Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Rockets look to rebound against Royals

Cole Schwebius - Shoot the Breeze Photo

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


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Coaches can't win games, but calm demeanor may have been a factor

Adam Foote with assistant Vernon Fiddler - Shoot the Breeze Photo
Coaches can't win hockey games. Sure, they can be influencers, but it is the players on the ice that ultimately decide the outcome. That said, what Kelowna Rockets head coach Adam Foote did, or should I say didn't do, played a massive factor in last night's 4-3 win.
With the Rockets holding a 3-2 second period lead, defenceman Carsen Sass went back to retrieve a puck along the end boards in his own zone. Kamloops Blazers forward Ryley Appelt, chasing Sass from behind, slashed the 20 year-old's stick right out of his hands. The official, five feet away, didn't make what can only be described as a no-brainer call. The Blazers promptly controlled the puck and scored no less than 10 seconds after.
3-3.
The majority of the crowd was angry. Many, like us in the broadcast booth, were stunned at the no-call. But it was the reaction of Adam Foote on the Rockets bench that amazed me as the referee failed to put up his arm, whistle the play dead and issue Appelt a well deserved two minute minor penalty for slashing.
The often fiery Foote didn't holler or jump up and down like a little kid who had just had his favourite toy taken away from him. Foote, by the grace of the 'Hockey God's, found a quiet place within his body and didn't let frustration boil over.
He had all the right in the world to do so, but he didn't.
As intense as they come, Foote could have gone off the handle and subsequently rattled his own team in the process. Who knows, maybe he comes unglued to the point where he receives a bench minor for berating the referee and the Blazers score on the ensuing power play.
Game. Set. Match. Another loss.
It could have gone horribly wrong. Instead it went wonderfully right.
Foote's team was playing without Kyle Topping and Pavel Novak. Three of his best players had spent the week playing for Team WHL against the Russian Selects in Saskatoon and Prince Albert. The trio were not exactly fresh going into a game against a rival that has owned them this season. The Rockets had lost four in a row and four straight against the Blazers, so it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to come to the conclusion that the confidence level of his group was fragile.
Yet Foote calmly made his opinion known that a penalty should have been called despite the Blazers having a goal gift wrapped for them.
At periods end, Foote stayed on the bench and wanted to further get his disappointment across to the officials, yet essentially did it from 30 feet away with calm hand gestures that it was a blatant slash.
Did his demeanor play a factor in his teams ability to settle down, face even more adversity and eventually pull out the win with a gutsy third period goal of their own?
Yes.
In my opinion, this was Foote's greatest moment in his short tenure as a junior coach.
On this night it wasn't a player that won the game, it was the calm demeanor of its true leader, the head coach, that paved the way to victory.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Rockets/Blazers rivalry renewed

Scottie Upshall then of the Kamloops Blazers 
Scottie Upshall remembers.
Devan Dubnyk does too.
Ask Erik Christensen about it.
All three former Kamloops Blazers likely had beads of sweat coming from their foreheads every time they faced the Kelowna Rockets.
Over a three year span, the Rockets owned them.
Owned.
The wins where often dominant from 2002 to 2005. The Rockets compiled a record of 20 and 6, which included a four game playoff sweep the year prior, as the Rockets advanced to the second round for the first time in franchise history. For good measure, the game four victory came in Kamloops in a 3-0 win played at the arena that was then known as Riverside Coliseum.
It was also the team's first playoff series win EVER over the Blazers, who were a power when the Rockets relocated to the Okanagan for the start of the 1995-96 season.
The games against the Blazers often looked easy against Scottie Upshall and company. A dynamic player in his junior days with a short temper, Upshall was often seen frustrated and headed to the penalty box or ejected from the game.
Even casual, wine glass toting Rockets fans knew him by name.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk was often forced to be at his stellar best in an effort to hold the fort against a Rockets team that was relentless.
Who will forget his 64 save performance in a rare win New Years Day in the winter of 2005. Dubynk should have received all three stars in a rare 4-2 victory.
Despite those dominant days, by the fall of 2006 the once intense rivalry was lost. It was dead. The Blazers likely believed it still existed, but it wasn't fun anymore. It was too one-sided. Beating the Blazers was getting old. It almost seemed routine.
The Rockets had moved on, looking for someone else to beat up on the scoreboard.
That was then.
This is now.
The shoe is on the other foot to a certain degree, with the Blazers winning more times than not over the last two seasons. The tables haven't totally turned though. The Rockets won all 8 games in the seasonal series in 2017-2018, but the Blazers will tell you that in the last 13 regular season meetings, they are 9 and 4 and have won 10 in a row (2 last season - 1 tiebreaker - 4 this season plus 3 preseason games).
What has the Blazers winning record against the Rockets meant in the grand scheme of things?
The rivalry is indeed renewed.
Does it match the animosity the Rockets have with the Victoria Royals thanks to several intense playoff match-ups? It's getting there, but for both teams it's good business in a time where attending junior hockey games is on the decline.
Since arriving in the Okanagan in the fall of 2000, my sense is Kamloops residents have a strong disdain for Kelowna. In layman's terms, I think they hate us more than we hate them.
Is it an inferiority complex?
Does it have anything to do with the Rockets hiring ex-Blazers head coach Marc Habscheid, who promptly guided the team to a Memorial Cup crown in 2004? Or was it hiring Blazers legend Ryan Huska, who went on to help the team win the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2009?
That likely didn't help.
Maybe it goes deeper than hockey?
Kelowna was awarded the Interior's only cancer clinic in 2010 over Kamloops. One practitioner at the time angrily suggested that provincial politicians thought "Kelowna was the centre of the universe".
What made matters worse was last October when Kelowna, not Kamloops, was awarded the host city for the 2020 Kia Memorial Cup.
Blazers fans would like nothing more than to have their team compete in the Memorial Cup at Prospera Place next May as WHL champions and spoil the party after losing out in the bidding process.
If that indeed happens, imagine the excitement that would accompany having those two organizations, in such close proximity to one another, fighting for major junior hockey's holy grail.
I never thought the 2004 Memorial Cup in Kelowna could ever be duplicated.
Never!
If the Kamloops Blazers are indeed one of four teams earning a spot at the prestigious event, the 10 day tournament will, without a shadow of a doubt, be the best hockey the Interior has ever seen.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Rockets look to snap streak vs. Blazers

