Thursday, June 25, 2015

A media friendship forged

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rockets regular season schedule released



The Kelowna Rockets 2015-2016 regular season schedule was released today. The team will open defense of its Western Hockey League championship September 25th against the Kamloops Blazers. On that night, the team will raise a Western Hockey League championship banner to the rafters as well as a Western Conference championship banner. It doesn’t end there though. The Rockets will also have another BC Division banner among the three that will be hoisted high above before what is expected to be a sell out crowd. 

The Rockets will open the season playing eight of their first 11 games on the road. The only three home games feature dates against Kamloops, Victoria and Red Deer.  After opening the season on home ice, the team ventures out on a six game road trip which features an Alberta road swing with games in Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. In the big picture, the Rockets play thirteen of its first 21 games on opposition ice.

The Rockets will again play a double header in Portland this season with games November 6th and 7th.

The team visits Prince George for back-to-back games on October 16th and 17th and again on February 12th and 13th.

The team will make a Saskatchewan road trip again this winter, playing six games in nine nights. 

That road trip includes a stop in Brandon in a rematch of the WHL final against the Wheat 
Kings on December 12th.         

The Rockets will play the Kamloops Blazers, Prince George Cougars, Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals eight times each.

The team will ring in New Years in Everett on January 1st.

The Rockets open the season with three games in three nights.  The team will play three games in three nights – four times this season.

Friday, June 19, 2015

WHL celebrates 50 years

I'm fifty. Fifty years-old. I'm Sally O'Malley and I'm 50!
Remember that skit from Saturday Night Live? I laugh every time I see it. 
Just think, the Western Hockey League is celebrating its 50th season in 2015-2016. I am happy to be invited to the 72 game celebration as a broadcaster of this great league.
For the past 20 seasons, the Western Hockey League has been a big part of my life. It has brought me employment as a broadcaster for both the Swift Current Broncos and Kelowna Rockets. It is the WHL that has allowed me access to elite players between the ages of 16 and 20. I have been able to get to know them both personally and professionally. 
I have witnessed a young coach like Todd McLellan, who I spent five years with as coach/broadcaster with the Swift Current Broncos, accelerate to a solid career in the NHL. I have had the privilege of riding the bus with Marc Habscheid, Jeff Truitt, Ryan Huska and now Dan Lambert. Witnessing championships, watching players develop and mature and then move on has been rewarding. 
I have travelled across Canada thanks to the Western Hockey League. Without it I wouldn't have visited Quebec City (twice), London, Ontario or Rimouski, Quebec. I would have never stepped foot at the Toyota Center in Tri City or ventured up to Prince Albert to watch a game at the Art Hauser Centre. I can guarantee, I would have never made 32 separate trips up to Prince George to watch hockey!!
In the last 20 years, thanks to the Western Hockey League, I've witnessed some of the best hockey on the planet. I've been able to see a young Shea Weber, Sergei Varlamov, Pavel Brendl, Nic Petan and Brendan Gallagher dominate before going on to pro careers. Some attain their goals of making it to the NHL, others play semi pro and many go to university, but all have been a delight to watch.
I've seen new buildings emerge in Kent, Everett, Moose Jaw and Cranbrook BC. I will have the privilege this fall of seeing the Tigers play their first season in a new facility in Medicine Hat. I've witnessed franchises reborn in Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton and others re-locate to Chilliwack, Kent and Cranbrook. 
The WHL has changed immensely since I first stepped into the broadcast booth in 1995. The biggest improvements can quickly be broken down into three areas.
1) Coaching.
2) The influx of American born players which has made the product better.
3) A decrease in fighting/intimidation and an emphasis on skill development/creativity.
In my opinion, the WHL has never looked more pro-like than it is today. 
It has been an honour to be associated with the Western Hockey League. 
For those that make it tick, the owners, the shareholders of small market teams and the parents that allow their sons to flourish by leaving home to play in this great league, I tip my cap for your contribution in making the Western Hockey League the greatest junior hockey league on the planet.
Raise a glass in 2015-2016 to 50 years and another prosperous 50 to come!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Things that make me go hmm....


