Sunday, October 22, 2017

Pretty in Pink

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Carsen Twarynski was a question mark heading into Friday's home game against the Portland Winterhawks. Like many of his teammates, the 20 year-old felt ill heading into the weekend with flu like symptoms. Gutting it out Friday night in a 3-1 loss to the Portland Winterhawks,  the overage forward scored three times Saturday night leading the Kelowna Rockets to a 7-2 win. It was Twarynski's second career three goal game, but his first since being acquired at last years trade deadline from the Calgary Hitmen. Flu like symptoms or not, Twarynski's quick release on the power play early in the third period took away any possible momentum in the Winterhawks comeback bid. While the Rockets winless streak ended at five games, Portland lost for only the second time this season and had a seven game winning streak come to an abrupt end. 
  • The goal of the year for the Rockets has to be a three way passing play that saw Twarynski score his second goal of the game midway through the second period. Leif Mattson, at the left face-off circle, quickly passed the puck to the right dot where Eric Gardiner sent a pretty tape-to-tape pass towards Twarynski, who was situated at the side of the net. Gardiner, who always puts on a shot blocking clinic on the penalty kill, chipped in with three assists.  
  • While Twarynski had the hat-trick, leading scorer Kole Lind recorded a four point night. It was Lind's first goal in six games. The three assists gives him 99 on his career.
  • Nolan Foote also found the back of the net for his first goal in five games. Coming off a 19 goal season as rookie, the yet to turn 17 year-old is off to what many consider a slow start. The good news the younger Foote is shooting the puck more with a season high five shots on goal.
  • Leif Mattson really impressed me on the weekend. Returning to the lineup after missing 9 games with an upper body injury, Mattson didn't miss a beat. I thought he had good energy, made smart decisions with the puck and was rewarded Saturday night with power play time. The second year forward ended up with 1+1=2 in the 7-2 victory. The Rockets are much better with Mattson in the line up. 
  • Another solid outing from rookie goaltender James Porter. Making his third straight start, the 17 year-old made several solid stops despite fighting the puck early in the game. Once he settled down, Porter was at his best when he made what appeared to be a goal line glove stop on Winterhawks forward Cody Glass. Glass had nothing but net as he fired it on goal only to see Porter's glove get in the way. After video review it was eventually ruled a goal, so does that take it out of the running for one of the top saves of the week? Apparently so, but I sure like Porter's never give up attitude in the Kelowna Rockets crease.  
  • The Rockets did two things much better Saturday night. While the coaches will say they got more pucks on net, which they did, I thought the real difference was the fore-check. It was the best I've witnessed from this group this season. Portland often struggled getting the puck out of their own zone and more board battles were won than lost by the home team. I thought the Rockets owned the puck more and did significantly less chasing of it than they did Friday night. 
  • A scary situation when defenceman James Hilsendager was spun around in front of the net and was struck with a puck. The 20 year-old must have had the wind knocked out of him as he grimmest in pain on the ice after the puck hit him square in the back. Hilsendager also had a scary incident on Friday when a point shot struck him high in the chest, yet he didn't miss a shift.
  • Gordie Ballhorn earned three assists for his first three point game of his career. Noted as a defensive defenceman, the 20 year old has the second most shots on goal from any Rockets defender, trailing only captain Cal Foote.   
  • It is hard to believe but the win Saturday night was only the Rockets second on home ice this season. It is the first victory since the opening weekend when they beat the Kamloops Blazers 6-2. 
  • The Rockets completed a stretch of 6 games in 9 nights. Many teams go through it, but it sure is nice to see that in the teams rear-view mirror. Up next is a home game against the Tri City Americans this Friday before a date with the Prince George Cougars Saturday night. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Porter gives Rockets a fighting chance

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Goaltender James Porter was great. Thankfully for the Kelowna Rockets the rookie was the best player on the ice. Had that not been the case, at games end, the score would have looked much different than a 3-1 home ice loss. Porter, making his fourth appearance in the last six games, made 45 stops and was named the games 1st star as the Rockets winless streak reached five games. Porter made two 'five alarm saves' against Winterhawks forward Joachim Blichfeld and Skyler MacKenzie in an effort to give his team a chance to stay in this one. Porter's save against MacKenzie translated into an odd man rush the other way where Kyle Topping scored to make it 2-1. While the 18 year-old didn't get an assist on that goal, he was the reason why that scoring chance existed. 
  • Look at the photo above. What do you see? I see the Winterhawks with wicked net front presence. What does that mean? Portland has two players almost on top of goaltender James Porter. Not one but two. They aren't making contact with Porter. That would result in a penalty. Of the teams I've seen this season, the Winterhawks do it the best, again, without taking a minor penalty. Look at all three goals they scored last night. Sure, one was an empty netter, but all three came from within five feet...yes five feet of the goal. Keiffer Bellows opening the scoring by shoveling the puck in from the lip of the crease. McKenzie's game winner was batted out of the air from the lip of the crease too. The empty netter was shoveled in from....the crease. Get the common theme here?  For as skilled as the Winterhawks appear to be on paper, the majority of the goals they've scored against the Rockets have been from close range. 
  • When a team is winless in five games it is easy to find negatives. What I did like last night was the teams willingness to stand up for one another. Gordie Ballhorn fighting Winterhawks d-man Brendan De Young after his high hit on Jack Cowell was a good sign. I thought Eric Gardiner, who does not fight, tangling with Brad Ginnell was also positive. Playing pissed off and slightly agitated when teams take advantage of you is never a bad sign. If you are a competitive player and hate losing, you should be sour. 
  • Is it any wonder that the Rockets are winless in five games and Kole Lind hasn't scored over that same period? They often go hand in hand. The fact remains, you win and lose with your best players. During the five game winless streak, Cal Foote, who a week into the season was leading WHL d-men in scoring, hasn't recorded a point either. Don't get me wrong, both guys are getting chances and are doing good things but the results - offensively - just aren't there.
  • When you aren't scoring, greasy goals is the best way to solve the problem. Give me a goal mouth scramble goal to solve the issue. The Rockets have scored just four goals in their last three games. Pretty won't cut it right now. Tick-tack-toe...forget it! Fire the puck every chance you get. If you have the opportunity on a 3 on 1, in a worst case scenario, get a shot on goal. Don't come away empty handed. 
  • Before we get too excited over this early season slide, let's remember that the Rockets are playing arguably a power in the WHL four times in less than a week. Portland is in the elite category. Trust me, they are. Can they be beat? Sure they can, but they will beat you more times then you beat them. In the last four games, the Rockets have faced four solid teams. Unfortunately, three of those games have been against the Winterhawks with a fourth game in five night stop in Tri City on Tuesday at the tail end of a road trip. So remember, before you think the ship is taking on water, consider who the opponent is/was at the other end of the ice. For the team's that have games scheduled against the Winterhawks between December 10th and January 10th, feel fortunate. A significant number of their top end talent will likely be competing at the World Junior Hockey Championship. You can pat yourself on the back if you can beat them, then, and shout from the mountain tops that you are world beaters.       
  • The Rockets will try to beat the Winterhawks for the first time in the rematch Saturday night. When was the last time the Rockets failed to earn a regulation win against the Hawks in the seasonal series? It was the 2011-2012 campaign when the Rockets were 0-3-1-0.
  • Skyler MacKenzie is Canadian right? Let me check. Yep, he is from Sherwood Park. Why is this guy not playing for the WHL against the Russian Selects next month? 11 goals in 10 games. Yikes. If someone goes down with injury between now and those games in early November, McKenzie should be at the top of the list of injury replacements.  
  • Talk to you on the radio at 6 pm. Yep, Saturday's we always have another edition of 'The Kelowna Rockets This Week' before the pre-game show at 6:30 pm. Can't get enough junior hockey talk? Heck, tune in kids!!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Rockets/Winterhawks preview

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets are in their 27th year of existence since coming into the Western Hockey League as an expansion franchise in 1991. After four seasons in Tacoma, the team relocated to Kelowna in 1995-96, where the team has spent the last 22 years in the Okanagan. The team has four WHL championships (2003, 2005, 2009, 2015) and have missed the playoffs only once in their existence. The hockey club has made four straight appearances in the Western Conference final and has registered 40 or more wins in five consecutive seasons.

