shows the heart that these guys have to help others while using their profile for the greater good. Whether flying or driving to Kelowna from out of town, the contribution they made by simply being there cannot be understated.    
  • Outside of the tremendous support of the community and first year sponsors of this event, what really impressed me was the team that was assembled by the KGH Foundation to pull it all off. Meeting with them in the Bell Media conference room in June, I wasn't sure what to expect. While swimming in uncharted waters to put on an event of this magnitude, they were as prepared as ever and had all hands on deck to make it a success. If you want to see what organized and attention to detail is all about, the KGH Foundation team had it going on! High five to Chandel Schmidt, Lindsay-Anne Dow, Shauna Nyrose and Mitch Carefoot, to name a few for the tremendous energy and ideas they brought to the table. It was fun working with them. 
  • I thought Mitch Carefoot was a star Friday night. Known as 'Rover Mitch', Carefoot worked the crowd to perfection with a number of games and his interaction with fans was solid. Like the players and fans, Carefoot was there to have fun and pulled it off in spades.         
  • The sold out event has me hoping it returns again next summer. How can it not? I think it can be bigger and better as it gains traction. While no fundraising goal was set, nor has a final total been released on how much money was raised, this is going be one of the biggest events on the Kelowna calendar in the month of June. My hope is to be involved again in 2019.
  • I wasn't sure what type of level of play we would see Friday night. Hockey players rarely play ball in the summer. It is often the norm to witness them on the golf course, but a bat and ball in-hand is very rare. That said, I thought the level of play was pretty high and the players ability not to take themselves too seriously only added to the fun of the evening. 
  • Purely on skill alone, the three NHL players that stood out for me were Jordin Tootoo, Damon Severson and Brendan Gallagher. Tootoo was named the MVP for his home-run and stellar play in centre field. Severson played a lot of baseball in his hometown of Melville growing up, and it showed. I thought Gallagher also looked like no stranger to the game, which was clearly evident by the rare sighting of baseball cleats worn by a handful of the 25 players participating in the event. 
  • For the record, Team Gorges beat Team Comeau 19-14. In what looked like a runaway for Team Gorges, Team Comeau rallied in the bottom of the 9th inning to make it close. Blake Comeau hit three consecutive home-runs to make it interesting. Why was he allowed to make three consecutive appearances at the plate? In a charity slo-pitch game, there is often a very gray area when it comes to the rule book. 
  • Sources tell me that Team Gorges was using Vaseline on Team Comeau's bats before the slippery substance was finally detected. We should have clued in when Carey Price (Team Gorges) was seen running into Team Comeau's dugout, pulling out a series of bats and then quickly running back to his own dugout. The Vaseline likely contributed to Team Comeau's inability to get the ball out of the infield in the first 7 innings.  
  • What would I change from the inaugural Gorges-Comeau slo-pitch fundraiser? Outside of the weather, which was cloudy and significantly cooler for that time of the year with the odd rain shower, not a thing. It exceeded my expectations. I hope others feel the same way. My wish is for you to be there next year to support the KGH Foundation and make it even better.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer arrives/Hockey talk is endless