My broadcast location at Le Colisee
  • Have we finally come to grips with what happened Sunday night in Quebec City? Didn't think so, but it will get better. The good news is I haven't see anyone with Kelowna Rockets jersey's preparing to jump off the W.R Bennett Bridge, so we are taking baby steps. Joking aside, it was a great season and several banners will be raised this September at Prospera Place including a red WHL banner as league champions. I know, I know, we wanted the white one which is symbolic of Memorial Cup champions. Let's make a sixth appearance shortly and get it done!
  • I have had the privilege of attending five Memorial Cups with the Kelowna Rockets. This one in Quebec City will go down as the best ever. It edges out the 2004 tournament in Kelowna for several reasons. At the 04' tournament, I called every game which didn't allow me to really enjoy the night life and all of the other fabulous things outside of the arena that make the Memorial Cup such a special event. Don't get me wrong, I had to compose myself when Josh Gorges lifted the Memorial Cup over his head in celebration to the 66 hundred onlookers at Skyreach Place, (it was called Skyreach Place back then) but it was a hectic work week. Fulfilling but busy. 
  • Having attended the Memorial Cup in Quebec City in 2003, I will admit I was able to enjoy it more this time around. Twelve years ago I was a deer caught in headlights when it came to covering the event in the most efficient manner. It just seemed easier to cover this time around and experience has something to do with that. I was able to obtain the content I needed for a one hour pre-game show before every Rockets broadcast, yet I had the ability to enjoy the sights and sounds that Quebec City offers.
  • I never did get used to the Eastern zone time change. We would regularly hit the sheets at 3 am and had to bounce out of bed in order to catch a shuttle to Le Colisee for morning practices and interviews with the players. Afternoon naps were a part of the routine.   
  • Growing up loving hockey, I had a great appreciation for Le Colisee and the fact the Memorial Cup was the final sporting event ever in that historic building. Calling Sunday's game in the broadcast booth was an honour and a privilege that I will never forget. The press box was old, dirty, musty and oh so beautiful! I am grateful to have called Memorial Cup games in that building twice. It was so rewarding being a small part in the final hockey game there before Le Colisee feels the wrath of the wrecking ball later this summer.
  • What does the building mean to those in QC? Many volunteers that worked the games were crying as they exited the building. The ice plant was shut down once the game was over. No one will every skate on that ice surface again, which graced the likes of a young Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur.   
  • I just received word on the number of listeners who clicked on our AM 1150 media player to listen to Sunday's Memorial Cup final. The clicks were off the charts. Our media player was on fire. We had 22 times more traffic than normal. Thanks for listening. I guess radio isn't dead by a long shot. Those that believe it is are misguided. 
  • I keep telling people that the biggest difference from the 2003 tournament in Quebec City to 2015 was the language barrier. In 03', it was tough to move around the city while communicating in English. Quebec City is French speaking (don't change. It makes you glowingly unique) primarily but the number of people, whether in media or in restaurants, pubs or at a corner store had a good grasp of the English language. It made my trip so much more enjoyable and I think the locals got a kick when I attempted to speak their language. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention when I was taught French in grade seven. Why we started taking French in school that late is beyond me?
  • It was a busy week taking phone calls from colleagues across Western Canada inquiring if I could appear on their sports talk radio show for a bird's eye view on the atmosphere at the Memorial Cup. Radio stations in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa led the charge. They were all over it. The most mind blowing, or should I say disappointing reaction was the lack of interest from Vancouver media. I didn't hear a peep from anyone in Vancouver over the Rockets playoff run nor the Memorial Cup. Maybe they just tried to avoid me? If so, it worked. 
  • It makes you wonder how much of an impact Tyrell Goulbourne would have made at the Memorial Cup? A top nine forward, who essentially played on the teams number one line with Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier for the majority of the season, you would think his grit and speed would have been put to good use in the championship game.
  • The Rockets will return 21 of the 27 players that participated in the 2015 Memorial Cup. Sure, the team loses stars like Leon Draisaitl, Josh Morrissey, Madison Bowey, Chance Braid, Tyrell Goulbourne and Cole Martin, but a truck load of great talent returns at both ends of the ice.  Losing three marquee d-men seems like a massive hit, but honestly, the evolution of Lucas Johansen, Joe Gatenby and Devante Stephens was impressive. Stephens was on the ice when the game winning goal was scored in the Memorial Cup. I am not saying that to embarrass him, but pointing out that a 17 year-old (17 in hockey age) rookie was trusted in that position in the crucial overtime. All three played significant minutes against top notch competition during the playoff run and Memorial Cup. That experience is invaluable.    
  • Nick Merkley assured himself that he will be selected in the opening round of the NHL draft in Sunrise Florida after an excellent Memorial Cup. Merkley was a tournament all-star. If Merkley is indeed chosen in the opening round, it will be the first Kelowna Rockets forward taken since Scott Parker re-entered the draft and was plucked up by the Colorado Avalanche. 
  • One season does not make a player, nor does it make a coach. That said, it must open the conversation for head coach Dan Lambert to look at pro opportunities in the not so distant future. Lambert has more growing after a brief one year stint as a head coach in the WHL, but the future looks bright for the likeable players coach who will undoubtedly fast track his way to pro hockey. 
  • A nice message I received today on Facebook. A listener named Casey sent me this: "Hey Regan, just wanted to reach out and say although I am not a Rockets fan I check up on your blog almost daily. I enjoy reading it because it's always honest and unbiased, yet you still show that you care for your team. I have also been watching your WHL Live feeds for years and I will continue to do so in the future. You make the game sound exciting even when it's not. You are hands down the most exciting play by play man in the Dub! Keep it up. - die hard BWK fan from the Wheat City. P.S - "MERKLEY SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARS"
  • Kevin Parnell had a terrific week at the Memorial Cup. The part time member of the Kelowna Rockets, who works in the public relations department, was thrusted into full time duty by setting up interviews between the Rockets players and the various media. It was a busy ten days as he handled numerous requests, mostly all with a smile on his face. It was honestly nice to see him given the responsibility. If he stumbled, I didn't see it. As they say, don't let them see you sweat!!   
  • I celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary in Quebec City without my wife Diana. In this business, where travel is prevalent, it is nothing new. It's our normal. It is expected and my wife understands that anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions will be missed because of hockey. That said, it is time to make up for lost time with a nice weekend away at Veranda Beach in the Osoyoos area this week. A three bedroom cottage awaits and we are grateful to spend the weekend together. Thanks to Veranda Beach for working out the details. You should check it out. It is beautiful. A piece of heaven if you will. Click on the banner to the right and check out the resort yourself. In French it would be described as 'Spectaculaire'!   

