Thursday, July 7, 2016

Smith named 10th head coach

Jason Smith 
The Kelowna Rockets are pleased to announce the hiring of Jason Smith as the team’s new head coach.

Smith, a former captain of the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers, played 1,008 games over a 15-year career in the NHL, and was most recently an assistant coach with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators for the past two seasons.

“I’m really excited that we have a found a new head coach and I think that he will fit in really well with the team we have and the existing coaching staff,” said Rockets President/GM Bruce Hamilton. “I  think our players will be really excited to have a coach of this caliber, with this kind of experience as a player and as a coach.”

Smith, 42, is a former WHL player, having played for the Regina Pats, before moving on to the NHL where he played with New Jersey, Toronto, Edmonton, Philadelphia and Ottawa. After his retirement in 2008-09, he joined the Senators' organization, first in player development and the past two seasons as an assistant coach, on the bench with the Senators.

“I’m excited,” said Smith, a defenceman as a player. “I think this is a good fit. I’ve had very good conversations with Bruce and I met the coaching staff and I think we have a lot of similar thoughts and beliefs on what it takes to lead a team to success and I’m looking forward to moving to Kelowna and the challenge of coaching the Rockets."

Smith and his wife Wendy have two daughters: One in university and one in Grade 12.

Smith joins assistant coaches Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard on the Rockets bench. Kelowna opens the WHL regular season on Sept. 23 in Kamloops. Its home opener is Sept. 24 and the team opens the 2016 WHL Preseason on Sept. 3.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We are back!

AM 1150 Announces Exclusive Three-Year Broadcast Rights Extension with the Kelowna Rockets

– Veteran AM 1150 sportscaster Regan Bartel returns as the voice of the Rockets, marking 17 years of stellar play-by-play game coverage –
– Kelowna Rockets join an all-star sports line-up on AM 1150 featuring the Vancouver Canucks, BC Lions, Okanagan Sun, and Toronto Blue Jays – June 29, 2016

KELOWNA (June 29, 2016) – AM 1150 is bolstering its sports lineup as the station announced today a three-year renewal of its exclusive agreement with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Kelowna Rockets, which sees AM 1150 provide exclusive, live coverage of all Rockets’ regular season and playoff games through to the 2018/19 season. Voiced by AM 1150 veteran sportscaster Regan Bartel, who marks his 17th season as the “Voice of the Rockets”, games will be heard over-the-air on AM 1150 in the Kelowna area and online at

“I’m honoured to bring the game to life for our listeners with front row, play-by-play coverage,” said Bartel. “The Kelowna Rockets are a vital part of this community, and we are proud to bring quality coverage of hometown junior hockey to our listeners.”

“We are delighted to continue our great relationship with the Kelowna Rockets, and we look forward to sharing the excitement of Rockets’ hockey with our listeners and clients through 2019,” said Ken Kilcullen, General Manager, B.C. Interior, Bell Media.

“The Rockets are excited to continue our longstanding partnership with AM 1150, and look forward to expanding our business relationship with Bell Media Kelowna over the next three seasons,” said Gavin Hamilton, Vice-President Business Development, the Kelowna Rockets Hockey Club.

AM 1150 also serves up robust daily reports and up-to-the-minute coverage of on-and off-the-field activities of the Kelowna Rockets. Joining Bartel during all Kelowna Rockets’ broadcasts is colour commentator Kent Simpson, offering enriched insight, expertise, and analysis into the game of hockey. The Kelowna Rockets broadcasts join an impressive sports line-up that includes the Vancouver Canucks, BC Lions, Okanagan Sun and Toronto Blue Jays.

The Kelowna Rockets 2016/17 season begins September 23.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Chizen taken late in NHL draft

Brayden Chizen
Shoot the Breeze Photography
It was a weekend Brayden Chizen will never forget.

The 18 year-old rookie defenceman was selected in the NHL draft in Buffalo, New York Saturday afternoon by the Minnesota Wild.

Chizen was chosen in the 7th round, 204th overall.

The St. Albert, Alberta resident believed he had an outside chance of being picked.

"I was in contact with a couple of teams before the draft. I knew it could be possible, if not this year than next year. If I didn't get drafted than it gave me a whole other year to improve. I wasn't expecting anything but I knew their was a possibility."

The 6 foot 8, 192 pound Chizen dressed in 45 games with the Rockets this season scoring once and adding an assist. He thought watching the draft on TV would be the best way to find out if an NHL team selected him, but it didn't turn out that way.

"The phone rang and it was my agent. He said, "how does it feel to be the newest member of the Minnesota Wild"? I didn't know yet, obviously, because nothing popped up on the TV but he explained it and it was a pretty cool feeling".

Chizen is now getting set for Minnesota Wild summer rookie camp July 10th.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fritz' cup of coffee in NHL

Mitch Fritz subscribed to the theory, it's best to throw the first punch then receiver it.

The former Kelowna Rockets enforcer gave more than he took both as a junior player and as a pro. 