Rockets/Winterhawks Rematch: Didn’t we just play these guys? Sure did! Last weekend in Portland the Rockets suffered a 5-4 overtime loss and an 8-2 setback. After back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, the seasonal series will be over.  The Rockets are 8-3-3-0 in their last 14 regular season meetings against the Hawks, but are just 3-2-1-0 in their last 6 home dates against them. Oddly, the road team has had more success than the home team over the last five years. The Winterhawks power play is 6 for 11 (54.5%) against the Rockets in the seasonal series, so staying out of the penalty box is pivotal.

Rockets face Russians: Three members of the Kelowna Rockets have been named to Team WHL for the ICBC Canada-Russia series. Dillon Dube, Kole Lind and Cal Foote will play in two games against the touring Russian team on November 6th in Moose Jaw and again November 7th in Swift Current. At the same time, 16 year-old defenceman Kaedan Korczak and Rockets goalie prospect Roman Basran will compete at Hockey Canada’s World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Dawson Creek/Fort St. John November 5-11th.  Rockets assistant coach Travis Crickard will be a member of the coaching staff of one of three Canadian teams participating. 

Broadcasters Notebook: James Porter has started in three of the last five gamesThis is the start of four straight on home ice. The Rockets host Portland in back-to-back games this weekend before welcoming Tri City October 27th and Prince George October 28th….Kyle Topping has goals in three of his last four games ….After opening up the scoring in the first six games of the regular season, the opposition has opened the scoring in four straight games…Kole Lind turned 19 on Monday…The Rockets boast one first round NHL draft pick and two second rounders. Cal Foote was chosen 14th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in June while Kole Lind (2nd round (33rd) Canucks - 2017) and Dillon Dube (2nd round (56th) Flames - 2016) were picked in the second round….Nolan Foote, last season’s rookie of the year, is not eligible to be drafted until June 2019…Kole Lind has points in 9 of 10 games this season.

Porter enters record books: Rookie goaltender James Porter joined an elusive group by becoming only the third American born goaltender in Kelowna Rockets franchises history to start a game. Porter, from Bonners Ferry, Idaho joined Adam Brown (Yorba Linda, California) and Mark Guggenberger (Richfield, Minnesota) when he started a game in Prince George October 7/17.

Milestones: Dillon Dube is 7 assists shy of 100 in his career…Kole Lind is 4 assists shy of 100 for his career…Carsen Twarynski is 4 games shy of 200 for his career…Cal Foote played in his 150th career game last Friday in Portland…Lind is three points shy of 150 for his career.

Roster Stats:
Player total: 24
Year by Year Breakdown:
20’s (1997) – 3   Ballhorn, Twarynski, Hilsendager           
19’s (1998) - 4   Salmond, Lind, Dube, Cal Foote, Chizen
18’s (1999) - 7   Topping, Mattson, Gardiner, Bruggen-Cate, Cowell, Porter, Skvrne
17’s (2000) - 9   Nolan Foote, Belcourt, Zabransky, Kindree, Brennan, McGauley, Kushniryk, Pow, Hair
16’s (2001) - 1   Korczak

NHL Drafted Players: Cal Foote (Tampa Bay 2017), Kole Lind (Vancouver 2017), Dillon Dube (Calgary 2016), Carsen Twarynski (Philadelphia 2016), Brayden Chizen (Minnesota 2016).  

Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Deserving a better fate

Liam Kindree - Shoot the Breeze Photgraphy

  • Tri City Americans goaltender Beck Warm didn't have to look far for inspiration Tuesday night. The 18 year-old only needed to look at his own bench where NHL great Olaf Kolzig was standing in as a guest assistant coach. With Americans assistant Brian Pellerin at the WHL Cup, Kolzig, a former Vezina trophy winner with the Washington Capitals, had little to say on the bench but his presence alone may have been enough to help Warm put in a first star performance. The undrafted goaltender was sharp making several key saves, including a second period stop on Rockets leading point getter Kole Lind in a 2-1 win. Had Warm been average, the outcome of the game would have been much different. In a 33 save effort, the Americans ran their winning streak to three games while the Rockets are winless in four.
  • The positives out of the one goal loss? I think it is easy to find many. For starters, allowing only two goals against is impressive. That is the lowest goal total the Rockets have allowed since a 5-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers on the opening weekend of the season. James Porter Junior, who has started three of the last five games, provided ample goaltending for a team that surrendered only three shots on net in the second period. I thought the Rockets supplied lots in the way of offense, with Carsen Twarynski, Liam Kindree and Dillon Dube, on a breakaway, having grade 'A' chances on net. Warm was the best player on the ice and was the main reason why the Americans escaped, yes I say escaped, with the one goal win. On this night, the Rockets deserved a better fate. 
  • When the Americans made the score 2-0 with less than eight minutes to play in the third period and Warm clearly on his game, it looked like a loss for the visitors was inevitable. But that all changed with Americans 20 year-old Jordan Topping, Kyle's older brother, took a 5 minute major penalty after a careless hit on Rockets forward Jack Cowell. With Jordan Topping ejected from the game, the Rockets used the power play, with Porter on the bench for a 6 on 4, to finally get a puck past Warm. Dillon Dube scored his fourth goal of the season. With close to 90 seconds remaining in the game, while still on the power play and Porter again at the bench, the Americans defended there net with a series of heroic shot blocks and getting into shooting lanes. While the Rockets were able to move the puck around the perimeter, few glorious chances were created with time ticking down.    
  • It will be interesting to see if Americans forward Jordan Topping is suspended by the WHL for his hit on Cowell. While Cowell wasn't hurt on the play and assisted on the goal to make it 2-1, Topping's contact on the second year forward looked equally, if not more vicious, than a second period hit on Eric Gardiner. Fortunately, Gardiner too was able to skate away from the incident, but two very questionable hits, which frankly were down right dangerous, should have the skilled player thinking abut his actions if the league indeed gives him a game to watch from the sidelines. 
  • Marek Skrvne is starting to grow on me. The little bundle of energy plays hard and his teammates love him. Skrvne is especially good on the penalty kill and has shown no hesitation in blocking shots. 
  • One player that was a pleasant surprise for me last night was rookie d-man Kelvin Hair. Playing in only his second WHL game, the 17 year-old played a very simple game and made a series of solid outlet passes. Hair looks poised with the puck. While he was out for the game winning goal, it wasn't the 6th round WHL bantam picks fault in any way.  
  • Cal Foote was guilty of turning over the puck on the game winner, but I thought he was terrific. Logging tons of ice time, he is often given the puck by teammates to settle the play down in their own zone. Foote is calm and cool with it and when he doesn't see a play, which was the case in the second period, he just rifled it off the boards in an effort to clear the zone. Rookie Kaeden Korczak has that same mentality where he rarely forces plays.
  • A tough portion of the schedule for the Rockets which produced little in the way of results. The team played four games in five night's and ended up going 0-3-1-0. One point when 8 were available isn't very good no matter which way you slice it. 
  • The good news is the team returns home for a four game home stand Friday against Portland. As good as the Winterhawks are, winners of 6 straight, my feeling is the Rockets want to prove to them that they aren't as bad as they showed last weekend at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Topping brothers go toe-to-toe

Kyle Topping faces older brother tonight - Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets are in their 27th year of existence since coming into the Western Hockey League as an expansion franchise in 1991. After four seasons in Tacoma, the team relocated to Kelowna in 1995-96, where the team has spent the last 22 years in the Okanagan. The team has four WHL championships (2003, 2005, 2009, 2015) and have missed the playoffs only once in their existence. The hockey club has made four straight appearances in the Western Conference final and has registered 40 or more wins in five consecutive seasons.