Monday, June 1, 2015

No crying over spilled milk...OK, just a little

Lambert was a rock star with the media
  • So close, yet so far away. Those are the lyrics from a song written by Daryl Hall and John Oates. That phrase may best describe my feeling after the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 overtime loss last night in the Master Card Memorial Cup final. My belief was the Western Hockey League champions were the better team Sunday at the Colisee, but you often see in sports one team with glorious chances and is unable to score and the other is able to capitalize. It happens. It reoccurred in the championship game Sunday and the Oshawa Generals are Memorial Cup champions for the first time since 1990. It leaves an awful feeling in your gut because the Rockets were so close. I believe just one more goal would have done it for Dan Lambert’s crew. A Tyson Baillie goal (Baillie had two glorious chances) or Nick Merkley’s breakaway opportunity in the third period would have likely sealed it for a team that played so well. Honestly, a loss would be easier to take had the final outcome been 4-1 or 4-2 with an empty netter. It would have still left an empty feeling, but it would have been likely easier to swallow. That is what I’m trying to convince myself into believing anyway.
  • So much hard work goes into building a champion. So many games are played and so many miles on the bus are spent in order to become the only two teams standing in the Memorial Cup final. My hope was to witness a smiling, puffy eyed Dan Lambert hugging Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey on the ice surface in jubilation after a thrilling win of major juniors hockey’s top prize. I wanted Cole Martin, Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey, Chance Braid, Leon Draisaitl and Tyrell Goulbourne (despite being injured) to end their junior careers with a win in their final game. It would have been a great way for those six to cap of their careers in the Western Hockey League.
  • This blog post can’t be all negative. Why? It was a terrific season. As mentioned, this was a glorious ride to a WHL title. There were so many thrilling moments. There were so many great goals. There were so many obstacles to overcome. It was not a smooth path towards being a goal away from winning it all. It was that bumpy ride that made it so rewarding. The 53 win season. The massive trades for Draisaitl and Morrissey. The high expectations for the team that followed and the injuries to Rourke Chartier, Josh Morrissey and Justin Kirkland. Who can forget the loss of Jackson Whistle to an appendectomy and the fear that back up’s Michael Herringer and Jake Morrissey couldn’t carry the mail? It all went down yet they just kept winning.
  • Leon Draisaitl came as advertised. The 19 year-old is a big time player. The German was named the WHL Playoff MVP and then turned his game up further by being named the Memorial Cup MVP. While not on the NHL stage yet, Draisaitl yearns to win. The Oilers first round pick was emotionally upset after Sunday’s loss, which again punctuated the point that he cared. Draisaitl cared about his teammates. Draisaitl cared about Kelowna. Draisaitl showed his character, his composure during often lengthy painful interviews with the media and wasn’t afraid to show off his dynamic skills with the puck. Was he not the best passer in Rockets colours since Colin Long? What will always stand out for me after a 7-3 win in the semifinals was Driasaitl standing in front of the media and speaking glowingly about the play of Cole Linaker, Chance Braid, Rodney Southam and a cast of teammates characterized as foot soldiers. Terrific player? Yes! Terrific person? Without a doubt.  
  • Jackson Whistle. Outside of Draisaitl, was the 19 year-old not the best Rockets player at the Memorial Cup? Whistle was solid throughout the tournament and showed how mentally strong that aspect of his game has become. Whistle was often bad mouthed by outsiders who thought he wasn’t good enough to lead the team to a WHL championship. Many went as far to suggest Bruce Hamilton should have gone after an Eric Comrie or Tristan Jarry to solidify the most important position in hockey. Egg was thrown in his face after being pulled in the first three playoff series before closing things out in a four game sweep against Brandon in the league final. If Whistle heard the naysayers, he did a tremendous of blocking it out in order to perform at the ultimate level.
  • Not like I had any doubt that Dillon Dube will be a tremendous player, but this kid is going to be a stud. The 16 year-old isn’t ordinary. Could he be as good as Nick Merkley at the same age? Injured for the majority of the season, Dube made an impact every time he was on the ice and the future is so bright for the likable player. Dube isn’t as aggressive as Merkley when hunting down pucks, but is shooting ability/accuracy and offensive awareness is above average. I think he would make a great captain down the road.
  • Nick Merkley’s stock for June’s draft must have taken a turn for the better following his showing at the Memorial Cup. Named an all-star in Quebec City, the 17 year-old never quit…not once. Merkley is a hunter. The Calgary resident takes great pleasure in three things; hunting down pucks, setting up teammates and laying body on an opponent. What a gifted player, who is now off to the NHL Combine in Toronto.  
  • Dan Lambert. What a rock star he was this week with the media. Were any of the four coaches at the Memorial Cup as relaxed and cordial with the press than Lambert? He was a delight. In fact, he was better than Ryan Huska, and Huska is a dream to deal with. The St. Malo Manitoba resident’s ability to speak fluent French only made him more of a media darling. Lambert was often seen smiling and joking around with the media, which in my view carried over to his teams’ demeanor in the pressure packed tournament. Never uptight outwardly, I think it allowed his players to play a calm, controlled game even when they experienced rough waters during its WHL playoff run and experience at the Memorial Cup. Unlike Ryan Huska, who spent seven years behind the Rockets bench as head coach, Lambert won’t be waiting long before getting a pro opportunity?      
  • How will I view the 2014-2015 edition of the Kelowna Rockets? Regardless of the outcome at the Memorial Cup, they will go down as one of the best teams the organization has ever iced. That tends to happen when you win a WHL title, but they had the ability to play at a high tempo with outlandish skill, solid defence and incredible coaching. While coming away empty handed from Quebec City, the 2014-2015 Kelowna Rockets played 101 games (pre-season/regular season/playoffs/Memorial Cup) and came within a whisker of winning it all. They gave themselves a chance, which all CHL teams ultimately wanted when the puck dropped back in September.


  

Friday, May 29, 2015

Debris and Rockets flying in MC semi final win

Aaron Bell Photo - CHL
  • What a game. What a result. What an opportunity. The Kelowna Rockets are off to the 2015 Master Card Memorial Cup after a dominating 9-3 win Friday night over the Quebec Remparts. While the host team scored the opening goal just three minutes into the first period, the Western Hockey League Champions took over and scored four times in the second and four more times in the third period in the rout. Justin Kirkland, who has been extremely quiet in this tournament, erupted for two goals and two assists in the win and allowed coach Dan Lambert to pencil him with centerman Rourke Chartier to create another lethal duo.  Lambert started the game with Leon Driasaitl centring Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier, but once Kirkland showed he was going to contribute, Lambert made the switch by putting the Rockets leading goal scorer (Chartier) with the Nashville Predators third round draft pick.
  • Two unsung hero's in this game. The first would go to Riley Stadel, who played a terrific opening period and filled in wonderful on the wing on a line with Draisaitl and Merkley. Was Stadel not the best player for the Rockets in the first period? If not, darn close. The second unsung hero award goes to Rodney Southam. Southam can fight, but clearly went up a class when he dropped the gloves with Yanick Turcotte 13 seconds into the game. Turcotte had 21 fighting majors this season. He is the Remparts designated tough guy. Rodney Southam is not. Chance Braid is. That said, Southam answered the bell and took some solid shots yet didn't quite in the spirited tilt. Head Coach Dan Lambert always talks about sacrificing for the greater good of the team. Did anyone sacrifice more than Southam in that fight? 
  • It was nice to see Kirkland score, but it was equally good to have Rourke Chartier find the back of the net - twice. The two-on-one goal with Tyson Baillie was impressive considering the 19 year-old looked like he had ran out of room before sliding it past Fucale. What was more impressive was the shot he fired high over Fucale's glove hand side in the third period which appeared to hit the cross bar and go in. Not many junior goalies will make a save with that velocity and pin point accuracy. 
  • The Rockets power play was impressive. While ending the game going 3 for 6, that statistic was skewed with two late power play chances with the game out of reach and the Rockets essentially killing the clock. It was a threat when the game was in doubt and proved deadly when Leon Draisaitl scored 17 seconds into the second period to give the WHL Champions its first lead of the game. Draisaitl was named the games first star with a goal and two assists but could have at least two more goals. A difference maker he was all night long.
  • How about the beer cans/bottles and popcorn that were thrown on the ice after a non-call against Madison Bowey in the second period? Fans began littering the ice with everything in their hands, which included paper noise makers. It was a spectacle I haven't seen in years. It looked like a hockey game from the 80's. It was funny and disturbing at the same time. Player safety is the first thing that entered my mind. What also amazed me is the officiating crew, which consisted of two QMJHL referees, thankfully, allowed the play to continue for a long period of time. Dillon Dube could have scored by firing the puck on net, where it would have deflected off a beer can, through a maze of flying popcorn and past Fucale.  
  • The nine goals the Rockets scored were two off the Memorial Cup record of 11, which was most recently set by the 1980 Regina Pats.  
  • The Rockets advance to the Memorial Cup final against the Oshawa Generals, the same team that beat them 2-1 in the round robin. It marks the second time the Rockets meet an OHL Champion in the final game, after losing to Windsor in the 2009 championship in Rimouski. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Rockets can see the finish line in the distance