Leif Mattson - Shoot the Breeze Photo 
  • Hello first day of Summer! Man, you look good. I love this time of the year. The weather is terrific and while quiet in arena's across the Western Hockey League, it is anything but dormant when it comes to hockey talk. The majority of the focus is on Dallas, Texas where this year’s NHL Draft will be held. The Kelowna Rockets have essentially four players that could hear their names called on Saturday. Kyle Topping is a sure bet to be selected, considering he was rated throughout the season by NHL Central Scouting as a mid to late round selection. Libor Zabransky and Leif Mattson also have a chance to hear their name called. I think Libor will get a good look despite what many scouts believe was an underwhelming rookie season in the WHL. 
  • The most intriguing Rockets player to watch for is Leif Mattson. Never ranked by NHL Central Scouting in either the season opening or midterm rankings, the 18 year-old intrigued enough people with a strong showing in his sophomore season to make NHLCS's third and final rankings in April. Mattson scored a career high 25 goals this past season and earned 60 points in 63 games. A project no doubt, but a 46 point improvement from his rookie campaign says something about his tremendous upside.
  • I spoke to Mattson, via phone, on Wednesday. Typical Leif Mattson. Always engaging. I just like the personality of the player. He comes across so well in any dialogue I have had with him. Whether it's an interview or just shooting the @*&%, he carries himself very well for a teenager. Trust me, I know. I deal with twin 15 year-old boys who are often tight lipped and don't show much of a pulse. It is an awkward stage in life where confidence is an issue. Dillon Dube and Kole Lind are two recent players that had zeal for life and knew how to carry themselves well. Leif Mattson, in my encounters, comes off the same way. Is it taught? Is it learned? Some of it is genetic. Some players are shy, reserved and isolate themselves from others. Sadly, my belief is more junior players are that way, but now we are getting into the psychology side of the discussion, so let's move on. While Mattson failed to make the opening two NHLCS draft lists, I rather appear on the final one in April than be left off it. 
  • Another player that potentially could get re-drafted is about to be 20 year-old Brayden Chizen. The big man failed to sign a contract with the NHL's Minnesota Wild on July 1st, becoming a free agent. The Wild selected 'Chiz' with the 8th to last pick in the 2016 draft. 
  • The Rockets organization has had 68 players taken in the NHL draft. Of those 68, 8 have been first round picks. Of those 8, six have been defenceman. Can you name the two forwards? The answer can be found at the end of the 'Rant'.
  • Assistant Coach Kris Mallette is down in Dallas, Texas for the NHL Draft. One of Mallette's primary goals is to attend a coaches conference where upwards of 30 NHL coaches will attend the one day session. I think it is a great experience for Mallette to be down there rubbing  shoulders with other coaches while adding more tools for his coaching tool box. Mallette is the only Rockets representative at the draft. Head Coach Jason Smith is on vacation. Who can blame him!! Assistant coach Travis Crickard is overseas helping coach in New Zealand of all places.
  • I have had a chance to correspond with both Mallette and Crickard over the summer via text. 'Cricks' tells me he ran into former Kelowna Rockets defenceman Nolan Yonkman in New Zealand. Now 37, Yonkman isn't about to retire yet, having played this past season in Finland. Yonkman has the bragging rights of scoring the first goal - ever - at Prospera Place. When he lit the lamp, the arena was known as Skyreach Place.
  • The Rockets have had 68 players selected in the NHL draft since the franchise was birthed in 1992. 
  • Bruce Hamilton has been re-elected for another two year term as the Chairman of the Board of Governors for the WHL. Let me clearly state here.....he is voted in by his PEERS and in no way pushes himself into this position. Many fans from outside Kelowna believe Hamilton has clout in the league considering he holds that portfolio. Indeed he does. He is chairman of the board for heaven’s sake. Does a CEO or manager have clout in the business word? Do they have to make unpopular decisions at times? Umm, ya. But if it was a problem and somehow gave the Rockets an unfair advantage, as some fans mistakenly suggest, why wouldn't other executives across the league step up and pursue the thankless job themselves? They don't. Why? All 21 other league representatives vote for Bruce because he knows what he is doing for the betterment of the league. Again, Hamilton is voted in by his peers and is now the longest standing chairman of the board in the history of the league.
  • I was asked the other day, in an on-air interview, to explain what I most admire about Hamilton. The first thing that comes to mind is loyalty. When I look back at all of the players that have come through the organization, Bruce is loyal to a fault with his players. He could have traded away Tyson Barrie. He could have dealt Brett Bulmer to Portland. Hamilton could have sent Cole Linaker packing in his 20 year-old season but traded Gage Quinney instead. Why? All of the players I've suggested had a start in the organization and Bruce wanted them to begin and end their junior careers wearing Kelowna Rockets colours. There are exceptions to the rule, sure. Shane McColgan was traded after beginning his career in the Okanagan at 16, but that was a mutual decision by both player and management. Heck, Hamilton could have traded Dube, Lind and Cal Foote at the trade deadline for a significant upgrade to a young talent. He didn't. Why? Loyalty to the players for sure, but also to a fan base that deserves to witness a certain high end product season after season.
  • I was stopped on the street the other day and found myself engaged in Rockets talk with a season ticket holder. Unafraid to express their feelings on the 2018-2019 edition of the hockey club, I retorted back that the greatest thing I want to see from this season’s roster is more importance to a better team game. Despite recent success (4 trips to the Western Conference finals in 5 years), those wins have often come as a result of superior individual skill. I love skilled players, don't get me wrong, but younger players this season will play a massive role in winning or losing. The coaching staff will have to work hard to make this happen and will earn every paycheck they receive.  
  • Before I head into holidays, I am excited about the prospects of co-hosting the Gorges/Comeau Homebase Celebrity slow-pitch game Friday June 29th at Kings Stadium. The KGH Foundation has asked me and Sun FM's Ari Daniel to co-host this event, where Josh Gorges will captain one team while Blake Comeau will captain the other. Several NHL players that reside in the Okanagan will participate in the fundraiser for JoeAnna's House (a home away from home for families of patients travelling to Kelowna General Hospital for advanced medical care). The list of players participating including Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber, Ryan Johansen and Tyson Jost. It should be a great evening. A slow-pitch tournament Saturday June 30th will then feature in the neighbourhood of 20 teams competing in the inaugural event. Hope to see you out there. 
  • Nick Merkley was taken in the opening round of the Arizona Coyotes in 2015 while Scott Parker was selected by the Colorado Avalanche in 1998.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Things that make me go hmm