Rockets/Ams Showdown: These two teams are meeting for the first of four times this season. The Rockets make a return trip November 1st or in 15 days. The Americans make two stops in Kelowna on October 27th and again on January 3rd. Last season the Rockets were 4-0-0-0, winning twice at Toyota Center by scores of 4-1 and 3-2 in overtime. Kole Lind scored the game winner in OT. In the big picture, the Rockets are 10 and 2 against the Americans in the last 12 regular season meetings.

Porter enters record books: Rookie goaltender James Porter joined an elusive group by becoming only the third American born goaltender in Kelowna Rockets franchises history to start a game. Porter, from Bonners Ferry, Idaho joined Adam Brown (Yorba Linda, California) and Mark Guggenberger (Richfield, Minnesota) when he started a game in Prince George October 7/17. Porter became the youngest American born goaltender to win a game in a Rockets uniform at 17 years, 5 months and 7 days, beating Adam Brown, who won his first WHL game at 17 years, 11 months and 29 days. Brown also beat Prince George for his first career victory October 11, 2008 in a 1-0 win. 

Broadcasters Notebook: After tonight’s game, the Rockets will play four straight on home ice. The Rockets host Portland in back-to-back games this Friday and Saturday before welcoming Tri City October 27th and Prince George October 28th….Kyle Topping is riding a three game goal scoring streak. Topping will face his older brother Jordon tonight. The Topping brothers have the exact same number of goals (5), assists (6), and points (11)….After opening up the scoring in the first five games of the regular season, the opposition has opened the scoring in three straight games…Kole Lind turned 19 yesterday…The Rockets boast one first round NHL draft pick and two second rounders. Cal Foote was chosen 14th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in June while Kole Lind (2nd round (33rd) Canucks - 2017) and Dillon Dube (2nd round (56th) Flames - 2016) were picked in the second round….Nolan Foote, last season’s rookie of the year, is not eligible to be drafted until June 2019…Rookie Colum McGauley is the younger brother of former Brandon Wheat Kings forward Tim McGauley. McGauley was a 1st round WHL bantam pick of the Saskatoon Blades in 2010. Colum McGauley has six siblings, three brothers and three sisters…Kole Lind has points in 8 of 9 games this season.

Milestones: Dillon Dube is 7 assists shy of 100 in his career…Kole Lind is 5 assists shy of 100 for his career…Carsen Twarynski is 5 games shy of 200 for his career…Cal Foote played in his 150th career game Friday in Portland…James Hilsendager has played a team high 189th WHL regular season games.

Roster Stats:
Player total: 25
Year by Year Breakdown:
20’s (1997) – 3   Ballhorn, Twarynski, Hilsendager           
19’s (1998) - 4   Salmond, Lind, Dube, Cal Foote, Chizen
18’s (1999) - 7   Topping, Mattson, Gardiner, Bruggen-Cate, Cowell, Porter, Skvrne
17’s (2000) - 9   Nolan Foote, Belcourt, Zabransky, Kindree, Brennan, McGauley, Kushniryk, Pow, Hair
16’s (2001) - 1   Korczak

NHL Drafted Players: Cal Foote (Tampa Bay 2017), Kole Lind (Vancouver 2017), Dillon Dube (Calgary 2016), Carsen Twarynski (Philadelphia 2016), Brayden Chizen (Minnesota 2016).  


Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150

Monday, October 16, 2017

Taking one on the chin

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • When the team you call games for on the radio loses 8-2, writing a blog entry reflecting on what happened isn’t easy. It is tough to take positives out of the team’s most lopsided loss of the season. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it wouldn’t happen with two rookie goaltenders and seven significant changes from a year ago. There will be growing pains. It is limiting those nights, specifically early in the season, that is paramount for a team just nine games into the regular season. One week it can be goaltending. The next week it can be a lack of scoring. Sometime the power play wins you games. Other times you spend too much time in the penalty box and that puts you behind the eight ball. It is about making adjustments and having every player picking up his teammate. It is easy when you are winning and things are positive, but who steps up when things are going bad and is willing to do that little extra to propel the team back to success? Let’s see what happens tomorrow night in Tri City and who wants to be a part of the solution to eliminate a three game losing streak.
  • What did I think about the game? Well, my belief is the Portland Winterhawks will make many teams look silly if they put in an average effort.  I think it would be fair to say the Rockets received average to slightly below average goaltending last night. Brodan Salmond, looking for some positives in his game, lasted only a period after surrendering three goals on 13 shots. But I am not going to lay blame on the goalies entirely. While they play a big factor in a team’s success, the power play and penalty killing unit could have been huge in limiting the damage, but they too were below average in execution.  While scoring two power play goals in the third period, the game was essentially out of reach at that point. It needs to be better when the game is on the line. It wasn’t and the Winterhawks power play was.  Of the 13 goals the Winterhawks scored in back-to-back games (5-4 OTW and 8-2 W), 7 of them (54%) came with the extra man. That is too many penalties and the inability to kill them off was also a contributing factor in two losses at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.  Both discipline and execution will get better, because again, we are only one month into the season.
  • As an opposition broadcaster and with no affiliation to the Portland Winterhawks, I can publicly say they will win north of 50 games this season. How can they not with that line up, which was missing Ryan Hughes and Brendan De Young for both games? Add those two into the mix and I think it is safe to say the Winterhawks have more depth than any other team in the Western Conference. Who has more? Does experienced coaching play a factor in success? Surely it does, with the Winterhawks having over 100 years of NHL, not major junior, but NHL experience on their staff.
  • Kole Lind had his 8 game point streak come to an end last night.
  • Kyle Topping has goals in three straight games.
  • The Rockets surrendered the opening goal of the game for a third straight time.When was the last time the Rockets surrendered 8 goals on the road? Back on December 13, 2016 the Rockets suffered a 8-7 overtime loss in Medicine Hat. 
  • I want to thank the Portland Winterhawks organization for setting up an interview with NHL great Brian Bellows. The father of Winterhawks forward Keiffer Bellows, the former Minnesota North Star/Montreal Canadiens goal scorer was in attendance for both games during ‘Winterhawks Parents Weekend’.  In speaking to Bellows about his sons decision to leave college hockey for the WHL, one thing stood out. “He wanted to play more games. As a goal scorer you want to get into that flow. Last year he got out of that rhythm.  In college they had a couple of bi-weeks where sometimes you don’t play for 13 days.”  Brian Bellows says the NHL team that drafted Keiffer, the New York Islanders, had no say on him moving to major junior hockey. It was Keiffer’s decision alone. Often we hear that drafted NHL players tell their prospects to play in a particular league to help in their overall development. To me, those teams, who are investing heavily in that player, should have that right. I just think it’s cool that Keiffer Bellows chose the WHL because his gut told him it was the right choice for him now. I will post the entire interview with Brian Bellows on my twitter feed ‘Reganrant’.
  • While I don’t want to make excuses, my belief is you didn’t see the best of the Kelowna Rockets in Portland this weekend. Driving through the night after playing the evening before at home against the Calgary Hitmen had an impact. The visitors faced both a physical and mental battle. Against elite competition, which the Winterhawks clearly are, mistakes are magnified.  I anticipate much more competitive games this weekend when the two teams close out the seasonal series at Prospera Place.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Well earned point in Portland