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  •    Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets will try to snap a season high three game losing streak this afternoon against the Kamloops Blazers. This is the fourth meeting of the season between the two teams with the Rockets sporting a record of 0-2-1-0 in the opening three games, having been out-scored 10-5 in the process. After this matinee affair, the two teams meet again this Saturday at Prospera Place. Over the last five seasons, the home team has dominated the seasonal series. The Rockets are 10-5-0-0 at Prospera Place yet are 6-8-2-1 at Sandman Centre. Kyle Topping, Liam Kindree, Nolan Foote and Leif Mattson lead the team in scoring in the seasonal series against the Blazers with two points each. Foote has yet to score a goal in the three games. The Rockets are coming off a 6-1 loss in Spokane Saturday night. Mark Liwiski scored the lone goal in the loss. The Rockets surrendered a season high 55 shot on goal in that game.
·       Player Move: The Rockets solidified the goaltending situation, sending 19 year-old James Porter to the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. Porter was beat out for the backup job by 18 year-old Cole Schwebius. Porter played in 72 regular season games with the Rockets but was a healthy scratch for all 15 games this season. 
·      Sign here please: Dillon Hamaliuk signed an entry level contract with the San Jose Sharks October 25th. Hamaliuk was chosen in the 2nd round by the Sharks in June’s NHL Draft. The 19 year-old joins Nolan Foote, who was signed by Tampa Bay back on June 25th.     
·       Nolan Named Captain: Nolan Foote was named the 25th captain in franchise history (Tacoma+Kelowna) October 18th. Foote joins brother Cal, who captained the Rockets during the 2017-2018 season. Both are first round selections of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning too. The Rockets selected Foote in the second round, 42nd overall in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. This is Foote’s fourth and likely final season in the WHL.    
·      Who’s Hot: The Rockets own the second best power play unit in the WHL with 20 goals this season. Only Medicine Hat and Kamloops (21) have scored more times…Alex Swetlikoff has goals in three of his last four games…Nolan Foote is riding a four game point streak (2+5=7)…Pavel Novak has points in 5 of his last 6 games (4+3=7). Novak leads the WHL in rookie scoring with 10+11=21…Leif Mattson has three goals in his last four games.
·      Broadcasters Notebook: Kobe Mohr plays his first game against his old team this afternoon. The 20 year-old played 73 regular season games with the Blazers and was in the lineup against Kelowna back on September 27th….Leif Mattson is four games shy of 200 for his career….Equipment Manager Chaydyn Johnson has returned from the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Medicine Hat/Swift Current. Johnson was behind the bench of Team Red which placed 5th…Nolan Foote, Dillon Hamaliuk and Kaedan Korczak will play for Team WHL this week in the Canada-Russia Series. The games are Wednesday and Thursday in Prince Albert and Saskatoon…Pavel Novak is a ‘C’ prospect for next June’s NHL Draft. Those rankings released by NHL Central Scouting. A ‘C’ prospect is regarded as a player selected between the 5th and 7th round. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Montreal.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Rockets look to continue solid play at home