    Shea Weber at 2004 Memorial Cup
    • Here we are in early June. The Stanley Cup has been handed out to the Washington Capitals and so much is going on in the Western Hockey League. Before we get to that, congratulations to former Kelowna Rockets captain Madison Bowey. The 23 year-old will have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. If you weren't paying attention, Bowey played 51 regular season games with the Capitals this season but was a healthy scratch in the Caps run towards hockey's Holy Grail. NHL rules stipulate that any player who participates in 41 regular season games with the championship team or one playoff game will have his name etched on the Stanley Cup. Bowey is the fifth Rockets player to do so. Scott Parker (2001-Colorado), Travis Moen (2007-Anaheim), Kyle Cumiskey (2015-Chicago) and Duncan Keith (2010-20-13-2015-Chicago) have all raised the Stanley Cup over their head.   
    • I thought it was classy to see the Capitals dressing the 'healthy scratches' for the presentation of the Stanley Cup on the ice after the series clinching win. Maybe it is a common occurrence, but to see Bowey all geared up, wearing his jersey with #22 on the back and his name bar was pretty cool. Sure, while not an integral part of the playoff run itself, that shouldn't diminish the work the Winnipeg resident put in during his first full season in the NHL. 
    • To think how fortunate Bowey has been in his hockey career. A gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships, a WHL title in 2015 and now a Stanley Cup ring. Not bad for the Capitals second round pick (53rd overall) in 2013.
    • In case you forgot, Bowey still holds the single season Kelowna Rockets record for goals by a defenceman with 21. Cal Foote came close to tying that record this past season with 19 goals on the blue-line.
    • I have to come clean here. I typically don't watch the Stanley Cup finals. I didn't watch a single minute of the series a season ago. Honestly, the interest for me just hasn't been there. I thought it had much to do with a lack of Canadian content that was holding me back. But that all changed in 2018 when the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights clashed for all the marbles. It was excellent hockey. Sure, some will complain about the officiating, but we saw lots of goals and the pace of play was excellent. My theory was to watch the cup finals until Canada's only hope - the Winnipeg Jets were sadly eliminated. I am glad I kept watching. 
    • Watching Alex Ovechkin raise the Cup for the first time was so nice to see. I often wonder what it means to win the trophy to a European born player, who likely grows up looking at winning the World Championships as the ultimate prize or capturing gold for your country at any international competition like the Ivan Hlinka, the World Junior Hockey Championships or the Olympics. I am sure all of those victories are memorable, but you could clearly see that Ovi was in heaven when his team secured the Stanley Cup and he had a chance to raise it over his head for the first time in his 13 year career. 
    • You sure had to feel good for Braden Holtby. The 28 year-old was excellent in the series. It often looked like his mom was more excited than he was in winning the Stanley Cup! She was definitely the more anxious. It has been interesting to watch him become one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, because honestly, Holtby wasn't anything to write home about when he played in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades. Granted, living in Kelowna, I could count on one hand the number of times I saw him play with the Blades between 2006 and 2009. Holtby's best year was his last, on a 49 win team where he won 40 games and posted a goals against average of 2.62. A fourth round pick of the Capitals in 2008, the Vezina Trophy winner in 2016 is clearly proven he is one of the league's best.  
    • The biggest story outside of Madison Bowey winning the Stanley Cup was the announcement that Ryan Huska has been named an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames. Huska earned this promotion on merit alone. Typically its the big name coaches or former players that are often the first to be promoted, but Huska paid his dues, proved his worth at the WHL and AHL level and showed through action that he was indeed the real deal. I am so happy for him. It seems like years ago that he was a raw assistant coach with the Kelowna Rockets under the watchful eye of then head coach Marc Habscheid. I remember in the early years, I would often give Huska a ride to his town home in North Glenmore after we both got off the bus in the early morning hours after a long road trip. I lived in a town home complex only a block away, so it only made sense to car pool. But those were also different  times for Huska, who was adjusting to life with a new baby and likely wondering if coaches was indeed the occupation he wanted to pursue.  
    • Huska's promotion wasn't the only big news on the coaching front. I was so pleased to hear that Mitch Love was hired as the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades. He so deserved the interview, but more so deserved the chance to be the head coach after paying his dues as an assistant for so many years with the Everett Silvertips. Being an assistant coach in junior hockey is tough work. Often the pay isn't great, yet the workload and lack of recognition for a team’s success is high. It is a thankless job in some respects, yet those that stick with it do enjoy helping players develop and grow. They also hold out the hope, like the players do, that eventually, they will be head coaches at the WHL level and that will lead to a coaching career in the NHL. 