James Porter - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • If I was Jason Smith or Mike Johnston, I would have left last night's game between the Kelowna Rockets and Portland Winterhawks with a smile on my face. Smith's Rockets battled back from a 3-0 deficit and earned a point against one of the elite teams in the WHL. The Winterhawks, who have lost only once this season, extended its winning streak to five games in a 5-4 overtime victory. From a purely Rockets perspective, driving through the night, getting little in the way of sleep after losing the night prior on home ice to the Calgary Hitmen was impressive. Essentially, the night was spent on the bus in an effort to make the 8 hour trip to PDX. It isn't easy. Trust me, I didn't fly here. With a quick nap in the hotel, it was off to the rink for the 6 pm start. While I didn't like the Rockets start, nor the finish, if you told me before the weekend that overtime was in the cards in the first meeting of the season between these playoff rivals, I would have taken it. 
  • If you want to get picky, Smith won't like the sleepy start and the fact his team surrendered three-first period goals. He also won't like the number of penalties his team took and the three power play goals they surrendered. Johnston won't like the fact his team gave up a 3-0 lead and let the visitors back in the game. Are coaches ever happy? At the end of the day, it was a pretty darn toot'n good hockey game. Sorry, as a broadcaster, I will take entertainment over picture perfect execution.  
  • The Rockets have been a quick starters this season. I think it would be fair to say getting out of the gates has been a staple of Jason Smith's teams since taking over from Brad Ralph. Saturday night was the exception to the rule and the Winterhawks capitalized. Two power play goals and then an even strength marker from Henri Jokihrju had you wondering if a blowout was in the making. But just when you are about to question the 2017-2018 edition of the Kelowna Rockets, the offense was jump started when Winterhawks overage defenceman Keoni Texeira was accessed a 5 minute major for a head shot on Kole Lind. The game immediately changed. While the Rockets scored only once on the extended power play, the complexion of the game switched and the visitors had as good a chance of winning as the home team.
  • James Porter Junior was the Rockets starting goaltender Saturday night, and despite the stats line, the rookie goalie played pretty well. I often overlook the small errors made in a goalies game if you have the ability to rise to the occasion with a big save at a crucial point. Porter's biggest save came when he faced forward Brad Ginnell on a breakaway with the Winterhawks leading 4-3. If Ginnell scores, its lights out and not even a point in the standings is realized. Instead, Porter made that crucial stop and the Rockets Carsen Twarynski scores shortly there-after. Tied game! Porter's numbers won't wow you, (4.38 goals against average) but I think we see something impressive in the smallish goaltender that is very encouraging. 
  • You knew overtime wouldn't last long. Both teams sent out what looked like an all-star team in the three-on-three session. The Rockets had Cal Foote, Dillon Dube and Kole Lind on the ice. The Winterhawks countered with Cody Glass, Skyler MacKenzie and Henri Jokohrju. The Winterhawks gained possession of the puck and in a matter of :24 seconds it was over. MacKenzie made a nifty, in tight move and the Winterhawks skated away with a one goal win. 
  • This caught my attention last night. Of the teams I've seen this season, no one does a better job of placing a big forward on top of the opposition goaltender than the Winterhawks. Nobody. Every time a shot was delivered towards the Rockets net, a Hawks forward was in the grill of James Porter. The most effective at doing this was 20 year-old Alex Overhardt and 19 year-old rookie Kieffer Bellows. Of the goals scored by the Winterhawks, none were of the tick-tack-toe variety. Most of them were goal mouth scrambles with a willingness to jam the puck home. 
  • It was the first time I was able to watch Keiffer Bellows in action. A first round pick of the NHL's New York Islanders, having a big body in your line-up at forward is a valuable asset. While Bellows won't wow you with his quick skating ability, the Edina, Minnesota resident does some solid board work in an effort to win loose pucks. Like any player trying to adjust to the WHL, I think it is safe to say Bellows will get better as the season goes along.
  • Here is my theory on the Keoni Texeira hit on Kole Lind. It can't happen. Now that we have more information than ever before on what hits to the head can do, hockey must make changes to the way it is played. Indeed it has. We are a gentler game, built more on speed. The way the game is officiated has made it better and more importantly safer. My belief is Texeira can't step up and make that hit on Lind like James Hilsendager can't make contact the way he did against Cougars forward Cody McDonald last weekend. Trust me, I love open ice hits. I am somewhat old school in my approach to the game, but WHL defenceman, specifically, need to learn that even though an opponent is vulnerable, that hit can't be made with the likelihood of it being a check to the head. In the old days, it was 'tough titty' if you had your head down. Those days are over.              
  • For a second straight game the Rockets failed to open the scoring. In the first six games they did.  
  • The Rockets are 8-0-2-0 in their last 10 regular season games in Portland. An impressive mark to say the least. The last regulation loss in PDX was September 28, 2012 in a 1-0 setback. Cam Lanigan made 31 saves for the Winterhawks.  
  • These two teams play each other tonight at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in the rematch before meeting next weekend (Fr/Sat) at Prospera Place to conclude the seasonal series.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

Rockets/Hitmen game notes

Brodan Salmond - Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets are in their 27th year of existence since coming into the Western Hockey League as an expansion franchise in 1991. After four seasons in Tacoma, the team relocated to Kelowna in 1995-96, where the team has spent the last 22 years in the Okanagan. The team has four WHL championships (2003, 2005, 2009, 2015) and have missed the playoffs only once in their existence. The hockey club has made four straight appearances in the Western Conference final and has registered 40 or more wins in five consecutive seasons.

Rockets Recap:
October 7/17: Dillon Dube scored the game winner in overtime lifting the Rockets to a 4-3 win in Prince George. Dube ended the night with a goal and three assists. Kole Lind, Carsen Twarynski and Konrad Belcourt, with his first career WHL goal scored in the teams 4th win of the season. James Porter made 42 saves. The Rockets were 1 for 5 on the power play.
October 6/17: Kole Lind scored in overtime lifting the Kelowna Rockets to a 7-6 win over the Prince George Cougars. Lind took a feed from Dillon Dube on a two-on-one to score his team leading 6th goal of the season. Lind set the stage for overtime by scoring the tying goal with 3:33 remaining in regulation time. Erik Gardiner had 2+1=3 in the win while Nolan Foote, Dillon Dube and rookie Colum McGauley, with his first career WHL goal, also scored in the one goal victory.