·         Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets look to continue their winning ways tonight on home ice against the visiting Victoria Royals. The Rockets are 5 and 1 on home ice this season, with the only setback being a 5-2 loss to the Kamloops Blazers. Overall, the Rockets have out-scored the opposition 26-14 at Prospera Place and are one of only two teams in the Western Conference with only one home ice loss. The other is the Portland Winterhawks. The Rockets and Royals are meeting for the third time in 9 days, after completing a two game series in Victoria last Tuesday and Wednesday. The Royals were a 4-3 shootout winner before the Rockets rebounded with a 1-0 shutout win. After tonight, these two teams meet again November 20th.  Following tonight’s game, the Rockets host Medicine Hat Friday before traveling to Spokane to face the Chiefs Saturday followed by a road date in Kamloops on Monday November 11th – Remembrance Day.
·         Player Move: The Rockets solidified the goaltending situation, sending 19 year-old James Porter to the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. Porter was beaten out for the backup job by 18 year-old Cole Schwebius. Porter played in 72 regular season games with the Rockets but was a healthy scratch for all 15 games this season. 
·         Sign here please: Dillon Hamaliuk signed an entry level contract with the San Jose Sharks October 25th. Hamaliuk was chosen in the 2nd round by the Sharks in June’s NHL Draft. The 19 year-old joins Nolan Foote, who was signed by Tampa Bay back on June 25th.     
·         Nolan Named Captain: Nolan Foote was named the 25th captain in franchise history (Tacoma+Kelowna) October 18th. Foote joins brother Cal, who captained the Rockets during the 2017-2018 season. Both are first round selections of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning too. The Rockets selected Foote in the second round, 42nd overall in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. This is Foote’s fourth and likely final season in the WHL.    
·         Who’s Hot: Forward Pavel Novak has 9+10=19 in 15 games. Novak has 9 goals in his last 12 games and has points in eight of his last 11 games…Kaedan Korczak has 0+6=6 in his last 6 games and has points in five of his last six….Liam Kindree has 2+3=5 in his last eight games …Nolan Foote has 8 goals in his last nine games and has 12 multiple goal games over his career...Nolan Foote leads the team in shots on goal with 44. 
·         Broadcasters Notebook: Equipment Manager Chaydyn Johnson is a member of the off-ice staff for the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Medicine Hat and Swift Current, November 2nd to 9th. Johnson is behind the bench of Team Red ….Nolan Foote, Dillon Hamaliuk and Kaedan Korczak have been named to Team WHL for the upcoming Canada-Russia Series later this month. Those three will compete in two games against the touring Russian Selects in games in Prince Albert and Saskatoon…Roman Basran has started in 12 of 15 games this season…The Rockets are 4-4-1-1 in 10 attempts against BC Division teams this season, with three wins over Prince George and a victory over the Victoria Royals. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

No pity for PG

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Every once in a while it's nice to have an offensive explosion. A chance to regain some confidence with the puck in a season where goal scoring doesn't exactly come easy. Sure, the Prince George Cougars were starting a third string goaltender with Taylor Gauthier hurt and Tyler Brennan at the Under 17's. Rookie Jacob Herman faced the fire in his WHL debut Friday night and the Kelowna Rockets took full advantage in a 6-2 home ice win. Pavel Novak scored three times and Nolan Foote collected four points (1+3=4) in the lopsided contest. Even newly acquired Kobe Mohr got into the act. More on him later. The only blemish was several players who struggle hitting the score-sheet didn't. Without Kyle Topping, its those players that need to pull harder on the rope for long term success.
  • Pavel Novak again leads the WHL in rookie scoring. Where would the Rockets be without his sensational start? Likely in a lot of trouble. The 17 year-old (doesn't turn 18 until next April) has exceeded expectations. I thought he may turn it on after Christmas, but he is fast tracking to be considered a top 40 pick in next June's NHL Draft. He can shoot, pass and his play making ability is above average. The numbers don't lie baby!! Novak's hattrick marked the first time a Rockets European born player has scored three goals in a game since Calvin Thurkauf did it during the 2016-2017 season.
  • Let's give credit where credit is due. Captain Nolan Foote is delivering. Outside of Novak, Foote is the most consistent offensive forward on the team. Foote should look like a first round NHL draft pick and did exactly that last night with a determined effort. I think his board battle work has improved significantly from a season ago and he is playing with more determination. Like Jamie Benn at 19, sometimes he blends in and isn't noticeable, but he had it going on Friday night and looked every bit an elite player.
  • While Pavel Novak is a slam dunk for the teams rookie of the year award (yes, its only early November), but one player who has made big strides in the last three games is 19 year-old d-man Sean Comrie. I had high expectations for Comrie when he made the jump to the WHL, but it was a slow transition for a player who chose major junior over the NCAA route. I saw an uptick in his play in Victoria and I liked him last night. I asked at the start of the season if it would take him 10 games to get used to the league. At that time he was hoping a smooth transition would come sooner, but I'd suggest it didn't up until recently. Comrie defends well and likes to pull the trigger on the power play. The player has made some nice strides of late. 
  • The power play feasted on the Cougars inept penalty killing unit...and it should. The Rockets power play is top five in the WHL and the five attackers they put on the ice should score more times than not. The unit went 3 for 4 and has scored the most power play goals (18) of any team on the circuit. 
  • It was quite the day for 20 year-old Kobe Mohr. Acquired off waivers, Mohr flew into Kelowna at 11 am, met his new teammates, had a quick photo session, a radio interview and team meetings and then played a game. He went out and collected two assists in his debut. It was tough to evaluate his play in a game where his head must have been spinning. I think it will be better to get a gauge on him Wednesday when the feisty Victoria Royals are in town. I will say, in a pre-game interview, he said all of the right things which makes you believe Mohr only strengthens the dynamic in the Rockets dressing room.
  • Where was the game lost for the Cougars? They likely could have made it a game had they scored on four power play chances in the first period. Instead they went 0 for 4 and it was pretty much downhill from there. The visitors just don't have the skill set to score a lot of goals. Outside of forward Josh Maser, who should have significant trade value, Prince George has scored the third fewest goals in the WHL.
  • Now that the Rockets have won back-to-back games, can they win three in a row for the first time this season? They have a chance to improve their 5 and 1 home ice record when they meet the Royals for the third time in 9 days this Wednesday when the two teams collide at Prospera Place. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Rockets face Cougars