    • Jordon Cooke has decided to head overseas to pursue his pro hockey career. Good for him. I really like the path Cooke took after his junior hockey career came to an end when he was named the CHL goalie of the year with the Kelowna Rockets in his 20 year-old season. Cooke, now 22, took full advantage of his WHL scholarship money and played four seasons with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. While being named the Canada West goalie of the year an unprecedented three consecutive times, Cooke also earned a economics degree. Now he can  go play pro in Gap, France with a degree, a few personal accolades at the U-Sports level and pursue his dream of taking a serious shot of possibly playing in the NHL. Hey, the dream isn't over until you say it is.   
    • Marek Skrvne will not return to the Rockets this season. You could see the writing on the wall with his lack of offensive production. While a great teammate and a pleasure to be around, you just can't have a European player, when you are allowed only two on a roster,  make so little in the way of a dent on the score sheet. You just can't. The team would be better served playing a younger, North American prospect and allow him to work on the kinks and get his feet wet over an 18 year-old, fourth line player, who's greatest work was at the face-off circle. Skrvne did make a mark in his brief season in the WHL. Who can forget the fight he had with Vancouver Giants pugilist Darian Skeoch. While one sided, Skrvne quickly got the respect of his teammates after that tilt.   
    • Will the Kelowna Rockets win the bid to host the 2020 Memorial Cup? With Kamloops, Victoria and Lethbridge all in the mix, it won't be easy. If they do win it, I think a few things may come into play.1) The Rockets should have the upper hand on Kamloops considering the Blazers recently gutted their front office by getting rid of its general manager, director of player personnel and head coach. I am not sure how that looks in the eyes of the voting governors. Does it put a black mark on the Blazers bid? Maybe. Maybe not. I do think the Blazers made the right choice by adding Matt Bardsley. 
    • While Victoria is a great spot for the Memorial Cup in 2020, will they land the tournament when the city is playing host with Vancouver for the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships? That is two awfully big events in back-to-back seasons. Lethbridge, like a field mouse, quietly entered the race at the last second. Considering the Memorial Cup has been played most recently in Regina, Red Deer and Brandon, is it not time the tournament returns to BC for the first time since the Vancouver Giants hosted in 2007?  
    • My biggest concerns when hosting the Memorial Cup is the strength of the host team. It is well documented that the WHL champion has not fared well over the years in the high profile event. A 10 game losing streak by the WHL champ is an ugly statistic. The Rockets are the last champion to win a game, and it came in Quebec City in the semifinals in 2015 against the Quebec Remparts. But how can the four bidding teams in 2020 really know how good they will be in two years’ time? It really is a guessing game.
    • Will money talk when the bids are presented to league governors in early October? Likely. It has in the past, so what would change this time around. Governors of the other teams want to know how much cash they can expect once the tournament comes to a successful conclusion. Each of the 22 teams will get a piece of the pie. The Saskatoon Blades, in 2013, promised a profit of 3.5 million dollars, but they came up short. In the end, the Province of Saskatchewan had to pony up $668,000. It didn't stop there. The province also put up 250 grand to upgrade rink boards and glass, bring the total closer to $918,000. Regina paid 3.65 million for the 100th Memorial Cup and clearly lost money from hosting it with smaller crowds than anticipated. So what will the financial guarantee be in 2020? Does a number below 2 million fail to get consideration? 
    • Ethan Ernst announced last month on Twitter than he indeed signed a players contract with the Kelowna Rockets.Typically, the team doesn't announce these signings like other teams do. The reason? I am not exactly sure, but it's Bruce Hamilton's call. Regardless, the Ernst signing is significant. For those unaware, he was part of the Notre Dame Hound's Telus Cup winning team this past season.
    • I hope to hear some news on the Ethan Bowen front this summer. It would be nice to see him in Kelowna Rockets colours in his 16 year-old season. Honestly, if Ethan is going to make the jump to the WHL, now is the time to do it. Ice time is at a premium with the team looking significantly different than last season. Bowen could play large minutes with the departure of Kole Lind and Dillon Dube and the fact that some rookie forwards from last season are on the bubble with players like Bowen and Ernst able to challenge for roster spots. At this point, the Rockets need good, young skill. Both Bowen and Ernst fall into that category. While you need foot soldiers to have success, when you lose your top 4 point producers and 321 points combined (Lind, Dube, Carsen Twarynski and Cal Foote), it doesn't take a genius to figure out that an uptick in the scoring department is pivotal in 2018-2019.  