  • The Kelowna Rockets can see the finish line. It is just two games away. The Rockets will face the winner of tonight's tie breaking game at the 2015 Memorial Cup between the Quebec Remparts and the Rimouski Oceanic. I can't see how the Remparts can rebound after being dominated in every facet of the game last night in a 4-0 shut-out loss. The QMJHL Champions won three games against the Remparts in an epic seven game final series, all at the Colisee, so home ice advantage means absolutely nothing for Quebec. That said, this is junior hockey where a team can look unenthused one night and come back the next and look like gang busters.
  • This is what Dan Lambert said to me this morning when I asked about the finish line to the season just two short games away. "I really want two games, I know that. Our real focus is to have three solid periods tomorrow night".    
  • Whoever the Rockets face in tomorrow's semi final, the WHL champs will face an opponent playing its third game in three nights. Dan Lambert told the media this morning that isn't necessarily an advantage. "I think we don't need to concern ourselves with other teams. At this time of the year everybody is going to show up regardless. We have to make sure we are ready to play. That is our focus".  
  • Generating shots on goal for the WHL Champions hasn't been easy. The Rockets manufactured just 21 shots in a 2-1 loss to Oshawa. The team had 36 against Rimouski in a 7-3 win and fired 29 pucks at the Quebec Remparts goal in game one of the tournament. "It has been easy for Oshawa it seems. You have three other teams that can check. They have all done a great job of blocking shots as well".
  • Jackson Whistle caught the eye of the media today when he revealed he was born in Thunder Bay Ontario. Whistle's father David has coached around the world too, including Northern Ireland with the Belfast Giants.
  • Sometime losing weight is a good thing for a junior player. That is Josh Morrissey's theory on why he is a better player. The 20 year-old Kelowna Rockets defenceman told the media today he is lighter after changing his diet more than a year ago. The Calgary resident wants to pattern himself after Chicago Blackhawks rearguard Duncan Keith and believes that having a lighter frame allows him to get out of the way quicker when large forwards attempt to check him.
  • Several media members noticed that Morrissey rarely uses the glass to chip the puck out of his own zone. Morrissey prefers to stick handle away from trouble and make an outlet pass. Coach Lambert says he doesn't want his d-men to use the glass - ever - if they don't have too. He wants to see his blue liners make plays with the puck. Morrissey had only one minor penalty with the Rockets this season for delay of game. It happened when he swatted the puck out of mid air with his glove in his own zone and it went over the glass. Morrissey has never fired the puck over the glass with his stick while in the d-zone in an attempt to get away from the pressure of an on-coming forward. 
  • It has been a good week for interviews on our Memorial Cup broadcasts on AM 1150. We have spoken to Dan Marr of NHL Central Scouting, RJ Broadhead of Sportsnet, Merrick Sutter from the Red Deer Rebels Memorial Cup committee, Bob Green of the Edmonton Oilers and former NHL first round pick Todd Warriner, who is a former teammate of Rockets head coach Dan Lambert. What is on the menu for game four tomorrow night? We have Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall and a nice conversation with Oliver resident and Sportsnet broadcaster John Shannon. My goal is also to hunt down WHL referee Brett Iverson. Iverson is making his second straight appearance at the Memorial Cup and is the only official from the West at the tournament. 
  • I don't take life to seriously. Case in point, I have a few video clips up on our AM 1150 Facebook page you may want to check out. They are intended to be fun. Life is just too serious. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Smothering defence

Photo credit - Vincent Ethier

  • Kelowna Rockets head coach Dan Lambert called it a 'smothering defence' a day after his hockey club suffered a 2-1 loss to the Oshawa Generals at the 2015 Memorial Cup. Lambert say the Ontario Hockey League champions "Do it the best" of any team his hockey club has faced this season. The Generals played a tactical game to perfection last night in the one goal win, which sends the G-Men (can we call them that or is that only used for the Vancouver Giant?) to Sunday's final. The Rockets hope to get another crack at them, but must wait to see if the Quebec Remparts handle the Rimouski Oceanic tonight which will determine if a tie breaker or a semi final game will be played on Friday.

    • The Rockets struggled mightily to get quality shots on Generals goaltender Ken Appelby in the opening two periods. With just ten shots combined, it was amazing to think the WHL champions were within one shot of tying it. Did the Rockets have trouble adjusting to the defensive style the Generals were implementing or were they slightly intimidated by a much larger opponent? Whatever it was, it took two periods to figure it out and by then it created a third period rally with an urgency level where it needed to be at puck drop. 
    • Dan Lambert was asked if he considered pulling Jackson Whistle late in the game with his team trailing by a goal and awarded a five-on-three. Lambert says he considered it, but looking back, he was happy with the offensive chances his team created in the dying seconds of that 89 second power play chance. The Rockets stormed the net and had several good looks on Appelby, who stood tall despite the relentless pressure. Tyson Baillie and Nick Merkley had the best chances but 'puck luck' was nowhere to be found. 
    • The most snake bitten player was Rourke Chartier. The 48 goal man was stopped by the paddle of Appelby's stick (pictured) in the first period on what appeared to be a sure goal. The 19 year-old then hit the cross bar late in the third period when he attempted to go high over the glove hand side of the veteran goalie. Chartier has yet to score in three games at the Memorial Cup. The good news is the chances are there. The bad news? No finish, but that will come.
    • Gage Quinney has been a nice story at the Memorial Cup. The 19 year-old has four goals at the tournament and is proving to be one of the best players in the four team circuit. Quinney has now played 56 games with the Rockets (regular season/playoffs/Memorial Cup) and has scored 20 times, has assisted on 28 goals and has collected 48 points. 
    • One goal losses are uncommon for the Rockets. They played in just seven-one goal games this season. They played in just four road games where they manufactured just a single goal. In those four games, it should come as no surprise that they lost all of them.
    • Dillon Dube continues to impress. The 16 year-old had our hit of the game when he applied contact early in the first period. While that is all well and good, should a rookie who is undersized right now because of his youth be leading the hit parade? Dube also had a solid chance in the third period when he found himself in the slot with only Appelby in his way. Dube had to fire the puck off quickly with Appelby making the blocker save.
    • I think we need to mention Jackson's Whistle's play at this tournament. The 19 year-old has answered the bell. Whistle doesn't make it look easy, is clearly the most unorthodox of the four goaltenders we've seen at this tournament, but the dude keeps the puck out of the net. Whether he implements the poke check or elects to go old school when he makes a double pad stack save, the West Kelowna resident has had a solid tournament. 
    • Cole Cassels? Solid player. The Canucks have a good one there. I hate to use coaching speak but he is truly a 200 foot player. Great at face-offs, heightened awareness defensively and can score. For my money, the third rounder was the best skater on the ice last night. 
    • What is the general feeling around the team today? They would love to be 3-0 and off to the Memorial Cup final like the Oshawa Generals, but taking the glass half full philosophy, they should be cautiously optimistic about a likely date with the Quebec Remparts in the semi finals. The Rockets lost to the host team last Friday in a game where the WHL champs were not very good. They would love another crack at them, and with some luck and better execution, which would allow them to meet up with Oshawa one more time for all the marbles.