·     

Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open the month of November with a home date with the visiting Prince George Cougars. The Rockets play 11 games during the month, with seven of those at home. The only four road games are in Spokane (November 9th), Kamloops (November 11th), Seattle (November 22nd) before traveling to Tri City (November 23rd). Tonight’s game is the start of three consecutive at Prospera Place, which includes a home date with visiting Victoria Wednesday and Medicine Hat next Saturday. This is fourth meeting of the season between the Rockets and Cougars. The Rockets are 2-1-0-0, with all three games in Prince George. The Rockets have won by scores of 2-1 and 4-2 before losing 4-1. Nolan Foote has 2+2=4 in three games against the Cougars while Pavel Novak has 2+1=3 in the three games. Roman Basran has played in all three games, posting a goals against average 1.68 and a save percentage .946….Liam Kindree and Carson Sass lead the team with +6 ratings.     


·        Sign here please: Dillon Hamaliuk signed an entry level contract with the San Jose Sharks October 25th. Hamaliuk was chosen in the 2nd round by the Sharks in June’s NHL Draft. The 19 year-old joins Nolan Foote, who was signed by Tampa Bay back on June 25th.      
·         Nolan Named Captain: Nolan Foote was named the 25th captain in franchise history (Tacoma+Kelowna) October 18th. Foote joins brother Cal, who captained the Rockets during the 2017-2018 season. Both are first round selections of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning too. The Rockets selected Foote in the second round, 42nd overall in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. This is Foote’s fourth and likely final season in the WHL.    
·         Who’s Hot: Forward Pavel Novak has 6+9=15 in 14 games. Novak has six goals in his last 11 games and has points in seven of his last ten games…Kaedan Korczak has 0+5=5 in his last five games and has points in four of his last five….Liam Kindree has 2+3=5 in his last seven games…Kyle Topping has points in 8 of the 14 games he has played this season…Nolan Foote has 7 goals in his last eight games and has 12 multiple goal games over his career...Nolan Foote leads the team in shots on goal with 44…Roman Basran has an impressive stat line with a goals against average of 2.66 and a save percentage of .912.   
·        Broadcasters Notebook: Sixteen year-old rookie Elias Carmichael earned his first career points, two assists Tuesday night in a 4-3 shootout loss in Victoria….….Equipment Manager Chaydyn Johnson is a member of the off-ice staff for the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Medicine Hat and Swift Current, November 2nd to 9th. Johnson is behind the bench of Team Red ….Nolan Foote, Dillon Hamaliuk and Kaedan Korczak have been named to Team WHL for the upcoming Canada-Russia Series later this month. Those three will compete in two games against the touring Russian Selects in games in Prince Albert and Saskatoon…Pavel Novak is a ‘C’ prospect for next June’s NHL Draft. Those rankings released by NHL Central Scouting. A ‘C’ prospect is regarded as a player selected between the 5th and 7th round. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Montreal…The Rockets are 8-4-1-1 after 14 games this season. The team was 4-10-0-0 after 14 games last season ….Kyle Topping played in his 200th career WHL game October 4th in Prince George….Roman Basran has started in 11 of 14 games this season…The Rockets are 3-4-1-1 in 9 attempts against BC Division teams this season, with two wins over Prince George and a victory over the Victoria Royals. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Rockets escape with point