Now living in Osoyoos, BC, the 35 year old  spoke candidly during an interview this week on his first Western Hockey League training camp with the Kelowna Rockets, his 20 game stint in the NHL with the New York Islanders, his most notable fight and life after hockey.  

Fritz stood out like a sore thumb when the 6'8 forward attended Seattle Thunderbirds training camp in the fall of 1998. After being released by the American based team, Fritz quickly made his way back to the Okanagan to attend Kelowna Rockets training camp four days later.

"I was listed by Seattle and I went to their camp. They were four days ahead of Kelowna's. Skating obviously wasn't a strong part of my game so that extra four days of conditioning before I got to Kelowna probably helped me out. I remember the first day in Kelowna, Justin Jack was there. I think he was testing me a little a bit. We had a bit of a tussle. He had to goat me into it pretty much. I was definitely not into fighting back then. He was testing me and that is the kind of guy he was, a good organizational guy trying to test me to see what I was like. He ended up hurting his shoulder in the fight and after he was hurt they needed somebody so they kept me around".

According to, in two seasons with the Rockets (1998-99-1999-2000), Fritz would fight 52 times. It wasn't something he liked to do, it was a matter of something he needed to do in an effort to realize his dream of playing in the NHL.

"There was no other way I was going to make it. I would say it wasn't told to me but it was pretty much told to me that this is your job and if you want to do this job you will have a chance. I remember talking to different people outside the organization that if you want to make it, this is your avenue and you have to do it. If not, it is going to be a lot harder."

For seven seasons, Fritz toiled in the East Coast and American Hockey League and took on every would-be tough guy that wanted to make a name for himself. Then on January 11th, 2008, Fritz received his big break when the New York Islanders called him up to play against the Montreal Canadiens. Fritz knew his time in the NHL would be numbered, so he had to make the most of each and every opportunity. For Fritz, it was engaging in a fight with Canadiens designated tough guy George Laraque, who at the time was arguably the toughest player in the NHL.

"He was at the peak. He was the top guy. At that point it was almost like me getting to validate everything that I had done for eight years. I was either going to know if I wasn't good enough or good enough and I did pretty well".

Don't believe him? The fight can be viewed on Youtube where Fritz is seen tangling with Laraque, who at the time was 6 foot 3 and 280 pounds.

For all the fights that Fritz was involved in over his pro career, he thanks his lucky stars that he was never hurt and doesn't have the after effects of too many hard blows to the head.   

"One inch one way or another and ya, you could end up with major brain damage which could turn into concussions, depressions or that type of thing. Maybe I was a different style of fighter? I don't think my height hurt me. I think it was a huge advantage where I didn't get hit as hard as some guys that were a bit shorter. They had to take a few more punches maybe to land a few more."

After just 20 games with the Islanders in 2009, Fritz wouldn't see the NHL ice again. He would spend two more seasons with the American Hockey League's Norfolk Admirals before a hip injury ended  his playing career.

"I still often wake up from a dream about playing hockey but it is those weird dreams where you are trying to get on the ice but you can't find your skates or you can't find your gear. You are watching warmups and you are getting nervous and you can't get out there. It was tough to walk away from the game but I was content walking away and was fortunate I wasn't badly hurt," Fritz added.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

'Mozzy' says NHL will work in Las Vegas

Will the NHL work in Las Vegas?

Former Kelowna Rockets forward Tyler Mosienko thinks so.

The NHL has settled on Las Vegas as the home for its next expansion franchise, provided organizers can come up with a $500 million fee.

The 32 year-old played parts of three seasons for the East Coast Hockey League's Las Vegas Wranglers.

"When I lived there, there were over four million people that lived in Vegas. There are definitely enough people who live there and the NHL being the first major league sport to come to Vegas and get their foot in the door first would be a good thing for them."       

Mosienko says he often witnessed road teams struggle against the Wranglers when they arrived in Las Vegas a day in advance of the game.

"I don't know if it was a coincidence, I am sure it wasn't, but we always had a good home record," Mosienko chuckled. "When teams would come to town, I think they would probably go check some of the other stuff going on out for a little bit and maybe they weren't their sharpest for game night".   
Already 13 thousand fans have put deposits down on season tickets for the yet to be named Las Vegas franchise. 

Mosienko, who is spending the summer in England where he will play for the Sheffield Steelers this fall, believes on most nights they should play to a sold out crowd.

"I married a (Las Vegas) girl that was in the card dealing industry. There hours are a little bit different so some people work eight hour shifts starting at 8 o'clock at night or are starting at midnight and that doesn't always work out to be a sports fan right." 

Where did Mosienko and his wife Allison get married six years ago this month?  

In a small chapel in Las Vegas of course.

Friday, June 17, 2016

McColgan's pro aspirations on life support

Shane McColgan's hockey career is on life support.

The good news is the former Kelowna Rockets forward isn't about to let it go without a fight.