    Tuesday, May 26, 2015

    That's more like it!!


    • Now that's more like it. The Kelowna Rockets showed their true colours last night with a dominating 7-3 win over the Quebec Junior Hockey League Champion Rimouski Oceanic. The Rockets exploded out of the gates with a quick 3-0 lead before the Oceanic made things interesting with back-to-back goals to make it a one goal game. But on this night the Rockets were on their game and scored three unanswered goals for the most convincing win of the four games we've seen at the 2015 Master Card Memorial Cup.
    • While Leon Draisaitl and Nick Merkley both had two goals and an assist in the win, Gage Quinney's play with Tyson Baillie and Dillon Dube really stood out. Quinney has been a valuable player, who's skill level was untapped in his time in Prince Albert. In his time with the Rockets, the soft spoken Las Vegas resident has been terrific. Quinney's two goals came in the same arena that his father Ken spent some time as a member of the Quebec Nordiques. Ken Quinney played 30 games with the Nordiques in 1986-87 and 1987-88.
    • The Rockets scored their second shorthanded goal of the tournament when Leon Draisaitl completed a highlite reel move in the third period while skating down the right side. The 19 year-old cut wide on the Rimouski player, shielded away the defender with one hand before roofing a shot pasty Oceanic goalie Phillipe Desrosiers. The goal made it 7-3, but was clearly the best goal of the game and maybe the tournament. 
    • The Rockets power play struck once in five chances. The team now has three power play goals in two games at the Memorial Cup and has the best unit of the four teams competing in the ten day event. 
    • Draisaitl has goals in six straight games if you include goals in four straight against Brandon in the WHL Championship series.
    • Up next is a date with the undefeated Oshawa Generals. The Generals, who won two fewer but lost two fewer games than the Rockets clash at the Colisee in a match up that will likely witness the smallest crowd of the tournament. With no QMJHL rep on the ice, interest in this game you would suspect locally will be  very low. Last night's crowd saw the smallest crowd with 6,981 patrons.   

    Monday, May 25, 2015

    Must win? Pretty much!

    • Leon Draisaitl has done more than his share of interviews at the 2015 Memorial Cup in Quebec City. When it comes to any media availability involving the Kelowna Rockets, the most ask for player is the 19 year-old Edmonton Oilers first rounder. The German has been asked endless questions about starting the season with the Oilers and the new regime which includes GM Peter Chiarelli, head coach Todd McLellan and what will be Edmonton's first pick in next months draft, Connor McDavid.  Draisaitl is taking it all in stride, but honestly, I feel for the guy. It is all about being a pro and he will face the media hoards when he plays in the NHL, but the pressure to perform at a high level and then not misstep when you are being asked questions by the media can't be easy.  
    • Much of the talk over the last couple of days has been the Rockets lack of discipline in a 4-3 opening game loss to the Quebec Remparts. The ten minute misconduct Draisaitl received was very, 'over the top' officiating. That would never be called in the WHL, but hey, this isn't the WHL. A team must adapt to its surroundings and the Rockets will be much better in that area tonight against Rimouski,
    • Speaking of Rimouski, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Champions provide the next in what is a challenge every time two teams at this tournament take to the ice. Both are winless are identical 4-3 losses. Rimouski fell victim to Ontario Hockey League Champion Oshawa in its first game Saturday night. Both the Rockets and Oceanic need a win to stay alive in this event.
    • Is this a game seven for the Rockets tonight? Possibly. I think they should treat it that way. A win gets them back in it though, and gives them no less than a tie breaker on Thursday to work themselves out of a deep hole. If the WHL Champions can win tonight and tomorrow against the Oshawa Generals, then they may be the toast of the tournament with a shot at a birth in Sunday's final. The next two days will answer a lot of questions on if the WHL champs have a shot at winning this entire thing.
    • It was suggested today at the media conference that the Rockets haven't faced this type of 'must win situation' in the 2015 playoffs. Head Coach Dan Lambert was quick to point out that they did in the Western Conference final against Portland. The Rockets lost game three (7-3) and fell behind two games to one heading into a game four the next night in Portland. The Rockets would rally for a 3-2 win on goals from Leon Draisaitl, Chance Braid and Tyrell Goulbourne. Jackson Whistle was the first star with a 40 save performance. 
    • For clarification, if the Rockets should lose tonight, it allows OHL Champion Oshawa to advance to the finals. That means Oshawa could do no worse than 2-1 in the three game round robin after beating both Quebec and Rimouski. 
    • All three games at this tournament have been decided by a goal. It is that close.
    • Joining me in the broadcast booth as my colour analyst for the remainder of the tournament is Red Deer Rebels play-by-play man Cam Moon. Moon is regarded as one of the top callers of the game that we have in our 22 team circuit. I appreciate Warren Henderson of the Capital News for sitting in with me Friday. I also want to send a shout-out to my regular colour analyst Gord McGarva, who was unable to make the trip but is always on my mind. Gordie would love to be here to cheer the boys on.
    • The three stars are selected here in Quebec by NHL Central Scouting. You will hear from NHLCS Director Dan Marr in our second intermission.

    Saturday, May 23, 2015

    Quick hitters

    Tomas Soustal playing goal after practice

    • The Kelowna Rockets were fined 500.00 dollars today by the Canadian Hockey League for 'negative comments' that were made by a member of the organization following a 4-3 loss to the Quebec Remparts. The comments likely came as a result of Leon Draisaitl's ten minute misconduct at the end of the second period. 
    • The media were attempting to bait Kelowna Rockets head coach Dan Lambert into commenting about the ten minute misconduct handed to forward Leon Draisaitl at the conclusion of the second period. The resulting penalty hurt the visitors, who had to play the first half of the third period without its marquee player. One reporter suggested that the fans come to the Memorial Cup to watch the best players perform on the ice, not see them sitting in the penalty box for simply having harsh words towards an opponent. Lambert did mention that Sydney Crosby doesn't receive a ten minute misconduct at the NHL level for verbally abusing an opponent. 
    • Best quote from the morning media availability came from Coach Lambert. A reporter was fashioning a makeshift six inch stick with his recording device taped to it during a media scrum following the Rocket Saturday morning skate. Before answering any questions, Lambert looked at the device and jokingly said, "You probably got beat with one of those"?
    • The Kelowna Rockets held an optional skate in Quebec City today and the majority of the teams top end players took a pass and rested. One player who elected to skate was Rourke Chartier. It may seem like no big deal to the average observer, but it impressed me. Chartier is a true warrior who logs massive minutes yet shows up for practice. How can he not wear the 'C' when he played his 19 year-old season in 2015-2016? If you are looking for someone to lead by example, Chartier is your man.
    • While it's mainly business at the Memorial Cup for the Western Hockey League Champions, back up goaltender Michael Herringer spent some time after practice playing the shooter while forward Tomas Soustal put on Herringer's mask, glove and blocker and played goalie after the skate was over. Check out of the photo above for evidence.
    • Defenceman Mitch Wheaton left his mark at practice today. The 19 year-old, who was a healthy scratch in game one of the Memorial Cup, took a shot at practice and shattered the glass. Fortunately, the on ice session was at a nearby practice facility.