Kyle Topping - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • The good news for the Kelowna Rockets last night is they received secondary scoring. Ethan Ernst, Sean Comrie and Pavel Novak found the back of the net in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Victoria Royals. The bad news is the Rockets top end players, frankly, were below average in the one goal loss. Nolan Foote was extremely quiet. So quiet that he didn't even have a shot on goal including missing high and wide in the shootout. Kyle Topping had a hard time generate offense and Leif Mattson also struggled in that department. Frankly, no one seemed to be in sync after a six day layoff. Whether it was the extended time between games or just lackadaisical play, the Rockets can't be happy with the effort. As poorly as they played, shockingly they were able to earn a point.
  • My main concern heading into Tuesday's game was the Rockets start. I had the sneaky suspicious that the team would be slow out of the gates and that is exactly what happened. The Rockets managed little in the way of scoring chances and were out-shot 13-3 in the opening period. Much of the action was found in front of Roman Basran, who had to be sharp to keep it close. 
  • Whatever was said in the first intermission seemed to have an impact on the Rockets overall play. They came out with more urgency and began to dictate the play. It was nice to see Ethan Ernst find the back of the net for the first time this season. The 17 year-old made the right choice on an odd man rush by shooting rather than passing the puck. It was Ernst's second career goal. His first came, oddly enough, in Victoria back on October 20th of last season. 
  • For the first time this season the Rockets failed to win a game despite leading after 40 minutes. The team was a perfect 6-0-0-0 up until last night, where the Royals struck for two-third period goals in a span of 1:14 seconds to tie the game. Again it was one of those night's where the harder the Rockets tried, the worse it got. 
  • The Royals weren't without their own warts. On two separate occasions, a player was sent in the clear for a breakaway and lost control of the puck. It was nothing short of weird as in an effort to stick handle, the puck carrier lost control and no shot was taken.
  • Another bright spot was rookie d-man Elias Carmichael earning his first career point; an assist on Sean Comrie's second period blast from the point.
  • One of the biggest surprises for me last night was the small crowd in Victoria. I have never seen that few fans take in a game at Save On Foods Memorial Centre. Just 3 thousand, 213 attended the BC Division showdown. Was the World Series a factor? Hockey in late October when interest isn't that high? Did the awesome weather play a factor? I mid-week game also isn't helpful.   
  • By earning a single point, the Rockets are now within two of idle Kamloops for first place in the BC Division. The Rockets will make up the one game they hold on the Blazers tonight in the rematch with the Royals, who will be playing their fourth game in 6 nights.   

Monday, October 28, 2019

Rockets/Royals Rumble


·      Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets play game three of a four straight on the road tonight when they visit the Victoria Royals. These two teams hook up again tomorrow before the Rockets make a return visit for two games February 21st and 22nd. The Royals make two stops in Kelowna in November, with dates on the 6th and 20th. What does that mean? The Rockets will face the Royals four times in the next 9 games. Last season the Rockets had a boat load of success on the Island, winning three of four games (8-2 W, 5-1 W, 5-2 W) before suffering a 6-2 loss. The Rockets were 5-3-0-0 in the eight game seasonal series, out-scoring the Royals 31-20. The Rockets are coming off a 4-2 win in Prince George last Wednesday. Nolan Foote had 1+2=3 in the teams 7th victory of the season. Following these two games in Victoria, the Rockets return home to face the Prince George Cougars on Friday and the Royals Wednesday November 6th.  In November, the Rockets play 7 of 11 games on home ice.
·       Sign here please: Dillon Hamaliuk signed an entry level contract with the San Jose Sharks October 25th. Hamaliuk was chosen in the 2nd round by the Sharks in June’s NHL Draft. The 19 year-old joins Nolan Foote, who was signed by Tampa Bay back on June 25th.      
·        Nolan Named Captain: Nolan Foote was named the 25th captain in franchise history (Tacoma+Kelowna) October 18th. Foote joins brother Cal, who captained the Rockets during the 2017-2018 season. Both are first round selections of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning too. The Rockets selected Foote in the second round, 42nd overall in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. This is Foote’s fourth and likely final season in the WHL.    
·        Who’s Hot: Forward Pavel Novak has 5+8=13 in 12 games. Novak has five goals in his last 9 games and has points in five of his last eight games…Liam Kindree has 2+3=5 in his last five games…Kyle Topping has points in 7 of the 12 games he has played this season…Nolan Foote has 6 goals in his last six games and has 12 multiple goal games over his career...Nolan Foote leads the team in shots on goal with 41…Roman Basran has an impressive stat line with a goals against average of 2.18 and a save percentage of .930.   
·        Broadcasters Notebook: Equipment Manager Chaydyn Johnson is a member of the off-ice staff for the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Medicine Hat and Swift Current, November 2nd to 9th. Johnson is behind the bench of Team Red ….Nolan Foote, Dillon Hamaliuk and Kaedan Korczak have been named to Team WHL for the upcoming Canada-Russia Series next month. Those three will compete in two games against the touring Russian Selects in games in Prince Albert and Saskatoon…Pavel Novak is a ‘C’ prospect for next June’s NHL Draft. Those rankings released by NHL Central Scouting. A ‘C’ prospect is regarded as a player selected between the 5th and 7th round. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Montreal…The Rockets are 7-4-1-0 after 12 games this season. The team was 3-9-0-0 after 12 games last season and 4-9-0-0 after 13 games….Kyle Topping played in his 200th career WHL game October 4th in Prince George….Roman Basran has started in 10 of 12 games this season…The Rockets are 2-4-1-0 in 7 attempts against BC Division teams this season, with both wins coming against Prince George.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