McColgan, who suited up for five seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Kelowna Rockets, Saskatoon Blades and Portland Winterhawks, has played a handful of games over the last two seasons at the Canadian university level and has spent more time injured than playing.

"The last couple of years have been an absolute blur to me, McColgan said Thursday from his home in sunny California. "Everything happens for a reason. I had to finally hit rock bottom to realize that I am not getting any younger now and I need to start getting serious if I want to play this game any longer."

McColgan was a highly touted bantam entering the Western Hockey League draft in 2008. The Kelowna Rockets selected the smallish Manhattan Beach forward with the 13th overall pick. In his first full season in 2009-2010, McColgan led the team in scoring with 25 goals and 69 point and was the Western Conference nominee for rookie of the year. He would lose the league honour that season to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels.

Despite McColgan's terrific start to his junior career, he never took his play to the next level and failed to blossom into the player many scouts envisioned.

"I had all the skills in the world but my mental game just wasn't there", McColgan admitted.     

A fourth round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 2011, the 23 year-old is confident he can regain his form now that his mental approach to the game has changed.  

"I am definitely re-inventing myself in all the right ways. I am changing how I go about life. I was all over the map before with my thought process and I didn't know what to do really. Now I have the capability to turn it around and things are looking up".

McColgan wasn't so positive if you spoke to him in January of this year. It was a heart to heart conversation with Kelowna Rockets General Manager Bruce Hamilton a month later that changed all that.

"I know I have always had a good relationship with Bruce. I know I can always go and talk to him. I wasn't even really planning on meeting with him and finally I said, "screw it, it can't hurt me to ask for help."

What was said between McColgan and Hamilton is being kept behind closed doors, but the 45 minute conversation seems to have renewed the fire in his belly for a game he used to dominate. 

"I envision getting a shot in the Coast (ECHL) on whatever team wants to give me a chance. But I don't want to stay there I can tell you that. My mindset is on other things. Realistically, it is starting in the coast", McColgan added.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Kobasew considering retirement

Chuck Kobasew is contemplating retirement and the Osoyoos resident, sadly, isn't likely to go out on his own terms.

The 34 year-old has been plagued by a series of concussions, the latest coming this past season while playing in Bern, Switzerland.

"I've had a few concussions in the last 18 months. I haven't fully recovered. This last one, I spent a number of months in a dark room, in the bedroom with no light and no noise. I was away from my family for four to five months. I just couldn't be around my kids playing and it has been my toughest injury todate".

Kobasew played one season with the Kelowna Rockets in 2001-2002 after leaving Boston College.  With arguably one of the quickest releases in the Western Hockey League at the time, Kobasew scored 41 goals and led the team to a birth in the Western Conference final where they were eventually eliminated by the Memorial Cup champion Kootenay Ice.

The father of two daughters (age 6 and 8) says with his symptoms persisting, it may be best for he and his family to call it a career.

"When it's your head, that's your computer", Kobasew added. "That's what operates your body and when that's not functioning, that's scary. It is a dream to play hockey and someone is telling you you possibility can't play again, it's tough to swallow."       

A first round selection by the Calgary Flames (14th overall) in the 2001 NHL draft, Kobasew has played 601 NHL games with the Flames, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins.

"I am going to take the next month and hopefully get back to feeling like myself and I can decide what I want to do, if I am going to play again or that is it. I will leave that decision up to the doctors".

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Linaker has priorities straight by heading to university

Cole Linaker says it was a 'no brainer' to use the Western Hockey League's education program once his junior career was over.

The 21 year-old will attend the University of Alberta this fall after playing four seasons with the Kelowna Rockets.

"I am not going to be an NHL star. I think it is important for a guy like me to get an education and have something to fall back on like a degree.  Later on maybe I can try the waters like Europe or hockey here in North America".  

Linaker was born and raised in Edmonton, so playing this fall for the Golden Bears, one of the top Canadian university hockey programs in the country, will be a thrill.

"I am going into sciences off the start to get a feel back for school. Either after the first or second year I am planning on transferring either to an engineering program, which has been an interest of mine, or continue with the science degree and apply for a professional or graduate program afterwards.", Linaker added.   

Joining Linaker at the U of A this fall will be fellow teammate Jackson Whistle.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Johansen ready for NHL Combine

Lucas with big brother Ryan at 2010 draft
The NHL Combine is next week in Buffalo, New York and Kelowna Rockets defenceman Lucas Johansen will be there.

The 18 year-old has been busy working out with a trainer in Port Moody to make sure he is ready for fitness testing under the watchful eye of NHL scouts.

"It is a pretty quick turnaround to get your strength levels as high as you can, as quick as you can. My trainer and I, we had a specific plan that we wanted to conquer before I left. We have a couple of more days before I leave to put the finishing touches on the time we had". 

Johansen, who will undoubtedly be interviewed by several NHL teams at the Combine, is projected to be a late second round pick in next months draft. 