    Friday, May 22, 2015

    Whistle solid in teams shaky start

    Joe Gatenby battles in front of Zach Fucale - CHL Images

    • The Kelowna Rockets wasted a great effort from goaltender Jackson Whistle. The 19 year-old was the best player on the ice for the Western Hockey League champions Friday night in a 4-3 loss to the Quebec Remparts. The West Kelowna resident made timely stops against Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair in the one goal loss. The poke check against Duclair was brilliant early in the third period when the Remparts were holding a 2-1 lead, but a lazy back check allowed Ryan Graves to score a shorthanded goal to give the home team a 3-1 advantage. Whistle was so good, even leading Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Playoff MVP Adam Erne couldn't get a puck past Whistle until the undrafted goalie was on the bench for the extra attacker. It was only then that the Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick scored into an empty net for the eventual game winner. Whistle's effort mirrored that of first star Zach Fucale, who made 26 saves in the victory.
    • The Rockets looked rusty. No surprise considering they hadn't played after having eight full days off after a series sweep over Brandon. The team wasn't sharp and the Remparts had strong looks in the offensive zone in the opening period specifically. It could have been 2-0 for Quebec after the opening period had Anthony Duclair finish off a gift wrapped turnover by Rockets captain Madison Bowey in front of his own net. The Arizona Coyotes product skated in all alone from the hash marks and beat Whistle with a wicked move but couldn't finish off the play on the forehand deke. Duclair ended the game with only one assist, but the 19 year-old was awfully dangerous all night and was the scariest Remparts forward. In my opinion, Duclair was a smidgen better than teammate Vladimir Tkachev, who was pretty darn crafty with the puck too.
    • The Rockets played from behind all night, which is tough to do when playing against elite competition. Down 3-1 early in the third period, Gage Quinney made it a one goal game before the Rockets again went down by two with Adam Erne's empty netter. Leon Draisaitl made it a one goal game again with a power play goal with 36 seconds left in the game. 
    • Leon Draisaitl had a really good game. I thought he made an impact every time he was on the ice. That said, the 19 year-old took a costly ten minute misconduct at the twenty minute mark of the second period, which meant he was lost to his team for the first half of the third period when they needed him the most. Draisaitl, including a four game sweep against Brandon in the WHL final, has now found the back of the net in five straight games.
    • The loss snapped a seven game winning streak for the WHL champions, who hadn't lost since game three of the Western Conference semi finals.
    • Positives? The power play went 2 for 6, but did give up a costly shorthanded goal. The unit has been quiet in the playoffs, but had some good looks in the Memorial Cup opener.
    • Negatives? Discipline. It has to be better in a tournament like this. If the other team wants to yap, let them and keep your mouth shut.     

    Thursday, May 21, 2015

    Back to where it all began


  • Arriving at the Colisee in Quebec City brought back great memories for Kelowna Rockets head coach Dan Lambert. Like a familiar friend, Lambert spoke glowingly about his time in the 15 thousand seat stadium that was once the home of the NHL's Quebec Nordiques from 1972 to 1995. Lambert made his debut in the Colisee after being drafted by the team in the 6th round in 1989. The iconic building, which is showing its age, will be demolished in September. The Quebec Remparts, who make the Colisee their home now, will move over to a brand new 18 thousand seat facility called the Videotron Centre. The hope in Quebec City is the 400 million dollar arena will find a new tenant in the way of an NHL team. It is a matter of when not if.  
  • While the memories were not quite as vivid for me when I entered the Colisee, many things looked similar after my last visit in 2003. It was the Kelowna Rockets first Memorial Cup appearance against teams like Kitchener, the Quebec Remparts and Hull in 03. Very little has changed in 12 years. The broadcast location is the same. The entrance is no different. The arena has a certain charm to it despite a tired appearance. The building reeks of great battles won and lost on the ice and the vastness of the facility from high above still has that feeling of a pro venue without the pro amenities that teams are now accustomed too. To think, outside of a rock concert with Metallica before its demolition, this is the last major event at the Colisee. It is a privilege to be here for major junior hockey's ultimate prize.
  • The flight directly to Quebec City was without incident which is always good to report. The most eventful part of the flight was seeing another jet flying past us in the other direction cruising at 37 thousand feet. Seeing the other jet in the distance, I had a better appreciation for how fast we were moving. The flight from Kelowna to Quebec City took 4 and a half hours.
  • After checking into the hotel in Quebec City, the Kelowna media core quickly took a shuttle to the Colisee where the coaches of all four teams were involved in a media conference. To be honest, little is ever said by the coaches but it is an official 'kick-off' to the 10 day tournament. As expected, many of the questions and answers were in French with Rockets head coach Dan Lambert speaking frequently over the 10 minute event. Quebec Remparts coach Philippe Boucher is fluent in English, having played in the NHL with Buffalo, LA, Dallas and Pittsburgh. Boucher is a 1st round NHL pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 1991.     
  • The Rockets were on the ice for a brief workout Thursday afternoon, but they were unable to skate at the Colisee. The reason? The new Memorial Cup logos were painted into place after Monday's conclusion of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final, so they needed to dry. That meant all on-ice workouts took place at an adjacent arena. I think it is important though that the Rockets get one quick skate in at the Colisee before puck drop tomorrow to get used to the boards, which in a building of that age, could create some odd bounces that the visitors need to be aware of.
  • Leon Draisaitl met with the media today in Quebec City. Much of the questioning revolved around him playing 37 games with the Edmonton Oilers. We have covered this story to nauseum on our broadcasts, but it is obviously of interest to visiting media, which is understandable. Draisaitl is one of two players at the Memorial Cup to play in an NHL game. The other is Quebec Remparts forward Anthony Duclair. Duclair played 18 games with the New York Rangers before being send back to junior hockey. Draisaitl and Duclair played against each other November 9th at Madison Square Garden. The Oilers won that game 3-1.
  • A great quote from Rockets head coach Dan Lambert at today's media conference. A member of the media asked him if Joe Sakic was a teammate of his when Lambert won the Memorial Cup in 1989 with the Swift Current Broncos. Lambert said, "No. We had to trade him away in order to win it". The comment gathered a large laugh from the assembled media who watched Sakic become a NHL super star in his seven seasons with the Quebec Nordiques.
  • It is only day two, but the shuttle services provided at the Memorial Cup is outstanding. The shuttle service allows teams and media to essentially move about the city without the use of a cab. A van is typically waiting outside a hotel where a driver will take you where you desire. I am so glad I didn't rent a vehicle. It really isn't necessary.
  • If you live in Quebec City, you speak French. It is the common language shared in these parts. That shouldn't come as a surprise. What has changed since my last visit in 2003 is the number of business people that do have a good grasp of the English language though. An increase in tourism may be a factor into why this city seems to be a little easier to get around in as a Western Canadian this time around.   
  • This is the third time the Rockets have competed for the Memorial Cup in the province of Quebec. It marks the first time the hotel that the team is staying at could be considered above average. I don't know this for fact, but I am assuming the WHL did a greater job in making sure the league representative was taken care of with a higher level of accommodation than what we witnessed in 2003 and again in 2009. Not like the hotels were poor, but they weren't exactly the Crown Plaza in Portland or the Delta Bow Valley in Calgary. 
  • A media scrum often provides some interesting questions. One reporter asked Dan Lambert why his team has no players numbers that exceed 31. Thirty one is worn by Jake Morrissey. The answer? Owner Bruce Hamilton is a traditionalist. The highest sweater number worn at the Memorial Cup is #96, fashioned by Quebec Remparts forward Zachery Moody.
  • Wednesday, May 20, 2015