Porter enters record books: Rookie goaltender James Porter joined an elusive group by becoming only the third American born goaltender in Kelowna Rockets franchises history to start a game. Porter, from Bonners Ferry, Idaho joined Adam Brown (Yorba Linda, California) and Mark Guggenberger (Richfield, Minnesota) when he started a game in Prince George October 7/17. Porter became the youngest American born goaltender to win a game in a Rockets uniform at 17 years, 5 months and 7 days, beating Adam Brown, who won his first WHL game at 17 years, 11 months and 29 days. Brown also beat Prince George for his first career victory October 11, 2008 in a 1-0 win. 

Broadcasters Notebook: Kole Lind turns 19 on October 16th….Erik Gardiner’s two goals against the Prince George Cougars last Friday was his first multiple goal game of his career…Kole Lind’s overtime winner last Friday was his 50th goal of his WHL career…Lind is riding a 6 game point streak…The Rockets have opened the scoring in every game this season…. The Rockets have held the lead in 5 of the 6 games after one period….. The team has also out-shot the opponent in 4 of the 6 games this season……The Rockets boast one first round NHL draft pick and two second rounders. Cal Foote was chosen 14th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in June while Kole Lind (2nd round (33RD) Canucks - 2017) and Dillon Dube (2nd round (56th) Flames - 2016) were picked in the second round….Nolan Foote, last season’s rookie of the year, is not eligible to be drafted until June 2019.

Milestones: Dillon Dube is 9 assists shy of 100 in his career…Kole Lind is 8 assists shy of 100 for his career… Lind is  8 games shy of 200 for his career…Cal Foote is 2 games shy of 150 for his career…James Hilsendager has played a team high 186 WHL regular season games.

Roster Stats:
Player total: 25
Year by Year Breakdown:
20’s (1997) – 3   Ballhorn, Twarynski, Hilsendager           
19’s (1998) - 4   Salmond, Lind, Dube, Cal Foote, Chizen
18’s (1999) - 7   Topping, Mattson, Gardiner, Bruggen-Cate, Cowell, Porter, Skvrne
17’s (2000) - 9   Nolan Foote, Belcourt, Zabransky, Kindree, Brennan, McGauley, Kushniryk, Pow, Hair
16’s (2001) - 1   Korczak

NHL Drafted Players: Cal Foote (Tampa Bay 2017), Kole Lind (Vancouver 2017), Dillon Dube (Calgary 2016), Carsen Twarynski (Philadelphia 2016), Brayden Chizen (Minnesota 2016).  

Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rockets Notebook

Gordie  Ballhorn puts on the brakes - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • You have often heard in football of a quarterback controversy. Does the same hold true in hockey? If so, we may have one with the Kelowna Rockets when referring to Brodan Salmond and James Porter. While Salmond was declared the starter on opening night, Porter's relief appearance against the Victoria Royals last week and a 42 save performance Saturday night in Prince George has one thinking that the 18 year-old may see more time between the pipes than originally thought. While again a small sample size, Porter is a nice insurance policy if Salmond struggles. In a three-in-three weekend on the horizon, why not give Porter another start  in Portand either Saturday or Sunday? 
  • Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan explained goaltending this way. "The backup is part of the team. We can flip flop the forwards and the d, but goal is the obvious position".
  • Speaking of Porter; to think he played his minor hockey in Creston, BC because he had few if any options while growing up just over the U.S border in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Twice a week, Porter and his dad would drive 45 minutes North to Creston to pursue his hockey career.  
  • When it comes to overtime, I will put my money on the Rockets thank you very much. How intimidating it must be when the Rockets put out three players for overtime that include Dillon Dube, Kole Lind and Cal Foote. That is a lot of fire-power with that trio. Few teams can ice a first round NHL draft pick and two second rounders on the ice at the same time. Is it any surprise the team is 2-0-0-0 in the extra session? 
  • I like the fact that the coaching staff elected to split up Dube and Lind and put them on separate lines. It provides for more headaches for the opposition to check two lines heavily instead of just one. Dube and Lind have been in on 23 of the teams 28 goals this season (82%). 
  • While you don't like any players actions which result in suspension, it is hard to come down hard on Rockets defenceman James Hilsendager. Hilsendager receiving a 5 minute major for charging in Friday's 7-6 overtime win in Prince George.  I want Hilsendager to remain aggressive. You do not want that to evaporate from his game. It is that aggression, which is the highest of any defender wearing Kelowna Rockets colours, that allows him to standout among the rest of the group. Does he have to be careful how he throws caution to the wind when making body contact? Perhaps, but how many forwards across the WHL put themselves in a vulnerable position on the ice by looking back for a potential pass with no forethought that they could get crushed after receiving it? 
  • The more time I spend with Greg Pocock, the more I appreciate the man that helped save the Cougars from leaving Prince George. Pocock is the man that makes the Cougars tick. Sure, he has other partners with him involved in the Edgepro Entertainment Group, but without Pocock at the helm, this franchise doesn't run like a well oiled machine. He is a smart business man and a massive success story. Pocock runs many successful businesses and wants this venture of owning a hockey team to also succeed. Since purchasing the franchise in April of 2014, ownership has been aggressive is changing the entire culture surrounding the team. I see it in action. It is quite the transformation. The team was run on a shoe-string budget for years. In layman's terms, Pocock has overhauled an engine of a clunker that for years was barely roadworthy. 
  • I little birdy told me that forward Wil Kushniryk is kicking it in the classroom. It is great to see a rookie having success academically and making a smooth transition to a new high school. 
  • He was one of the best players during the pre-season, but due to an early season injury, Leif  Mattson has missed the last five games after being hurt opening night. Mattson is on the verge of having a breakout season with the hope that this small hurdle won't slow him down. Are the Rockets better with him in the lineup? No question, but that will have to wait a couple of more  weeks.
  • As the wildfires range in California, I had to find out if Kelowna Rockets goalie coach Adam Brown had any family in danger. Brown was born in Yorba Linda, where the fires swept through forcing people from their homes. Thankfully, no one in Brown's immediate family is impacted. Adam's dad is Newell Brown, an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks. California had one of its wettest winters in years, leading to sprouting vegetation on hillsides that had been ravaged by five years of drought. But that brush dried out during the summer, leaving behind fuel for fall wildfires.
  • I always feel bad for the European born players that board the bus with no real idea of where we are headed. Last weekend, Libor Zabransky and Marek Skrvne knew we were traveling to Prince George, but for two players born in the Czech Republic, the question must be asked, "Where the heck is Prince George?" It's like throwing me in a vehicle and telling me we are going from Liberec to Zlin for a hockey game. Where? What? How?   
  • Did you know that the Kelowna Rockets have had three American born goaltenders dress for them over the last 23 seasons? Mark Guggenberger was from Minnesota. Adam Brown was from California and now James Porter Junior is from the state of Idaho. Porter was the youngest of that group to win his first WHL game.   
  • It was a tough weekend for former Kelowna Rockets goaltender Michael Herringer. The 21 year-old made his U Sports debut with the University of Regina Cougars and suffered back-to-back 8-2 and 6-0 losses to Jordon Cooke at the U of S Huskies. While Herringer started both games for the Cougars, Cooke split the duties with former Seattle Thunderbird/Kamloops Blazers goaltender Taran Kozun.  
  • The rubber meets the road this weekend as the Kelowna Rockets play three games in three night's with match-ups against Calgary (at home) and then Saturday and Sunday in Portland. The Saturday game isn't ideal, as the team must bus through the night to order to play one of the best teams in the Western Conference the following evening. And just to stick it the Rockets even that much more, Saturday's game starts at 6 pm. Sunday's rematch is at 5 pm! That's a lot of hockey in a short period of time. It will be interesting to see how the team responds with this early season challenge. Want any sympathy from the Winterhawks? Boo-hoo. They just came off a stretch of playing 4 games in 5 night's. 
  • Josh Gorges has been a healthy scratch in the Buffalo Sabres first three games. Speaking to him before he left for training camp, the 33 year-old knew this season he would be hard pressed with the Sabres leaning towards younger players.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Small goalie makes big impact