"I can see it being intimidating with some of the big names in the NHL and the GM's all there asking you questions. I am sure it could get to your head if you let it. I have always been an easy going guy with an open personality.  I am not too worried about it and it should be exciting", Johnasen added.

The Combine starts Monday with testing later in the week.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rockets Memorial Cup record safe

MVP Kelly Guard
The Kelowna Rockets set a Memorial Cup record in 2004 and it remains safe for yet another season.

The Rockets allowed three goals against in four games and ended up beating the Gatineau Olympiques in the championship final with a 2-1 win.

The record won't be threatened at this years tournament in Red Deer after the London Knights allowed two goals against last night in a 5-2 win over Rouyn Noranda.

The Knights, who advance to Sunday's final, have allowed five goals against in three games.

Kelly Guard (pictured) was the stabilizing force behind that Memorial Cup record and was subsequently named the MVP of the 10 day tournament.

The host team went 4 and 0 in the tournament, winning by scores of 1-0, 4-1, 2-1 and 2-1. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ice, Ice Baby!

Wayne Pansegrau: Heritage Classic in Calgary
Wayne Pansegrau has an odd fascination for ice.

It's that passion that has the Kelowna resident attending the Memorial Cup this week in Red Deer overlooking the crews making the ice surface for the 10 day tournament.

Pansegrau's company, Top Shelf Arena Services, is contracted out by the Canadian Hockey League to make sure the ice surface is at the top of it's game.

"We will come out and we will do a couple of scrapes and an edge and then a few floods, three or four floods. It's not really too hard. The games themselves, having one game a day, isn't too taxing on the surface. It is the practices on Thursday that will give this sheet it's greatest test."

Pansegrau says if the ice isn't good, the players will tell him about it.

"In a tournament like this you definitely hear about it whether it is good or bad. The biggest thing for ice and the quality of it is humidity. With no humidity, I don't see any issues with heavy snow on the ice or anything like that".     

Pansegrau's passion for making ice is well documented.

The Rutland Senior Secondary grad was a member of the ice crew at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and most recently participated in the 'Stadium Series' where an NHL regular season game is played outdoors.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Former WHL coach intrigued by Rockets vacancy

Jason Becker - Shoot the Breeze Photography
The list of potential candidates continues to grow for the vacant head coach position with the Kelowna Rockets.

The job was left vacant this week after general manager Bruce Hamilton and head coach Brad Ralph parted ways. 

Okanagan Hockey Academy Midget Varsity head coach Jason Becker is interested in the job.

Becker is no stranger to the Western Hockey League, spending four and a half seasons as an assistant with the Prince George Cougars from 2009 until 2014 before leaving the organization.

"The ability to communicate with the players is huge and figuring out the buttons you need to push with them and what you can't push. Being the person that makes them believe in what you are trying to sell them. You need to be a good salesman but you need to back it up".        
Becker is keenly aware of the Rockets track record and what has brought the team success over the years.
"It is a team that has created quite a culture over the last number of years. They know how to win and what it takes to win. A good coach is needed, but a good coach must understand what they have created there and what they continue to do", Becker added.
The 41 year-old has a strong resume, having represented Canada as a head coach at the Under 17 Hockey Challenge in 2013.

The team included WHL stars Joe Hicketts, Brayden Point and current Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mallette interested in vacant coaching position

Kris Mallette - Shoot the Breeze Photography
Kris Mallette believes he is ready to be a head coach in the Western Hockey League.

The assistant coach of the Kelowna Rockets admits he would be thrilled to take over the vacant head coaching duties with the team if given the opportunity.

Mallette is a strong candidate, considering he understood the expectations of the organization as a player and now as a coach.

"I think I have paid my dues. I did work my way up through minor hockey, junior 'B', Junior 'A' and now the WHL. You are coaching junior players. The message is the same. The X's and O's haven't changed. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here".  

Mallette played two seasons with the Rockets in the late 90's before being traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors to close out his junior career.

"This will be my eighth year coaching junior hockey players. You pick up good, bad, new things and old things. The biggest thing, the year we went to the Memorial Cup, I say it was three seasons in one. The expectations of winning were there and so that's where I think I grew most as a coach", Mallette added.
General Manager Bruce Hamilton has encouraged both Mallette and assistant coach Travis Crickard to apply for the job, which came open this week when the team parted ways with Brad Ralph.  