    Rockets day in pictures

    Rookie Jordan Borstmayer doing grade 12 Calculus at 37,000 feet
    Gage Quinney getting some rest on the charter.
    Dan Lambert doing video work on aircraft.
    This is what they play for - the Memorial Cup!
    Centre ice at Colisee

    A high shot of the ice surface from the nose bleeds
    Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey has made the trip.
    Captain Madison Bowey heading onto aircraft bound for QC.

    High over the wing of the Rockets charter.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Martin reflects/neck guards/Lambert and Frey hope to create more magic at MC.

    Josh Morrissey and teammates wearing neck guards
    • Cole Martin was taking it all in. The 21 year-old defenceman was smelling the roses one final time as the Kelowna Rockets practiced for the final time this morning at Prospera Place. The WHL Champions will leave on a charter tomorrow morning for the 2015 Master Card Memorial Cup in Quebec City. It was the last time the Arlington, Texas resident will skate in Kelowna. In a week and half, Martin's time in the Western Hockey League will be over. Martin spent four great seasons in Kelowna and transformed into a player that only Rockets fans truly appreciated. Showing his maturity, Martin took in every moment in his final season of junior hockey and will leave with no regrets. Martin can go out his way. A WHL Champion and potentially a Memorial Cup Champion. Former team-mates Carter Rigby and Colton Heffley, who would love to be in Martin's skates, were not afforded the same luxury. 
    • It was an upbeat practice at Prospera Place this morning as the coaches kept the players sharp heading into the biggest tournament of their lives. The pace was quick. The smiles were evident and the mood seems lite with the Western Hockey League Champions. But don't be fooled into thinking the 'Angry Ogopogo's' are not a focused bunch. When the puck drops Friday night at the Colisee, look for the Western representative to be ready to prove that they are worthy champions. They have a massive goal in front of them. The 2015 Kelowna Rockets will try to win the Memorial Cup in the province of Quebec for the first time since the 1994 Kamloops Blazers accomplished the feat. The 1994 Blazers included former Kelowna Rockets head coach Ryan Huska.
    • The one thing that stood out for me at practice today was the neck guards the players were wearing. It is mandatory equipment at the Memorial Cup. I spoke to defenceman Josh Morrissey about them (pictured right) and the 20 year-old says they don't bother him. "We had to wear them at the World Juniors the last couple of years so it is no big deal to me. The last time we wore them full time was in our last year in midget. We have worn them all this week so we are used to them".
    • Watch Josh Morrissey's active stick. Is anyone better at defending with it than the Winnipeg Jets 1st round pick. 
    • Head Coach Dan Lambert is looking forward to returning to Quebec City, the starting point of his NHL career. Lambert made his Quebec Nordiques debut in the final home game at the Colisee in 1991, the last game that Guy Lafleur played in the NHL. Oddly enough, Lambert's first NHL game came against the Montreal Canadiens, the team Lafleur was with for 14 seasons.
    • Kelowna Rockets Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey will be in Quebec City for the Memorial Cup. Frey was unsure if he would attend until Lambert personally asked Frey to be there. Frey was an assistant coach to Lambert when the two were part of the Swift Current Broncos organization in 1989, the year they won the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon. Now the two are attempting to win the Cup as members of the coaching/management staff. 
    • I will be rooming in Quebec City with fellow media colleague Doyle Potenteau of the Kelowna Daily Courier. If everything goes according to plan, we will be spending the next 12 days with one another. Wish us luck that we don't tear each other's eyes out at tournaments end.  
    • The Rockets are making their fifth appearance at the Memorial Cup, with three of them played in the province of Quebec. At the 2003 tournament, oddly enough in Quebec City, the team had a record of 1 and 3 and were 2 and 2 at the 2009 Memorial Cup in Rimouski. Add those two tournament records together and the Rockets are 3 and 5 in eight games in Province de Quebec.
    • The French media attending the tournament in Quebec City are going to love Lambert. How many times do you have a French speaking coach from the Western Hockey League representative? At the 2009 tournament in Rimouski, the only Rockets representative with a good grasp of the language was forward Spencer Main. Main was often seen doing interviews with French language television.