James Porter Junior - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • The Kelowna Rockets weren't very good Saturday night in a 4-3 overtime win against the Prince George Cougars. Thankfully, their rookie goaltender was terrific. Seventeen year-old James Porter Junior, making his first official WHL start, stopped all 25 shots he faced in the second period in earning his first career victory. Porter, who earned the backup duties to starter Brodan Salmond this season, was flawless through 40 minutes, enabling his team to build up a 2-0 lead. While the Cougars were able to score three unanswered goals in the third period before the Rockets again rallied, had it not been for Porter's heroics early in the game, a comeback bid for the visiting team would have been a pipe dream. The Idaho born Porter was positionally strong, challenged shooters and didn't look rattled in the least bit. Named the games third star, Porter was only outdone by Dillon Dube, who scored the game winner in overtime and added three assists. 
  • While the Rockets deserved what they got Friday night in a come-from-behind 7-6 overtime win, the same didn't hold true a night later. But as they say, at the end of the season they don't ask you how you won the games, but simply how many did you win. The goaltender stole this one. I didn't think I would have said that 6 games into the season that a Rockets goalie stole a game considering their were many, and remain, many question marks with that valuable position.
  • Saturday's win did not come easy. The team was down 20 year-old defenceman James Hilsendager, who was serving a one game suspension for a 5 minute major penalty assessed Friday night. With Hilsendager out, the Rockets blue-line consisted of a very young group with an average age of 17.5 years. Rookie 17 year-old d-man Kelvin Hair made his WHL debut while 17 year-old's Konrad Belcourt, Libor Zabransky and 16 year-old Kaedan Korczak had increased ice time. While surrendering a season high 45 shots against, that group was able to weather the storm. 
  • It was another terrific start for the Rockets. Kole Lind opened the scoring with his team leading 7th goal. The Rockets have opened the scoring in all six games they've played this season. Lind's goal came on the power play, his first with the man advantage. Lind had only two goals after six games last season. As mentioned, seven goals after just 6 games is way ahead of last years pace. 
  • Dillon Dube has back-to-back four point games under his belt. Dube had three such four point games last season. Named the first star in Saturday's win, the 19 year-old really showed off his speed on the weekend. Honestly, I haven't seen him be that explosive on his skates until now. Dube also has goals in three straight games.
  • Big props to rookie Ted Brennan for getting into a second period scrap with Cougars newcomer Chance Adrian. While bloodied and bruised, Brennan stood in there in what may be his first fight in hockey without a full facial shield.  
  • Carsen Twarynski is doing what he needs to do. The 20 year-old has 6 points in three games and is doing a great job of being physical without taking penalties.  
  • It sure was nice to see rookie d-man Konrad Belcourt score his first career WHL goal. The fact that he found the back of the net with a blast from the point with time ticking down and the Rockets desperate for the equalizing goal, made it even that much more special. Belcourt's marker came with 1:33 left on the clock and tied the score at 3.
  • The most interesting penalty call this weekend was one that was overturned after Kole Lind appeared to clip Cougars d-man Shane Collins with his stick. Lind was originally accessed a four minute minor for high sticking. Video replay showed that Collins was hit by the puck, not the stick of Lind, but referee's don't have the benefit of looking at video to determine a call. With Lind waiting in the penalty box, the two referee's conferred with the linesman who made the correct call that indeed the puck clipped Collins in the face.   
  • The Rockets won back-to-back games on the weekend in overtime. When was the last time that happened? It was during the 2013-2014 season, when on the road, the Rockets beat Brandon 6-5 (OT) and then went into Regina a night later and won 5-4 (OT). 
  • It was my first chance to see Cougars d-man Dennis Cholowski in back-to-back games. I really liked what I saw from the first round NHL draft pick. Cholowski is the real deal on a team that is a little lite on skill. If the 19 year-old had better players around him, he could have a phenomenal season. As is, Cholowski will put up more than average offensive totals this season. I really like the player.
  • Often extremely disappointed with Cougars forward Nikita Popugaev last season, the big Russian stood out. While earning three assists in two games on the weekend, what I really liked was his ability to get shots off quickly in high traffic areas. Leading the Cougars in shots on goal this season with 33, I can see why he was once considered a top prospect in his draft year. A commitment to defense is still a struggle though, with a -10 rating. Until that changes, even players with his frame won't get the trust from coaches at the pro level. 
  • The Rockets are now 4-1-0-1 after 6 games this season. The Rockets were 2 and 4 after 6 games a season ago. 
  • Chocolate bars and Twizzlers in the Prince George press box. Not bad!! Spokane Chiefs broadcaster Mike Boyle must have felt like he died and gone to heaven on the opening day of the season when the Chiefs paid a visit to CN Centre.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Uphill climb was well worth it

Kole Lind - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Kole Lind scored a big goal last season in overtime against the visiting Regina Pats. The goal he scored against the Prince George Cougars last night was one better. Why? As sweet as it was for the Rockets to upset the highly touted Pats a season ago, in my opinion, the way Lind and the Rockets rallied at the CN Centre was impressive. Lind scored the tying goal with 3:33 left in regulation time before potting the game winner with his team leading 6th goal on a two-on-one with Dillon Dube. Thanks to 16 year-old defenceman Kaedan Korczak's ability to win a puck at his own blue line, Dube skated up ice with speed and delivered a perfect pass to an awaiting Lind who made no mistake. The victory snapped the Rockets winless streak at two and snapped the Cougars modest two game winning streak.
  • Justice was served in Friday's come-from-behind win. The Rockets had sustained pressure inside the Cougars zone in an effort to score the equalizer. Kyle Topping missed a glorious chance on a backdoor feed that grazed off the goal post. Despite that miss, you could sense the away team was going to turn the tables with a late goal. Sure enough, Lind scored the tying goal when Kaedan Korczak's shot from the right point hit a Cougar defender and ricocheted right onto Lind's stick at the left face-off circle. Lind quickly fired it on net and it was a 6-6 tie.
  • It may have been Carsen Twarynski's best game in a Rockets uniform. The 20  year-old played a power game and was a physical force. If he can play the way he did Friday night, a pro contract is clearly in reach. Twarynski's battle level was high and it resulted in two assists. He could have had a goal had he not missed wide on a breakaway. The converted forward may have made his best play of the game when he broke up a 2-on-1 in overtime with a sliding play that didn't even result in a shot on goal.
  • Let's remember that the Rockets trailed in this game 3-1. Three times they fought back from a two goal deficit before eventually tying the score before the Cougars again took a 6-5 lead halfway through the third period. It was an up hill climb all night long despite scoring the opening goal for a fifth straight game. 
  • Erik Gardiner, playing on a line with Carsen Twarynski and Dillon Dube, had 2+1=3 and earned his first career two goal game of his career. Gardiner's second period shorthanded goal was large considering, had the Cougars scored on that power play, being down 4-1 would have been a tough mountain to climb. 
  • Colum McGauley scored his first career WHL goal and it was a beauty. Acquired in the Tanner Wishnowski deal last season with the Spokane Chiefs, the 17 year-old fired a shot to the far post that beat Cougars goaltender Tavin Grant. While that made the score 4-3, it was short lived, with the Cougars scoring again 40 seconds later. Regardless, it was nice to see a rookie produce a goal on the road.
  • The Rockets lost 20 year-old d-man James Hilsendager when he was accessed a 5 minute charging penalty for a hit at centre ice on Cougars forward Kody McDonald. With Hilsendager kicked out of the game, second year d-man Konrad Belcourt and rookie Kaedan Korczak had to step up. I thought both were above average with the increased role. 
  • I felt bad for rookie d-man Libor Zabransky when he attempted to break up a centering feed by shooting the puck into his own net. Cougars forward Kody McDonald quickly backhanded the puck in front with Zabransky's intention to shoot it out of harms way towards the end boards. Feeling discouraged over what had just happened, the good news is it didn't hurt the team and at the end of the night two points were secured.  
  • It was nice to see Marek Skvrne's father at the game. I also ran into Liam Kindree's mother, Darby Melville, who was kind enough to give me a lift to the hotel after the game. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Rockets/Royals game notes