"I have had success over the years to be able to have guys that want to play for me just because of the relationships I have built with the guys off the ice and that they are not just hockey players and I treat them like a person".
A successor is expected to be named by the end of June.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Rockets/Rebels deal to get 11th overall selection

Rockets goalie prospect Roman Basran
  • The Kelowna Rockets made a bold move at the Western Hockey League bantam draft, one the team believes will pay off in the not so distant future. The Rockets, with an abundance of third round picks heading into Thurday's draft (4 in total), used one of them to move from 20th overall to 11th in the opening round. By trading a third round pick to Red Deer, who held the 11th overall pick, and giving the Rebels the 20th overall selection, the Rockets were able to move nine spots before drafting Yorkton, Saskatchewan born Kaedan Korczak. The 15 year-old (turned 15 in January) didn't play bantam hockey, but was a defenceman with the Yorkton Maulers of the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League this past season. Korczak is the first Saskatchewan born defenceman taken in the opening round of the bantam draft since Luke Schenn (Saskatoon) was taken in 2004. 
  • As bold of a move as plucking Korczak with the 11th overall pick, I sure liked Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey using a third rounder on a goalie. This may seem like a no brainer, but the Rockets traditionally do not take a goaltender this high in the draft. In fact they never have, outside of choosing Josh Lepp 4th overall in 2000. That pick didn't exactly go as planned as Lepp struggled throughout his career and was eventually traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors. Since then, Frey has been very apprehensive at taking a goalie early in the draft. But even an old dog can learn new tricks. Frey elected to take 14 year-old Delta, BC born goalie Roman Basran in the third round. Jackson Whistle was a third round pick, but he was chosen by the Vancouver Giants. The last significant goalie taken in that range of the bantam draft was Jordon Cooke, who was selected in the 4th round in 2008 and Kris Westblom, who was also taken in the 4th round in 2002. While 17 year-old Brodan Salmond is next in line after Michael Herringer to take over the number one goaltending duties with the Rockets, look for Basran to push Salmond for significant ice time in two years time.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rockets take defenceman in bantam draft

The Kelowna Rockets selected 15 year-old Kaeden Korczak (Core-zack), a defenceman out of Yorkton, Saskatchewan.  Korczak was taken 11th overall as the team elected to move up in the draft, dealing their first round pick and a third round selection to the Red Deer Rebels to pick Korczak.
The young defenceman played midget triple 'A' hockey this season as one of the youngest players in the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League.
"I wanted to develop more in my bantam draft year so we (family) thought it would be best rather than move away to play bantam hockey at a hockey school", Korczak told Swift Current Broncos broadcaster Shawn Mullin earlier this season. Is Korczak the next Luke Schenn? Hey, Schenn is a Saskatchewan born player and was a first round bantam pick (20th overall) in 2004.
Here's hoping!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Out of gas

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • It wasn't meant to be. After 186 games over the last two seasons, the Kelowna Rockets simply ran out of gas in a third round playoff series with the Seattle Thunderbirds. While being swept in four straight games in the Western Conference final, the team didn't quit and could have won game four. The Rockets had four chances (being fair, three as one was for 7 seconds) to score on the power play in overtime in game four and couldn't generate a goal. The T-Birds took two....two....too many men penalties in overtime and the visitors couldn't make them pay. I knew the Rockets fate was sealed when they didn't generate even a single shot on net on their 7th and final power play of the game. With T-Birds forward Andreas Schumacher in the penalty box for high sticking, fatigue was mounting for the defending WHL champions, who were playing in their 18th game of the 2016 playoffs. If manufacturing a goal with an extra skater wasn't going to happen, the chances were slim to none it would occur at even strength. The Rockets were just 2 for 17 in the series. In overtime, it looked like their spirit had been broken after letting a 4-2 lead slip away late in the third period.  
  • Let's give the T-Birds credit here. They battled back three times from two goal deficits. The Rockets led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 and the U.S Division champions wouldn't go away. With a 4-2 lead with 1:15 remaining in the third period, Seattle would strike for two goals in a span of 1:12. It was a game where the T-Birds were not about to be denied.
  • Who was the best T-Bird in the series? You couldn't help but notice Mathew Barzal, but I thought Edmonton Oilers draft pick Ethan Bear was terrific. Bear was hard on pucks, has an incredible shot from the blue line and knows when and when not to join the play. Having that one lethal skilled defenceman that can generate offense from the back end is something the Rockets didn't have on their roster. You really need one dynamic d-man to quarterback your power play. Will Cal Foote evolve into that? I would pencil Lucas Johansen in that slot, but he doesn't have a heavy shot that Foote used sparingly in his rookie season.  
  • 76. The number of shots faced by goaltender Michael Herringer in game four. Herringer answered all the naysayers in the Western Conference final that he indeed has the ability to be a starter in the WHL. Consistently, inconsistent in an opening round playoff series against Kamloops, Herringer got better and better as the playoffs went along. The 20 year-old goaltender, who with his strong player has to be almost a slam dunk to return as one of three overagers next season, made 30 saves in overtime alone. Herringer was named a star in 9 of the 18 playoff games.
  • Justin Kirkland and Cal Foote tied for the team lead in points in the series against Seattle with four. Kirkland found the back of the net three times and collected an assist. Foote has to be a surprise with four assists.      
  • Let's give this group of players a lot of credit for how hard they fought. Over the last two seasons, many of the core players had played in 186 games (regular season/playoff/Memorial Cup) and did so without first half MVP Jackson Whistle and last seasons leading scorer Nick Merkley. Despite losing those two key players and not adding to its roster at the trade deadline, the team was one of four standing when the Conference finals began. It was an impressive display of how committed they were to one another. They played hard for each other despite the cards being dealt against them. Two epic overtime game seven series showed this group was playing with pride. That shouldn't be forgotten. 
  • Let's be honest, the team limped into the playoffs and weren't exactly playing their best hockey. The team ended up with a record of 12-14-1-0 in their final 27 games (regular season/playoffs), so to think they made it as far as they did with that - win a game, lose a game formula - is mind boggling. Of those final 27 games, 17 were decided by a single goal, so it shows their was a fine line between winning and losing. 
  • Nineteen of the 23 players on the Rockets roster will return in 2016-2017. Can they make another long run towards the Western Conference championship series for a 4th consecutive season? I can't see why not. The team will also add Cal Foote's younger brother Nolan to the mix next season. Nolan Foote was the teams first selection in the 2015 WHL bantam draft.
  • The game four loss officially ended the WHL careers of Jackson Whistle, Tyson Baillie and Cole Linaker. All three leave as WHL champions. Baillie leaves as the highest scoring player in Kelowna Rockets playoff history and is third-all time in games played in a Rockets uniform. Baillie will go down as one of the best to ever wear Kelowna Rockets colours. Whistle and Linaker have committed to playing for the University of Alberta Golden Bears next season.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rockets on the ropes