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Rockets goalie heads overseas

Jordon Cooke wearing U of S colours

Jordon Cooke admits he will face a significant language barrier when he starts his pro career this fall.

The former Kelowna Rockets goaltender will play in Gap, France this season.

"I am fortunate enough that there are guys that I know who have played in Gap in previous years and I have had the opportunity to reach out and contact them. But their is always uncertainty. I am going to a country where I really don't know the language".

The 25 year-old starred for the University Saskatchewan Huskies for four seasons before deciding to head over to Europe.

"I wanted a place where I can make some money for a reasonable lifestyle and enjoy myself but also play and not have to sit on the bench. I haven't sat in years now and that is what helped me make my decision on what was best for me".       

Cooke succeeded on the ice and in the classroom at the U of S.

While being named the 'Canada West Goalie of the Year' on three separate occasions, he also earned a degree in economics.

"Going to Gap is a stepping stone. It is a one year deal in a location where you come into and hope to move on from there. I have been working hard here and I have found some success and I want to keep going with that".   

Cooke played for the Kelowna Rockets from 2010 until 2014 and was named the CHL Goalie of the Year in his 20 year-old season of major junior hockey. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Huska ready for NHL

Ryan Huska says the Kelowna Rockets are a significant reason why he is now an assistant coach with
the NHL Calgary Flames.

The 42 year-old spoke glowingly about cutting his teeth as an assistant coach with the WHL franchise in 2003 as an assistant.

"Bruce (Hamilton) hired me as a head coach when I had very limited experience. That was at a time when most coaches that were being hired were of the bigger names".

Huska spent five seasons as an assist before becoming head coach in the summer of 2007.

"For him (Hamilton) to put his trust and faith in me over the years in Kelowna was really the opportunity to learn to coach with his team in Kelowna, the world junior opportunity and from that point to get myself to where I am no , it all starts because he gave me the opportunity at a young age.", Huska comment.

After leaving the Rockets as the winningest coach in franchise history after 7 seasons as a head coach, the likable Huska spent four season guiding the Flames American Hockey team, which relocated from Adirondack, New York to Stockton, California in 2015.

In a results orientated business, Huska knows the pressure to win at the NHL level will be great.