Assistant Coach Kris Mallette - Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets are in their 27th year of existence since coming into the Western Hockey League as an expansion franchise in 1991. After four seasons in Tacoma, the team relocated to Kelowna in 1995-96, where the team has spent the last 22 years in the Okanagan. The team has four WHL championships (2003, 2005, 2009, 2015) and have missed the playoffs only once in their existence. The hockey club has made four straight appearances in the Western Conference final and has registered 40 or more wins in five consecutive seasons.

Twarynski’s Return: Twenty year-old forward Carsen Twarynski returned to the team Sunday after being a late cut of the American Hockey League’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Phantoms are the farm team of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers who picked Twarynski in the third round of the 2016 draft. The Calgary resident still has until June 1st to sign with the Flyers, or he becomes a free agent. Last season, Twarynski picked up 7 goals and collected 22 points in 28 games with the Rockets after being obtained from the Calgary Hitmen at the trade deadline in a one-for-one deal involving Jake Kryski. 

Broadcasters Notebook: The Rockets have opened the scoring, have never trailed for one second nor have they been out-shot in all three games this season….Kole Lind is riding a three game point streak. Lind has 3+6=9 over that stretch…Cal Foote is tied for the WHL lead in scoring by a defenceman. Foote has 2+6=8 after three games….It took 11 games last season for Foote to register 8 points….The Rockets boast one first round NHL draft pick and two second rounders. Cal Foote was chosen 14th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in June while Kole Lind (2nd round (33RD) Canucks - 2017) and Dillon Dube (2nd round (56th) Flames - 2016) were picked in the second round….Nolan Foote, last season’s rookie of the year, is not eligible to be drafted until June 2019.

Milestones: Kole Lind is 9 assists shy of 100 for his career…Lind is  playing in his 150th career game tonight against the Royals…Cal Foote is 5 games shy of 150 for his career…James Hilsendager has played a team high 184 WHL regular season games. 

Rockets Review: The Rockets were 45-22-0-5 last season which was good for second place in the BC Division with 95 points, one fewer than division leading Prince George. The team had the 6th best winning percentage in the WHL while scoring the third most goals and allowing the fourth fewest goals against. The Rockets won 22 road games, the second most in the Western Conference behind only the Cougars (23). Kole Lind was the teams scoring champion (30+57=87) with Lind leading the team in assists (57) and MVP Calvin Thurkauf leading the charge with 33 goals. The hockey club made it all the way to the third round of the playoffs before eventually losing in 6 games to WHL champion Seattle. 

Who’s Gone? The team lost seven significant players following the 2016-2017 season. Calvin Thurkauf (33 goals and 70 points) is playing pro hockey with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nick Merkley (63 points in 63 games) is playing pro with the Arizona Coyotes. Captain Rodney Southam graduated and is playing with the Acadia Axemen. Lucas Johansen is with the Washington Capitals organization while Reid Gardiner, acquired at last year’s trade deadline for a first round bantam pick, signed an American Hockey League deal with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Overage goaltender Michael Herringer is playing with the Regina Cougars (U Sports) this season. 

Roster Stats:
Player total: 26
Year by Year Breakdown:
20’s (1997) – 5   Ballhorn, Twarynski, Hilsendager, Soustal Stephens (signed)       
19’s (1998) - 4   Salmond, Lind, Dube, Cal Foote, Chizen
18’s (1999) - 7   Topping, Mattson, Gardiner, Bruggen-Cate, Cowell, Porter, Skvrne
17’s (2000) - 9   Nolan Foote, Belcourt, Zabransky, Kindree, Brennan, McGauley, Kushniryk, Pow, Hair
16’s (2001) - 1   Korczak,
NHL Drafted Players: Cal Foote (Tampa Bay 2017), Kole Lind (Vancouver 2017), Dillon Dube (Calgary 2016), Carsen Twarynski (Philadelphia 2016), Brayden Chizen (Minnesota 2016).  


Monday, October 2, 2017

'Sous' has been cut loose

Tomas Soustal - Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tomas Soustal's time with the Kelowna Rockets is over. The 20 year-old was traded Monday to the Edmonton Oil Kings for a 4th round WHL bantam pick.
It is the right move. I will explain later.
When Soustal was first selected in the CHL import draft in 2014, the team was in desperate need of an impact player from across the pond. For years the team struggled getting players that could play in their top six. Sure, there was Lauris Darzins. Tomas Slovak, Stepan Novotny, Mikael Backlund and Alex Edler. All five were solid selections. Edler wasn't a dominating force in his one season here, but the dude played in the NHL, so that has to be considered an astute pick. The team also took home run swings at Teemu Pulkkinen (2009) and Zemgus Girgensons (2011), but unfortunately those two never wore Kelowna Rockets colours.
The list of marginally skilled imports is a lengthy one. Do you remember Filip Vasko (2011), Henrik Nyberg (2012), Kris Schmidli (2013), Gal Koren (2010) and Andreas Stene (2010)? How about Lukas Matejka (2008) Kaspars Saulietis (2006), Michal Blanar (2003) and Joni Lindlof (2002)? With that track record, to pick Soustal in 2014 and a season later to snag eventual 2016 MVP Calvin Thurkauf must have felt like winning the lottery.
Of all the players I mentioned, Soustal was the most outgoing of the bunch. Up until Soustal's arrival, most European players subscribed to the theory of 'speak only when spoken too'. Soustal seemed to be the new wave of European players that had a certain swagger and a love for life. He was often seen smiling, wearing colorful suits and beating to his own drum with roommate Micheal Herringer. 'Sous' would always call me by my first name and was a pleasure to be around. While he spoke English with a distinct Czech accent, Soustal acted somewhat North American.
Soustal leaves the organization with 113 career points, the most of any European born player even to dress for the Kelowna Rockets organization. That is pretty amazing. Another Tomas...Tomas Slovak had 97 career points when he was selected in the 2001 CHL Import Draft. 
Soustal was a member of the 2015 WHL championship team and his game winning overtime goal in the 2016 opening round playoff series against Kamloops will always be remembered.
How about his lacrosse style goal against the Edmonton Oil Kings in November, 2015? It was in that game, at Prospera Place, that he would score the WHL goal of the year by picking the puck up behind the Oil Kings net with his stick, and in one fluid motion in mid-air, tucked the puck past the startled goaltender.
Take a look: https://vine.co/v/iz6iKiuhAXi
Soustal, at 6'3 and almost 200 pounds, was always considered a power forward, but for whatever reason, he never quite played that way. Soft hands for a big man, 'Sous' often played under the radar when he should have been one of the best players on the ice. Sometimes he was. Often times he wasn't.
Can he be dominant? I think so, but it will have to happen this season if he wants to continue playing hockey at the pro level here in North America. Soustal had 13 multiple point games last season, yet seemed content to be a backseat driver. He has to drive the offense, starting right now.
In three games with the Rockets this season, he attempted to make it difficult for management to trade him. He wasn't bad, but not good enough when you consider he is a 'two spotter'. (20 year-old/ Import player). At the end of the day, his age and the fact that two younger imports were selected in June made the choice easy. When fellow 20 year-old Carsen Twarynski returned to the team Sunday, it was lights out on his time in K-Town.
If Soustal can find consistency in his game, play with more determination, dominate now that he is one of the oldest players on the ice, the Unicov, Czech Republic resident can earn that pro deal.
Unfortunately, 'Sous' will have to do it as a member of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Thanks for the memories 'Sous'. I look forward to talking to you in November when the Oil Kings come to town.
I can almost guarantee 'Sous will let loose' on his former team.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Twarynski returns from pro