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • The Kelowna Rockets need to start a four game winning streak. If they don't there season is over. The Seattle Thunderbirds pushed the Rockets to the edge of playoff elimination last night at ShoWare Center with a 3-1 win. It was another closely contested game where the T-Birds opened the scoring for a third straight game. Five stick infractions had the Rockets in a heap of trouble with Lucas Johansen taking a trip to the penalty box just 25 seconds into the game. The T-Birds could have buried their opponent right then and there but managed only one power play goal and a slim 1-0 lead at the first period buzzer.
  • Despite playing close to half of the opening period shorthanded, the Rockets tied the game when Justin Kirkland scored his 9th goal of the playoffs with a tremendous pass from line-mate Tyson Baillie. Kirkland made a nice backhand move to give the visitors renewed life as the two teams went into the second intermission tied at one. It marked the second straight game where the two were tied heading into the third period after skating to a 2-2 draw after 40 minutes in game two. It was Baillie's first point of the series. 
  • The Rockets puck luck hasn't materialized yet in this series. Not even once. Joe Gatenby and Cal Foote hit goal posts from point shots and Riley Stadel had two glorious chances to tie the game on a tremendous up ice rush. I thought Stadel had a great game considering the limited time he spends on the ice. Stadel likely would have scored had T-Birds goaltender Landon Bow not been at his best. It was clearly Bow's best game of the series. 
  • In limited minutes, I thought rookie defenceman Brayden Chizen played very well. The big man made smart plays with the puck, either skating quickly behind his own net to get away from pressure or sending the puck high in the air in an effort to get it out of the zone.   
  • Mathew Barzal had another strong game for the T-Birds. The New York Islanders draft pick set up Ethan Bear for the game winning goal just 58 seconds into the third period and then sealed the game with an empty netter. Barzal creates a lot of attention when he has the puck and the tendency is to over commit when he has it on his stick. In the game winning goal though, he was able to skate freely at the left face-off circle before hitting Ethan Bear with a pass at the right dot that appeared to beat Herringer through the legs. 
  • The crowd at ShoWare Center was at their absolute best. The atmosphere in that building was again tremendous. I especially like the second intermission when the fans turn their cell phone lights on and the song, 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond is played over the PA system. It is a sight to behold. 
  • The T-Birds have won 7 straight playoff games after losing game one to the Everett Silvertips in the second round. 
  • The Rocket do receive a boost in game four with captain Rodney Southam back in the line up after serving a two game suspension for a hit in game one. Southam will help considering his fresh legs will be put to good use in this elimination game. 
  • The Rockets are in a massive hole. That there is no debate. But if they could gut out a win in game four, what would that one win do to change the completion of this series? The Rockets haven't played a complete game in this series, yet surprisingly, are still within a razors edge of winning. I would love to see the Rockets win tonight to see how the T-Birds would react to some adversity of their own. As an outsider, it doesn't appear the U.S Division champions have faced any in this year's playoffs. I think it is time for the Rockets to stir the pot and get the T-Birds blood pressure up. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Rockets/T-Birds ready to go for game three

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: It is game three of the Western Conference Champions series as the Kelowna Rockets face the Seattle Thunderbirds. The T-Birds lead the best of seven series 2-0 after back-to-back 2-1 and 3-2 victories in game one and two. Game four is tomorrow night at ShoWare Centre with game five in Kelowna on Friday. This is the Kelowna Rockets third straight appearance in the Western Conference final. The Rockets eliminated the Portland Winterhawks in six games last season and were eliminated in five games by the Winterhawks in 2014. These two teams met in the WCC in 2003, with the Rockets winning in five games. During the regular season, these two teams met four times with the home team winning all four games.