    Friday, May 15, 2015

    Quick thoughts


    • Have you come down from that high after the Kelowna Rockets WHL Championship win Wednesday night over the Brandon Wheat Kings? People are still talking about it, and rightfully so. It was a six year wait between championships and people in these parts were hoping that the regular season success in 2013-2014 wouldn't end up in playoff failure this time around. Thankfully it didn't. 
    • Dan Lambert delivered the goods in his first season behind the Rockets bench, but he didn't hesitate in thanking Ryan Huska. I thought it was cool when Lambert thanked 'Husk' on the TV broadcast following the game. Lambert and Huska were inseparable when they worked together and the two had many conversations during the season, even though Huska was miles away in Adirondack. It shows no disrespect towards Lambert's current coaching staff, who did a fantastic job as a support to the first year head coach. Huska knew many of the current roster players so it only made sense for Lambert to get an outside opinion. You need to use outside resources if they are a phone call away. Lambert exercised that option and should be applauded for that.  
    • What role did Dan Bylsma play in all of this? Remember when the NHL coach spent time with the team in early March? Was he at anyway responsible for the turnaround in the penalty killing unit, which was just average during the regular season? At first I thought he had done some damage as the team didn't play very well upon his departure. I am sure the 'tweaks' he made were another reason why the Rockets are now WHL Champs!
    • My good friend Doyle Potenteau of the Kelowna Daily Courier mentioned this and I wanted to repeat it here on my blog. The Brandon Wheat Kings showed great class in the final 30 odd seconds of game four by simply allowing the Rockets to run out the clock and enjoy the celebration. No late hits. No pushing and shoving at the buzzer. The Wheat Kings lost with class/dignity. That all starts from the top with one man - Kelly McCrimmon.
    • It was awfully amazing to see this team win without having several key players in the line up for the long run through the playoffs. The team played without Josh Morrissey, Rourke Chartier, Gage Quinney and Tyrell Goulbourne for significant stretches and still won. These four players are not secondary citizens. They are first or second line contributors that would seriously handcuff any team if they were out of the line up. Depth prevailed and was clearly on display over the 19 game playoff run.
    • How about the officiating in the WHL final? How about the officiating in game four? Sure, the odd call was missed but I thought they did a terrific job. Again, they kept the whistles in the pockets and let the two teams play. Excellent work in my opinion.  How many penalties were called in a scoreless tie in the third period? One. A slash. Jeff Ingram and Brett Iverson....terrific work gentlemen by not being the focal point.  
    • Cole Linaker had one point in this series. The 19 year-old, who was a horse on the penalty killing unit, collected an assist on Leon Draisaitl's game winner shorthanded. I love the way he plays. No flash and dash in his game. 
    • Does anyone hunt down pucks better than Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley? Quit is not in their vocabulary.
    • I think the talk about the Rockets inside job to obtain Leon Draisaitl is bogus. It is all about contacts and connections in the hockey world. If you have those relationships you use them. Does Portland have connections and a pipeline to European born players? Does Kelly McCrimmon have an inside edge on Manitoba born players that allows him to make smart, calculated moves at the bantam draft table? Do the Calgary Hitmen have inroads to obtain solid Russian born players? The Oilers wanted Draisaitl in a good spot. They were familar with Bruce Hamilton and felt comfortable that Draisaitl would prosper here. Was Matt Dumba shopped around the WHL when the Minnesota Wild wanted to send him back to junior? Likely not. The Wild wanted him to go to a contender and the Rebels and Winterhawks made it happen.
    • The last WHL team to win the Memorial Cup when it was hosted in Quebec was the 1994 Kamloops Blazers. Who was on that team? An 18 year-old by the name of Ryan Huska.

    Thursday, May 14, 2015

    16 and 3 adds up to Ed Chynoweth Cup!!!

    2015 WHL Champions - Marissa Baecker


  • Shocked. Amazed. Elated. Those are just some of the feelings after the Kelowna Rockets series sweep of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League final. I believed the Rockets would win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, but like all of you, not in a four game sweep. The team just got better as time moved along. Credit to the coaches and players for coming together for the common good and peaking at just the right time. I remember all of the struggles that went on following the acquisition of Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey in January. Did the trades upset the apple cart? Was all team chemistry lost? I was thinking it. Maybe even the players were questioning it too? Regardless, they came together, put ego's aside and turned into a powerhouse team that wouldn't be derailed, even against their playoff nemesis, the Portland Winterhawks.
  • A quick thought on what that playoff series win over the Winterhawks meant. It meant a ton for the players and for the entire organization. In fact, some thanks must be given to the Winterhawks for pushing the Rockets the way they did in the six game series. By playing with pace and skating with a high degree of tempo, the Western Conference Championship series prepared the eventually Western Conference Champions for the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Rockets confidence sky-rocketed as a result of that series win and the mental edge of feeling unstoppable was clearly evident in the league final.
  • Leon. Oh, Leon. The German greeted me in the dressing room when I walked in after our broadcast concluded. I am not sure he expected me to hug him, but I did. Not one to often smile, Draisaitl was genuinely excited about winning the WHL title and celebrating with teammates who he had to get to know in a hurry when he made his Rockets debut on January 7th against the Vancouver Giants. Sure, Draisaitl got my vote for playoff MVP, but wasn't it obvious? He was a stud. A horse. A go-to-guy. Leon Draisaitl is what we thought he would be. Draisaitl did not disappoint and despite his small body of work (51 games regular season/playoffs), the 'Squirm'n German' will go down as one of the greats of all time wearing Kelowna Rockets colours. 
  • I thought one of the special moments on the night was when I entered the Rockets dressing room and the number of former players were gathered inside congratulating the current team. Shea Weber, Josh Gorges, Chris Ray, Cam Paddock, Simon Ferguson, Michal Blanar and Brett Palin to name just a few. It was also nice to hug some of my favourite players that have been with the team for years and were unable to see their season end appropriately. Cole Martin is one such player who thanked me for what I've done. I haven't done anything outside of telling those who would listen how valuable the Texan was to the overall scope of the team. It was a great moment on a personal level as we then had a photo with my radio partner Gord McGarva holding the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Thanks to 'Tyson Time', Tyson Baillie for being the official photographer.
  • Who am I most happy for? Dan Lambert. It is an easy choice. Like Ryan Huska, as personable as they come, Lambo had pressure to deliver a winner after GM Bruce Hamilton stacked the deck with the acquisition of Draisaitl, Morrissey, Braid and Quinney. Lambert did a great job guiding the ship and undoubtedly would give credit to former coach Ryan Huska for helping shape the team for its successful playoff run. The St. Malo, Manitoba resident now has won the WHL title in four straight games as a player (1989 sweep vs. Portland) and now as a head coach (2015 sweep vs. Brandon).
  • Did Nick Merkley impressed NHL scouts in this WHL Championship series? The 17 year-old proved a point that he can take the rough going and can deliver with excellent play making and a tenacious forecheck. I am not sure if Merkley improved his stock for June's draft, but he didn't hurt it. Only Leon Draisaitl had more playoff points (28) than Merkley (27).
  • Nine shorthanded goals in the playoffs! What is that all about? The team had 13 during the course of 72 regular season games. Those nine (9) shorthanded goals in the playoffs are the most in over 20 years. The Calgary Hitmen had 8 in 1999 and Red Deer had 7 in 2001.
  • Jackson Whistle made 19 saves for his 4th shutout of the 2015 playoffs. That ties a team record set by Kelly Guard (2003) and repeated by Derek Yeomans (2005).    
  • Rourke Chartier's 13 goals scored in the 2015 playoffs, matches the club record for goals in the playoffs. Jamie Benn and Mikael Backlund had 13 apiece in 2009.
  • Now on to Quebec City for the 2015 Memorial Cup. Funny how the Colisee (built in 1949) is where it all began for this franchise when they debuted there in the spring of 2003. Oh, Dan Lambert also played in that building in the early 90's as a member of the Quebec Nordiques.