"You want to bring your best to the table everyday. If you put the time in, the pressure will always be there but you can feel comfortable that what you've done is the best of your ability. The expectation now are a lot higher. The expectation now is results and that has changed from where I have been the last few years where development has been priority. It will be a different situation for sure, but one we are really excited about", Huska added.

What's next for Huska?

He and his wife Denise will be busy with a Calgary realtor finding a new place to call home. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rockets make roster move

Shoot the Breeze Photography

The Kelowna Rockets have parted ways with 18 year-old forward Marek Skrvne. 
Selected in the second round, 111th overall in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, the Czech born forward dressed in 69 regular season games as a WHL rookie, scoring 4 times and collecting 13 points.
General Manager Bruce Hamilton says they must build for the future, necessitating Skrvne's release.
"We feel we need to upgrade the defensive side of things and that's what we are looking for".
The Rockets will make one selection in the CHL Import Draft, with 17 year-old Libor Zabransky returning from the Czech Republic in 2018-2019 for his sophomore season.
"Marek was a wonderful man. Marek did nothing to cause the direction we are headed except for the fact that I think we need a defenceman back there as we are trying to build a team for 2020", Hamilton added. 
The CHL Import Draft is traditionally held shortly after the NHL Entry Draft.  

Monday, May 14, 2018

Dream season for Kelowna hockey player

Connor Horning
The Swift Current Broncos are Western Hockey League champions and they can thank an Okanagan hockey player for helping them achieve that goal.

Kelowna born Connor Horning never envisioned his rookie season in the Western Hockey League going this well though.

The Broncos third round bantam pick from 2016 made the team out of training camp.

The 6'3, 180 pound rookie defenceman played in 50 of the Broncos 72 regular season games before dressing in 12 playoff games in the quest for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

The just turned 17 year-old (May 11th) knew his playing time would be reduced after the Broncos went out and made a series of deals at the trade deadline.

"As a young guy, you have to learn from them (veteran players). I knew after the trade deadline that maybe I wouldn't play that much, but at the end of the day,  it is all worth it because we are champions now".     

Horning told AM 1150 News that the playoff run, which saw the Broncos play a league record 26 games in post season, is something he will never forget.

"Everyone knows you if you play for the Broncos. Just walking down the street in downtown Swift Current, random people will come up to you and say 'Good luck tonight' or 'Go get that win'. The fans here are unbelievable", Horning added.   

Barring an injury, Horning will likely be a healthy scratch at the Memorial Cup, which starts Saturday night for the Broncos against the QMJHL champion, but Horning will do whatever he can to support his teammates.

"In that locker room we have such a strong bond. We are so close. We are such good buddies and we have so many leaders on our team. If we were having a rough game, we would have all 20 guys stepping up to try to take charge and that really helped us".

Horning will be joined in the press box in Regina by 15 year-old Ben King, the Broncos first round WHL bantam pick in 2017 who played this past season with the Okanagan Midget Rockets and calls Vernon his off season home.

The Broncos won the WHL championship Sunday night with a 3-0 victory over the Everett Silvertips, captured the league title for the first time since 1993.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Rockets raise money for Humboldt

Erik Gardiner grieves at Humboldt Broncos vigil    
Vancouver Canucks prospect Kole Lind is one of the high profile players participating this weekend in a fundraising hockey tournament for the Humboldt Strong Foundation. 

The Foundation was set up to support the players and families involved in a tragic bus crash April 6th that the claimed the lives of 15 players, coaches and team personnel when a semi trailer failed to stop at a flashing stop sign. 

Lind's team includes former Kelowna Rockets Reid and Erik Gardiner, who were born and raised in Humboldt and knew many of those killed or injured.

"It means a bit more for me and Erik. We knew lots of the kids on that bus and it is our hometown. I think it will be good (the tournament) for everybody and will help with the healing process", said Reid Gardiner.     

Brodan Salmond, Leif Mattson, James Hilsendager and former Rockets captain Rodney Southam will also participate in the 'Hockey for Humboldt' non-contact tournament, where each team had to make a minimum donation of 15 hundred dollars to participate.