They don't say how; they just say how many

Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • The Kelowna Rockets went into Wednesday night's road game in Prince George with a perfect 5-0-0-0 record when leading after two periods. That successful trend continued courtesy of the most spectacular play of the  night where dull hockey was the norm in a 4-2 win at CN Centre. While killing a second period penalty, Rockets leading point producer Nolan Foote would initiate body contact on Cougars d-man Rhett Reinhart. Foote not only separated player from puck, he was able to pass it out front to Liam Kindree, who's one timer blew past goaltender Taylor Gauthier. It gave the visitors a 3-2 lead that they would never relinquish. Foote put the game on ice with his 7th goal of the season on a well executed two-on-one late in the third period with Leif Mattson and the Rockets collected their 7th win of the season.
  • For a second straight game the Rockets played with more intensity and its translated into more team toughness. While no fights broke out last night against two teams that were meeting for the third time in three weeks, the Rockets weren't about to be pushed around. While the Cougars typically don't shy away from the rough stuff, I would suggest the Rockets gave more than they received. Frankly, I think this team needs to take on more attributes of its head coach, so the aggression is a welcome change. Adam Foote was not a fighter, nor did he have to be. Foote competed and didn't back down from anyone during his time in the NHL. The rougher the game, the more intense it was, the more Foote flourished. 
  • With more aggressive play comes more trips to the penalty box. While allowing both Kamloops and Prince George 7 power play chances each in back-to-back road games, the Rockets have taken the 7th most penalties minutes of the 22 teams on the WHL circuit. 
  • The Rockets made an addition to their leadership before Wednesday's game. Twenty year-old forward Leif Mattson was given an 'A' on his jersey. Mattson joins Dillon Hamaliuk and Kyle Topping as assistants to captain Nolan Foote. The promotion may have been a factor in Mattson snapping an 11 game goal scoring drought with his first of the season. Named the third star, Mattson had a goal and assist and his first period goal gave the Rockets a 2-0 lead. Video review was needed to determine that Mattson's shot, during a goal mouth scramble, did indeed go over the line before Taylor Gauthier pulled it out quickly with the paddle of his stick.
  • Rookie Deegan Mofford made his WHL debut and didn't look out of place. A third round WHL bantam pick, I was wondering how overwhelmed he would look after being a healthy scratch for the opening 11 games. The coaching staff must have been pleased with Mofford's effort in creating a scoring chance on his opening shift. When I asked head coach Adam Foote what he wanted to see from Mofford, he quickly stated the 18 year-old knows what he is and doesn't try to be something he isn't. I see Mofford getting more ice time and less time in the press box after what he showed in Prince George. 
  • The win was the Rockets second in six games against BC Division opponents. With a record of 2-3-1-0, those two wins have come against the Cougars.
  • Why do the Rockets already have 7 wins this season? Solid goaltending and a greater commitment to defending is likely a big reason why. The team has allowed just 31 goals against after 12 games this season. At this time last year, the team had surrendered 45 goals against. Going from 3.75 goals per game to 2.58 goals against is impressive despite the small sample size. 
  • With Skate Canada International taking over Prospera Place, a rare quirk in the schedule as the team has the luxury of having the entire weekend off. Yep, no games this weekend until the team boards the bus again Monday for a pair of games in Victoria Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.
  • Had the chance to shake hands with Tom Kowal, who is now the WHL's Officiating Development Coach. Kowal was in Prince George last night to watch Brett Iverson and Troy Paterson do their thing. Kowal is a Vernon resident but now makes his home in High River, Alberta. The next time we cross paths, I will make sure to put a microphone in his face and interview him about the over 1,000 games he called as a referee in the NHL.      
  • Good luck to my roommate and all around good guy Chaydyn Johnson as he heads to the prairies for the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Swift Current and Medicine Hat. The 23 year-old will be an equipment manager for Team Red.  

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Cup half full after one goal loss