Twarynski - Shoot the Breeze Photography

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL (affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers) have reassigned forward Carsen Twarynski to the Kelowna Rockets The 20-year-old is entering his fourth WHL season, and second with the Rockets.

Through four seasons Twarynski has collected 43 goals and 67 assists for 110 points in 189 career games split between the Calgary Hitmen and the Kelowna Rockets. He amassed 7 goals and 15 assists for 22 points in 28 games with Kelowna. He also added 4 goals and 7 assists for 11 points in 37 post season games including 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points in 16 playoff games for Kelowna last season.

The 6'2 200lb power forward from Calgary, AB adds offence, grit, and a veteran presence to the Rockets roster.
Catch Twarynski and the rest of the Rockets on Wednesday, October 4th, when the Victoria Royals visit Prospera Place for a mid-week B.C. Division matchup.
 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

3-0 = worst lead in hockey?

Libor Zabransky - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Is 3-0 the worst lead in hockey? You won’t get an argument from the Kelowna Rockets. Goals from defencemen Cal Foote, Libor Zabransky and James Hilsendager helped the home team to a 3-0 lead, only to watch the Everett Silvertips storm back with four unanswered goals in a 4-3 shootout loss. In my opinion, the 3-0 lead was somewhat deceiving. The Tips created several quality scoring chances despite generating only 14 shots on goal through the opening 40 minutes. Had Rockets goaltender Brodan Salmond been average in the opening frame, the score could have been much closer than 2-0. The Tips looked like a team that was up 3-0, not down 3-cob. Playing with urgency, Riley Sutter’s seeing-eye wrist shot with 2:11 to play in regulation time propelled the Tips to a much deserved point. In the end, 20 year-old Matt Fonteyne scored the winner in the shootout. 
  • Sure, Brodan Salmond should have stopped Riley Sutter's weak wrister from the right side boards when the score was 3-2, but let's not forget about the saves he made earlier, specifically on Sean Richards, who had a heck of a game. Salmond made a solid glove stop on Richards in the first period and was dialed in early. How about the stick stop Salmond made in the second period where he dove across in desperation to rob Richards again of a sure goal? Wowzers.  The save, which will make the WHL Plays of the Week without question, was essentially a replay of the paddle save Michael Herringer made on Blazers captain Collin Shirley in last year's playoffs. It came at the exact same end of the ice, at the exact same side of the net with the exact same body positioning necessary to dive back and get a stick on the puck. The only difference was Salmond's save came from his stick blade where Herringer's stop was with the paddle of his stick. Both saves were eye-popping. 
  • It was nice to see rookie Libor Zabransky score his first career WHL goal. The 17 year-old had a massive smile on his face when he assisted on Cal Foote's opening marker, but the grin was even wider after wiring a shot past the glove of Tips goaltender Carter Hart to make the score 2-0. I always wonder about the fragile confidence a rookie has when playing at the WHL level against older players. How important is it for that player to find success early, in an effort to build confidence and not question his game? Named the third star, Zabransky has flair in the offensive zone, so it was nice to see him rewarded on the score-sheet. 
  • Dillon Dube made his 2017-2018 debut and played on a line with Kole Lind and Erik Gardiner. I thought Dube and Lind often over-passed, which is par for the course when two skilled players find themselves on the same line for the first time. I thought Lind, who earned an assist, was the more dynamic of the two. Lind had a chance to win it in overtime, when on the power play, his wrister from the top of the left face-off circle was labeled for the corner but was snagged by Carter Hart. Hart was named the 1st star and I have no problem with that selection. The 19 year-old made timely stops which is what I always look at over the course of a game.
  • Lacking scoring depth, you wonder if the Rockets would be better served with Lind and Dube playing on difference lines? That said, the Tips employ their top two scorers - Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne together - so more teams than not load up with one high end line. Three games into the season means experimentation is the norm. 
  • How about the save Carter Hart made on Rockets forward Jack Cowell in the first period? That was a sure goal taken away. Cowell had a team high 6 shots on net. You have to love the turnaround in his overall game and I love that he is shooting with no hesitation.
  • It didn't turn out to be the turning point in the game, but it went a long way in enabling the Rockets to earn a point in this one. The team successfully killed off a 5 on 3 when the Tips were awarded a two man advantage about six minutes into the second period.  Tomas Soustal was sent to the penalty box for high sticking and Kole Lind was given a two minute minor for hooking. The Tips failed to score thanks to a shot blocking clinic from Erik Gardiner and Cal Foote that would have made ex-Silvertips head coach Kevin Constantine proud. That courageous effort on the PK came with the Rockets up 2-0 and the Tips pressing.
  • An early concern is the power play, which went 0 for 6 in last night's loss. Typically, the penalty killing unit is better at the start of the season before the power play resurrects itself. Remember the power play was third best in the WHL last season. It will get ironed out.
  • Another positive? I sure like the way the d-men are jumping up in the play. All three goals were scored by defencemen with Cal Foote the most pro-active in joining the rush. Foote had a goal and an assist and reached the 100 point mark in his WHL career. 
  • For the third time this season, a call on the ice was made for playing without a mouth guard. This time Dillon Dube received the 10 minute misconduct. I frankly like the rule and the fact the officials are coming down hard on the players. If you have it in your mouth, wear the darn thing properly. It is like Brian Burke's tie. Don't wear it around your neck! Tie that thing in a knot. 
  • The Rockets have opened the scoring in all three games and have carried the lead into the third period in all three games. They have also out-shot their opponent in all three games.
  • Despite the shootout loss, the Rockets have not played one second from behind this season.       
  • Up next is a date with the Victoria Royals Wednesday night and then a visit to the CN Centre in Prince George next Friday and Saturday night. By then we should know the status of 20 year-old Tomas Soustal. Has Soustal done enough in three games to solidify an import spot or is rookie Marek Skrvne a better option? Has Soustal done enough to be one of three 20 year-old's on the roster this season?