All the games will be played at the Credit Union Iplex, the home of the Swift Current Broncos, who are currently in Everett participating in the WHL final.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Rockets do no 'Wong' by selecting skilled forward

Trevor Wong
It is anyone's guess what Trevor Wong wants for a gift when he turns 15 tomorrow, but the product of Vancouver, BC may have received an early birthday gift. The 5'8, 135 pound forward was chosen in the first round of Thursday's WHL bantam draft.
Wong was taken 18th overall by the Kelowna Rockets, a team that took a gamble on a prospect who has already verbally committed to playing NCAA hockey in Denver down the road.
It should come as no surprise that Wong is getting attention from teams both north and south of the border. Despite being small, many are comparing him to NHL hall of famer Paul Kariya. Sure, Wong's father, Ed, is of Chinese decent and his mother is Indonesian, but the comparison has more to do with where both grew up (Kariya was born in North Vancouver) and how the two are undersized yet are mesmerizing with the puck.
Here are a few takeaways from my conversation with Trevor, who is competing with St. George's (the prep team he plays with) at a hockey tournament in Philadelphia this week. I also spoke to his father Ed, who seemed awfully pleased his sons WHL playing rights are owned by the Kelowna Rockets.

  • Trevor's father Ed called it a 'proud moment' when I asked him to describe his thoughts about his son being taken by the Rockets.  
  • Ed Wong is no stranger to the Western Hockey League. Born in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, he went to the University of Manitoba before moving to Vancouver in 1992.  
  • While Trevor Wong has committed to NCAA Denver, it appears from my conversation that they have not closed the door on the WHL. 
  • Wong was invited down to Denver in November to take a better look at the program and the facilities there.
  • Ed Wong admitted that he talked to several WHL teams, but the Rockets were not one of those teams.
  • Trevor told me 'it was pretty cool' to be drafted by the Rockets and he has heard 'nothing but good things' about the organization.   
  • The Rockets selected 11 players in the 2018 WHL bantam draft. Of those 11, 7 were forwards, 3 were defenceman and one was a goalie.  

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Rockets bid for 2020 Memorial Cup

Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton and MC chairman Tom Dyas  

Winning the Memorial Cup in 2004 in front of the hometown crowd was a memory Kelowna Rockets general manager Bruce Hamilton will never forget.
The architect of one of the most successful junior hockey franchises in all of Canada wants to do it all over again.
The Rockets organization made it official Thursday by throwing their hat into the ring by announcing they will bid for the 2020 Memorial Cup.
Hamilton says if league governors grant them the right to host the 10 day tournament, it will be better than it was 16 years ago.
"We have more arms to reach out and grab", when speaking of the volunteer base that exists in Kelowna. "We needed to make it bigger and better. We need new ideas. We can't stand by and do the same thing".
The organization has enlisted businessman Tom Dyas to chair the bid committee, who will make a presentation before WHL governors in early October.
"If there is a community that is going to raise the bar on tournaments of this nature, it would be this community. With its involvement, with its love for the sport of hockey, it is something that will just happen almost naturally."        
Buffalo Sabres defenceman Josh Gorges was on hand for the announcement. Gorges was the captain of the Rockets when they won junior hockey's ultimate prize.
"I am excited about the fact that they have an opportunity to bring the Memorial Cup back to Kelowna. I think it is a great spot for it, and to be honest, I don't think there’s a better spot for it".   
Kelowna will compete for the right to host the 2020 Memorial Cup with Kamloops and likely Victoria, who have yet to formally announce their interest in the marquee event.  

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Miles away yet still mourning

A picture I took of now NHLer Tyson Barrie before boarding the Kelowna Rockets bus
I've ridden on a junior hockey bus for 23 years. That's over 1,000 times without incident. Heck, current Edmonton Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan attempted to teach me the game of chess without success on a junior hockey bus. I've helped the bus driver put chains on the Kelowna Rockets bus on an icy highway between Spokane and Tri City. I've watched movies, some good yet mostly bad on what can affectionately be called the 'Iron Lung'.

Whether it is sharing a laugh or attempting, with little success, to get some shuteye with the use of a body pillow on the floor of the bus, not for a split second have I ever taken for granted the safety while traveling across Western Canada at the United States.