Game Two Recap: Scott Eansor’s goal with just over 3 minutes left in regulation time proved to be the game winner in the T-Birds 3-2 win. Seattle built up a 2-0 lead before the Rockets roared back with goals from Cole Linaker and Rourke Chartier. The Rockets were 0 for 3 on the power play while the T-Birds were 1 for 2.  Michael Herringer made 27 saves in the loss.
Game One Recap: The Seattle Thunderbirds built up a 2-0 second period lead with goals :36 seconds apart in a 2-1 win. Mathew Barzal opened the scoring with a power play goals before Scott Eansor found the back of the net when his shot went off the skate of a defender. Rourke Chartier would find the back of the net to spoil Landon Bow’s shutout with a power play goal with :22 seconds left in regulation time. The Rockets and T-Birds were both 1 for 3 on the power play. The T-Birds out-shot the Rockets 29-24.

What we’ve learned so far: The T-Birds have opened the scoring in both games…Both opening goals of the game have come from Mathew Barzal on the power play…Scott Eansor has scored the second goal in both games…The T-Birds have held a 2-0 lead in both games before the Rockets have attempted to battle back…The T-Birds have led for all 120 minutes in this series…Seattle has had the lead in both games after 40 minutes…The Rockets are 1 for 6 on the power play in this series while the T-Birds are 2 for 5 with the extra man…The Rockets out-shot the T-Birds in game two. Seattle out-shot Kelowna in game one.

Broadcasters Notebook:  The Rockets lost the first two homes games against Seattle in the 2005 playoffs before winning the next two games on the road. The Rockets ended up winning that series on home ice in game seven…The Rockets are 8 and 8 in 16 playoff games. The team lost only three times in last year’s playoffs on its way to a WHL title…The most losses the team has ever suffered in a championship season was in 2005 when the team lost 8 times in 24 playoff games. The Rockets were 16 and 8 that playoff….The last WHL team to play in two-seven game playoff series before winning the WHL title was the Medicine Hat Tigers. In the 2007 post season, the Tigers eliminated the Red Deer Rebels in seven games in the opening round and then used seven games to dispose of Vancouver in the WHL championship series…Michael Herringer was absolutely brilliant in a second round playoff series with Victoria. The 20 year-old goaltender (in hockey age he is still 19) had a sparkling goals against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .927. In the four games Herringer won in round two, the Comox, BC residents goals against average was 1.97 with a save percentage of .937…..Goaltender Michael Herringer has been named a game star in 7 of the 15 playoff games. Herringer has been the first star (2), the second star (3) and the third star (2)….12 of the Rockets 16 games in this year’s playoffs have been decided by a single goal… The Rockets were involved in 8 – one goal games in last year’s playoffs…

Seasonal series: The Rockets beat Seattle 7-4 and 5-2 while the T-Birds were a 6-0 winner and earned a 2-0 shutout win at ShoWare Center. Justin Kirkland (2+3=5) and Tyson Baillie (1+4=5) led the Rockets with 5 points in the four games during the regular season. Rourke Chartier played in only three games but found the back of the net three times. Michael Herringer was 1-2-0-0 in the seasonal series with a goals against average of 4.03 and a save percentage of .894.

Hot as a Pistol: Justin Kirkland has goals in four of his last six games….The 19 year-old had six goals in a second round series win over Victoria…Kirkland has 16 career playoff goals…Rourke Chartier had 3+3=6 in the seven game series against Victoria including two goals in game five…Chartier has 26 career playoff goals…Tomas Soustal may be the biggest surprise in the 2016 post season. The second year forward has 5+7=12 points after recording just 4+2=6 in 19 playoff games in claiming the Ed Chynoweth Cup last season ….Tyson Baillie leads the team with not only 62 playoff games of experience, but also 26 goals and 60 career points. Baillie is the franchise leader in both goals and points in the WHL playoffs.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Chartier line doing heavy lifting