Allan Douglas Photo
  • If you wanted the Kelowna Rockets to play with more jam, intensity, physicality and push back, you got it in spades last night in Kamloops. What you didn't receive was a win against the Blazers though. The Rockets did put up a good fight in a 2-1 road loss. Several players went outside of their comfort zone in the one goal setback by playing with more bite. While leaving Sandman Centre without two points, it was an encouraging sign for a team that really needs to play with more jump in their step. Let's see if they can carry that on going forward against Prince George and Victoria next week.
  • Typically the Blazers led on the shot clock, which frankly I am ignoring more and more as time goes on. While getting pucks on net are valuable in an effort to score, for me it is all about scoring chances. Give me fewer shots on net but quality scoring opportunities, I'm all good. The Rockets had ample chances to score in this game. How about Mark Liwiski :29 seconds into the game? Nolan Foote with a partial breakaway in the second period where Blazers goalie Dylan Garand makes a nice glove hand save. Alex Swetlikoff almost ties the game with time ticking down but again Garand shuts the door. If those scoring chances are not there, I'm concerned. They were, so I'm not.
  • I could be really knit-picky about the Rockets power play, which went 0 for 4 on the night. I thought it was just ok in creating scoring chances. It wasn't horrible by any means. In a game against a top tier team, which Kamloops is, the power play needs to cash in at least once. It couldn't. 
  • The real positive in this game was the penalty killing unit. Statistically one of the worst in the league, it didn't allow a goal against the 4th best power play unit on 7 chances. I thought the commitment to defend was excellent and it was a real positive for this group moving forward. Whether it was the pre-scout or just a more desperate effort to win loose pucks, assistant coach Kris Mallette had to leave last night's game feeling awfully good about what they were able to accomplish. 
  • I thought Roman Basran was again very, very good. The 18 year-old made several solid stops and frankly was one of the best players on the ice. While he received some help from his goal posts, he was quick and played with good control. He should have been a game star in the building with a 37 save performance. But much like shots on goal, the three stars in the building are become more and more irrelevant. It's a fan thing. Brodi Stuart's family was happy too. 
  • Kaedan Korczak really impressed me last night. No, no he won't play error free hockey (is that a thing in junior hockey?) but his decision making and defending was impressive. You almost take for granted his stealth decision making, only to find yourself wanting more of it when he is sitting in the penalty box. The 19 year-old received a 10 minute misconduct late in the second period and was sorely missed. What the Rockets really need is another Kaedan Korczak or someone at that elite level. 
  • The negatives? The Rockets took too many penalties. They played over half of the second period shorthanded. What was impressive is the team was only down 1-0 after 40 minutes despite of it.
  • The positives? They played essentially half of the third period without Korczak yet were still in the hockey game. Mission accomplished outside of a Max Martin shot that went off Dillon Hamaliuk's stick, which elevated the flight of the puck as it screamed past the glove hand side of Basran.            
  • To be honest, I liked Ethan Ernst on the second power play unit. 
  • Leif Mattson's no look pass to Kyle Topping for the Rockets lone goal was impressive.
  • The Rockets faced a team that has won 8 of its last 9 and have earned five consecutive wins. They are rolling. To come into that building and preform as well as they did is admirable. Despite losing three straight in the seasonal series against the Blazers, this was clearly the Rockets best effort against them this season. It really makes for great hockey every time these two rivals clash. The good news is we see it 7 more times before the season is through.   
  • For the record, I would have made Takeru Kobayashi proud last night. I crushed several hot dogs prepared by the fine staff in the media area. The hot dog steamer is terrific, not only heating the wieners to perfection but additionally warming up the buns on the top deck of the two tiered unit. It's glorious and makes a great Christmas gift.
  • Up next? Popcorn in Prince George on Wednesday.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Rockets roll into Kamloops


·     
Nolan Foote named captain 
 
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open a four game road trip tonight in Kamloops. This is the third meeting between the two teams, with the Rockets having played only 10 games this season. The Rockets are looking at beating the Blazers after losing 3-2 in overtime and 5-2. The Rockets are also looking for more success against a BC Division rival with an early season record of 1-3-1-0 in five attempts. This road trip consists of four straight games against division opponents including stops in Kamloops tonight, in Prince George this Wednesday and back to back games in Victoria. The team doesn’t return home until November 1st against the Prince George Cougars. The Rockets are coming off a 3-2 overtime win against the Swift Current Broncos Wednesday night. Nolan Foote scored the game winner 65 seconds into extra time. Foote ended the night with 2+1=3 while Pavel Novak had 1+1=2. Cole Schwebius made his home debut and was solid in recording the win in goal.
·        Nolan Named Captain: Nolan Foote was named the 25th captain in franchise history (Tacoma+Kelowna) Friday morning. Foote joins brother Cal, who captained the Rockets during the 2017-2018 season. Both are first round selections of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning too. The Rockets selected Foote in the second round, 42nd overall in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. This is Foote’s fourth and likely final season in the WHL.    
·         Who’s Hot: Forward Pavel Novak has 5+8=13 in 10 games. Novak has five goals in his last 7 games and has points in five of his last six games…Liam Kindree has 1+3=4 in his last three games…Kyle Topping has points in 6 of the 10 games he has played this season…Nolan Foote has 5 goals in his last four games and has 12 multiple goal games over his career...Nolan Foote leads the team in shots on goal with 37…Roman Basran has an impressive stat line with a goals against average of 2.22 and a save percentage of .926.   
·         Broadcasters Notebook: Nolan Foote, Dillon Hamaliuk and Kaedan Korczak have been named to Team WHL for the upcoming Canada-Russia Series next month. Those three will compete in two games against the touring Russian Selects in games in Prince Albert and Saskatoon…Pavel Novak is a ‘C’ prospect for next June’s NHL Draft. Those rankings released by NHL Central Scouting. A ‘C’ prospect is regarded as a player selected between the 5th and 7th round. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Montreal…The Rockets organization has the bragging rights of having 14 former players start the season on an NHL roster. That is the most of any team in the WHL, with Brandon next at 10 and Portland with 9 alumni….The Rockets have the second most games played by alumni in the NHL of any team in the Canadian Hockey League. Only the London Knights of the OHL have more….The Rockets are 6-3-1-0 after 10 games this season. It took the team 16 games last season to reach six victories.…Kyle Topping played in his 200th career WHL game October 4th in Prince George….Roman Basran has started in eight of ten games this season…. Newly acquired forward Dillon Hamaliuk was selected in the second round by the San Jose Sharks. Hamaliuk was acquired in a trade with Seattle back in May….Jake Lee received a free-agent tryout with the Sharks, attending the teams rookie camp…Back on October 3rd, the Rockets were awarded the host site for the 2020 Kia Memorial Cup, beating out bids from Kamloops and Lethbridge.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Blazers hand Rockets 1st home ice loss