I've logged many miles with the likes of McLellan, Brad McEwan, Marc Habscheid, Jeff Truitt, Ryan Huska, Dan Lambert and current Kelowna Rockets head coach Jason Smith just to name a few. Thankfully, every time we arrive at our destination safely we promptly return home without incident. While measured by wins and losses over the course of the hockey season, we are agonizingly reminded again, of how blessed we are at the conclusion of the hockey season that we can say, 'We made it'. Sadly, the Humboldt Broncos and the coaches and players that perished in Friday's incident near Tisdale, Saskatchewan can't utter those same words.

I was crushed to hear 15 members of the SJHL team were killed or injured after a semi trailer unit t-boned the team bus at an intersection without adhering to a stop sign. In a split second lives were changed. The hockey world was changed. Not for a hour. Not for a day. Not for a year. The hockey world will be changed forever.

Being a father of twin 15 year-old boys, I can not imagine the shear emotional pain the families that lost loved ones are going through right now. It has to be nothing short of devastating to see so many young lives being extinguished in the blink of an eye. The only thing I can remotely draw parallels too was when a  teammate of mine, Nix Anderson, lost his life while traveling home from Swift Current to Meadow Lake in the winter of 1992.

Nix Anderson and I played in the White Mud Hockey League with the Eastend Jets. We would often pay for gas as Nix, 19,  drove with pride his new Chevy Beretta to and from road games. Often driving well over the speed limit in an effort to get us to Eastend or any other road game along the circuit, I often shuttered at the speed in which he drove us and his valued vehicle along the narrow stretch of paved highway. Not once did I say anything about the speed, only to regret later not opening my mouth when Nix was killed behind the wheel of that car when he lost control while heading back home to Meadow Lake during less than ideal road conditions.
Attending his funeral shortly after the fatal accident, it left a lasting impression and made me question my own immortality, even though I was 24 at the time and still had the misconception that I was invincible.

In the fall of 1986, when the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos re-locating to my hometown from Lethbridge, going to games was a must see event. The players were local heroes in the community of 15 thousand. You knew every player by name and felt the team represented everything good about who you were. They put the city on the map and made you feel a sense of pride every time they beat bigger cities like Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert.
When tragedy struck on December 30th of that year, the entire community was in mourning. Four adopted sons to many, or brothers to others, were lost when the team's bus crashed just outside of Swift Current while traveling for a road game in Regina.
In a flash, the lives of Scott Kruger, Trent Kresse, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff were snuffed out.
Well over 30 year's later, the Swift Current Broncos bus accident remains fresh in my mind. Those players. Those families. That mourning as a community will never leave me.

While 13 hundred kilometers away from the bus crash that claimed 15 members of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Humboldt Broncos Friday night, the impact of that horrible tragedy makes my heart pound yet again. I knew none of the coaches. I did not know any of the players. But that doesn't matter. The lives of the families, friends and those in Humboldt that cheered them on, win or lose, are forever changed.

Will we ever truly heal from this recent tragedy? Sadly no.
Undoubtedly we will cope, but Swift Current has never forgotten.
Those lost on that Humboldt Broncos bus will forever be remembered.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Gorges career in jeopardy?

It may be the end of the line for Josh Gorges.
The Kelowna minor hockey product has played close to 800 NHL games, but his career may come to an end as the Buffalo Sabres play their final game of the season Saturday night against the Florida Panthers.
The 33 year-old Gorges has been a healthy scratch for much of the season, playing in only 33 of 80 games on the league's worst team.
When AM 1150 spoke to Gorges this past summer, he knew 'Father Time' wasn't on his side.
"The game is getting younger and faster. You watch these kids come in, 18, 19, 20 years old. The way they can play the game. The way they skate. It puts a lot of pressure on us (veterans) to keep working in the off-season to keep pace with these young guys".        
The greying 13 year veteran will see his contract end with the buzzer sounds Saturday night. 
"You have to know where you stand. Can I skate with these guys? Probably not foot for foot with alot of them. You have to think the game quicker and get the puck into players hands that can go skate", Gorges added.        
The Kelowna product hasn't played in more than 6 consecutive games this season after not being a health scratch in 10 seasons playing in San Jose, Montreal and with Buffalo.