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • The 'Hockey God's' giveth. The 'Hockey God's' taketh away. The Kelowna Rockets found that out Saturday night in a heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds in game two of the Western Conference final. After stunning the Victoria Royals in a game seven improbable win, the defending WHL champions left Prospera Place with a similar feeling after a 3-2 setback. As fate would have it, goaltender Michael Herringer attempted to play a puck on his backhand at the side of the net in an effort to move it to the corner. With a slight hesitation, the puck would go off a hard charging Thunderbirds forecheck Scott Eansor and into the empty net. The goal came with just over three minutes left in regulation time and gave the T-Birds a one goal lead. It would stand up as the game winner. The miscue happened in a period where the Rockets were clearly the better team. They were carrying the play. You could sense the next goal was coming from the stick of the home team, igniting a crowd of over 6 thousand. Not as fast!
  • Clearly, game two was the best effort by the Rockets in the series. The team was able to battle back from a 2-0 deficit with goals from veterans Cole Linaker and Rourke Chartier. More on Chartier later. Despite surrendering the opening goal for a second consecutive game and giving up a second goal less than a minute later, the Rockets pushed the pace. The team had significantly more o-zone time than in game one and were equally as physical. Honestly, I thought they were smarter physically. The hit that Rourke Chartier applied on Ryan Gropp was outstanding. Both players fell to the ice but it showed Chartier's commitment to winning. Is that hit in itself not inspirational to his team-mates? Wow. 
  • Again Scott Eansor was the best forward on the ice with Rourke Chartier a darn close second. Why are these two players so noticeable? It's easy. They both work hard on every shift. Those two players have no give up in their game. Eansor is like an eight year old kid on Red Bull and buzzes everywhere. Chartier has the lung capacity of a long distance runner and never relents. Mathew Barzal will get much of the media attention, for which much is deserved, considering he is an elite talent. That said, Eansor and Chartier, for my money, have been the two most consistent forwards for either team throughout 120 minutes of this Western Conference final.
  • Where is this series being won or lost? With the Chartier line going against the Mathew Barzal unit, no excuses can being given for the Kirkland/Baillie/Dube trio. They are finding themselves playing against Scott Eansor, Donovan Volcan and Donovan Neuls. Is that T-Birds unit outperforming Kirkland/Baillie/Dube? Let's look deeper. Eansor/Neuls/Volcan have 3 goals and 3 assists in this series. Kirkland/Baillie and Dube have combined for 1 assist. During the regular season, Eansor/Neuls/Volcan combined to score 42 goals. Kirkland/Baillie/Dube found the back of the net 100 times. See a problem here? 
  • Let's don't forget what Chartier and his line is attempting to accomplish in this series. They are attempting to keep Barzal and his unit in check. They have done a great job. Sure, Barzal has two goals in this series, but both have come on the power play with terrific seeing eye wrist shots. Chartier is committing to playing defense while also contributing on the score sheet at the other end of the ice. How about his 2-2 goal in the second period? What an unbelievable pass by team-mate Tomas Soustal and what a terrific finish by Chartier.      
  • Despite Herringer's miscue for the game winner, lets not forget the right pad save he made on Matthew Wedman in the second period to keep the score 2-1. I have great faith in Herringer and my sense is his team-mates share the same mindset. The good news is Herringer has experienced what it is like to surrender a goal that could be crippling mentally and has been able to bounce back. Why would it be any different now? Showing mental fortitude is the making of a great goaltender, not a good one. 
  • The Rockets have had a shot go off Cal Foote in game one that results in a goal. Herringer has a puck go off Scott Eansor in game two. Isn't it time for a favourable bounce to go there way? Victoria Royals fans will shout out - NOPE! T-Birds fans will nod their head in agreement. 
  • I think we need to give some praise to the young Rockets d-core, who continue to improve and execute. Pressured beyond belief in a second round series with Victoria, this unit has made some smart plays with the puck and have played awfully good in their own end of the ice. Don't forget the T-Birds have two 20 year-old's on the blue line. The Rockets don't have any. This group is making huge strides in this lengthy playoff and will be a group that other teams say, 'Wow', in years to come.  
  • A nice response from Kole Lind in game two. While I didn't like his penalty, I did like his contribution when pencilled in with Chartier and Soustal. 
  • I think Tanner Wishnowski is putting in some solid minutes. Despite limited ice time, Wishnowski is hitting people and buzzing around the T-Bird net.  
  • Discipline. Discipline. Discipline.  It has to be better. It reared its ugly head again in game two. Calvin Thurkauf's cross check. Kole Lind's slash and Tyson Baillie's high sticking penalty can't happen. I am sorry, but it can't. Self control is paramount at this time of the year. This isn't game #33 in Prince George. I didn't like any of the three penalties. Suck it up and play smart.  
  • I would sure like to see how the game would unfold if the Rockets opened the scoring or played with the lead. We have yet to see that in the first two games with Mathew Barzal opening up the scoring. But again, both of those goals have been on the power play. Show discipline early and force the T-Birds to generate a goal even strength.   
  • The Rockets were down 0-2 in a second round playoff series to Victoria and bounced back winning three in a row. 
  • The Rockets lost a heart breaker in game two of an opening round series against Kamloops when Ryan Rehill scored with 5 seconds left in regulation time. The team bounced back in game three, in Kamlooops, winning 1-0. 
  • The Rockets are 2 and 0 in game three's in this years playoffs. 
  • In the 2005 playoff series between the Rockets and T-Birds, the road team won the first two games before the Rockets won the next two. Both wins for Seattle at Prospera Place were 2-1 and 3-2. That is the exact same scores in 2005. Crazy eh? The Rockets would win that series in seven games. 
  • The Rockets played the game without captain Rodney Southam who was suspended for a hit on T-Birds forward Cavin Leth in game one. No word on the length of the suspension. We should get word Monday on the length.