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Kelowna Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton told freelance writer Larry Fisher during training camp that the 20 year-old's, the overagers on every WHL team are the difference makers, specifically early in the season. It's too much to ask for the younger players to do the heavy lifting in the first few months, so the veteran players must lead the charge. Hamilton wasn't blowing smoke when he made that comment to Fisher and was right on the money Saturday night in his teams 5-2 home ice loss to Kamloops. Blazers GM Matt Bardsley has been busy retooling his 20 year-old's over the last few weeks and it paid off in a big way. Acquired less than a week ago from the Prince Albert Raiders, d-man Max Martin scored twice in the third period as the road team handed the Rockets their first loss at Prospera Place this season. It was fellow overager Ryan Hughes who jump started the Blazers offense with the primary assist on Martin Lang's opening goal to make it 1-0. Those areas of improvement by Bardsley have been enough to help the Blazers earn two wins in two meetings against the Rockets this season. Hughes scored the game winner in overtime in the opening meeting of the season on September 27th.
  • This game should be an eye opener for the Rockets. Are they indeed as good as they believe they are? Was it just an off night in all areas where they surrendered a season high 47 shots on net? The Blazers looked fresher, sharper and hungrier as they moved a single point back of Kelowna for second place in the BC Division.  
  • For me, puck retrieval was a huge story in this game. The Blazers were dominant in getting pucks back once the original shot was taken. In the third period specifically, where the game essentially was won or lost, the visitors were hungrier to get the puck back after a thwarted attempt on net. They looked quicker, but to me it likely came down to more desperate to win loose pucks and keep plays alive in the offensive zone.    
  • My belief is the Blazers have a greater hunger to beat the Rockets than the other way around. I am not saying the Rockets don't want to win! That would be foolish to suggest that. Considered by some as the ugly stepchild or the inferior team situated in the BC Interior, the Blazers look like they have a greater desire to come out on top at the end of the night and play with a certain chip on their shoulder. Face it, some team's simply get up more to play against one specific opponent than another. The Blazers do that against the Rockets. It was evident even last season. While not wanting to admit it, do the Blazers have a bur in their saddle every time they face the Rockets after losing out in the bidding process for the 2020 Kia Memorial Cup? If it provides added motivation, heck I'd use it.
  • Rebound control. It is the goaltenders greatest weapon. I would suggest on this night that Blazers netminder Dylan Garand was like a vacuum. The yet to be drafted 'keeper of the cage' contained pucks to his body and never gave up any secondary chances for the Rockets forwards to pounce on. Give the d-men credit for boxing out the Rockets forwards while getting into shooting lanes to block shots.
  • A few positives for you? It was nice to see rookie Jake Poole score his first career WHL goal. Rewarded with power play time, Poole's wrister found pay dirt in the second period to tie the game at 2. A bit of an awkward skater, you can't deny Poole's ability to put himself in good spots on the ice and works his tail off on the forecheck. Sure he made an ill-advised blind backhand pass that turned into a goal, but let's remember, Poole has played a handful of games at the WHL level and the way to learn is by making mistakes and then correcting them.
  • 16 year-old forward Trevor Wong was again sharp Saturday night and had three decent chances to score, with all three going high and wide of the net. The scariest point of his evening  came in the third period when he was pushed into the side boards, in front of the Blazers bench by forward Ryley Appelt. Wong did make it back to his feet while Appelt was given a 5 minute major and game misconduct. Look for Appelt to serve at least a game for that hit. Unfortunately, the Rockets were unable to score on the extended power play.
  • After three impressive wins over Spokane, Everett and Tri City, what will be a real indicator is how the two team's match up again this Saturday in Kamloops. That game will tell us how evenly matched they are or if indeed a significant gap exists. You can't look ahead and not focus on Wednesday's home game against visiting Swift Current, but I am intrigued on the Rockets response Saturday night at Sandman Centre.