Thursday, June 28, 2007

Guard's Lack of Girth/Don't Bet on Backlund

You'll notice a much different looking Kelly Guard when he visits Kelowna early next month for the hockey club's alumni golf tournament.
He won't be the next spokesperson for Weight Watchers or Slimfast, but the former Rockets goaltender has slimmed down. Guard told me he's now 185 pounds, down from a high of 217 pounds when he played two seasons in K-Town, helping the hometown Rockets to a Memorial Cup in 2004.
The secret to his physical transformation?
Eating better, and working out. Guard would have never stepped on a treadmill in his time in junior, but playing pro hockey, where being in top notch shape can earn you a job over the next guy in a competitive job market, makes sweating in the gym a requirement not an option.
Guard is also looking for a new team to play for this fall.
He and his agent are cutting all ties with the Ottawa Senators organization. "They obviously have plans for the others guys so, I've got to move on.", Guard told me from his off season home in Prince Albert.
"It would have been nice to get into a game or two to show that I can play at that level, but that's the way it goes. You get that little taste of being a backup, and you want to get that experience of playing in a game, so ya, it frustrating."
With Ray Emery solidifying his place as the #1 goaltender with the Senators, Guard says moving elsewhere is his only option after three years in the organization. "I have a lot of respective for the Senators organization, but things didn't work out, so you move on. Once they (Senators) go with a guy, they really go with him. You are really going to have to work your way up to get any games for sure."
Guard now will look at his options after NHL teams begin signing free agents July 1st. "You really just have to wait and see what opportunities come up. Some situations are going to be different, and some are going to be better, but you just have to wait and see and talk to your agent to see if someone else is interested".

Could we see the Rockets second pick in Wednesday's CHL European draft, Mikael Backlund in Kelowna any time soon? The Calgary Flames Director of Amateur Scouting Mike Sands says don't hold your breath.

"Our understanding is Backlund will play this season in Sweden. I was honestly surprised that someone took him in the CHL draft. We don't make the decision for the kids on where he plays, but our understanding before drafting him was he'd play another season there", Sands added.

"By him (Backlund) playing in Sweden, he can play in his hometown for another year, plus he can play against some top level competition against older guys. In the league he plans to play in, it's a little more competitive, a little stronger and it's comparable to the American Hockey League."

"Darryl (Sutter) has the say on whether he would at sometime come to North America and play, so he could answer your question there", said Sands.

"I’m a two-way playmaking centre who scores some goals and gets some assists," Backlund said. "I love to do that."

The six-foot, 195-pound centre is an exceptional skater and stickhandler who works hard at both ends of the ice. He also is known for his competitiveness and leadership traits.

Backlund helped Sweden win bronze at the world under-18 tournament last winter by leading all players with six goals.

Backlund only played 27 games for Vasteras. He struggled early on and then suffered a knee injury, but he was in top form at the under-18 tourney. Scouts say his style resembles that of veteran NHL forward Mike Sillinger.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bruce Gives Us the Goods on Euro Picks

Two solid picks by the Kelowna Rockets in today's CHL Euro draft. The Rockets picked 18 year-old forward Milan Kytnar from Slovakia. Kyntar is a draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers. With the second pick the team selected forward Mikael Backlund of Sweden. Backlund was a first round pick this weekend of the Calgary Flames.

Here is the conversation I had with Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton:

"He (Kyntar) was the guy I wanted all along. When I went over there, he was a guy that I saw and liked from day one. I watched him every day that the Slovaks played, and wanted to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing. I talked to him today, and he's really excited. He speaks pretty good English and he's excited about coming here. He has been on the Internet all day looking at Kelowna, and has an idea of where it is. As a player he's a really competitive guy, and I think he fits into the mold of the type of player that we like to have".

Is it a nice fit that he's an Oilers draft pick, and you have a strong relationship with that organization?

"I think they are happy. They know where he is going to play and what kind of atmosphere he will play in, and when we get our coaching staff in place, they know we are going to have a good coach here, and he'll be pointed in the right direction."

How about your second pick Bruce. A first round pick of the Calgary Flames!

"It's a flyer. Alot of guys know that he has a contract, and I think his intent would be to play in Sweden, but if the Flames sign him prior to July 15th, then certainly this is a good option for the Flames to put him in, by sending him to Kelowna. Knowing Darryl (Sutter), I know he wants him to have some North American culture before he's ready to play for their organization, so whether he's here this year or next year, that's why we took the chance on this. I have given up our first round pick in next year's draft to get this pick, so it makes sense if he is here next year. Is it a risk? You bet it's a risk, but if you want to live on that side of it, the player we would have got would have been a 1990 born player, and we are going to have six of those now, and I just don't think we are going to get somebody better than that group of kids we already have".

Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton on Wednesday's CHL Euro Draft

On paper you look like you are in a good position Bruce for the CHL Import Draft picking 7th overall in the first round?

"Sure picking 7th is good, but my fear is what's going to be there. As we are finding out today, the pool gets smaller and smaller because a number of these players have decided they don't want to come over to North America and play. I think what's happening is the Czechs and the Slovaks in particular, their federations are doing everything they can to keep these players at home and playing in their programs, which enhances them. In the past the Swedes have been very hard to get, but we got really lucky with Alexander Edler, and their has been more interest in those players to come over because they don't get to move up to the senior teams there as fast as they do in the other countries."

What type of player would you be looking for?

I have my eye on a couple of guys, and picking in the first seven we are hoping we can get a player in that group that is going to help us. The second pick, it'll be like throwing a deck of cards in the air and see who's still available there. I am probably leaning more and more to a younger player that we would look at bringing next year rather than this year because of the age of our team.

So you'd be satisfied with just one European player on your roster this season?

"We'll I'm not going to bring a player over that isn't much better than the guys we have. If I do, I am not doing my job very well. I know that if we get fortunate in the first pick, and get the guy I am interested in, then I know he can step in and play and have an impact on our team."

We talked last week that the purpose of your trip to the NHL draft was to make contact with several European scouts. Was your trip fruitful from that standpoint?

"They are all selling, but their are alot of players that would like to come over, but they are not better than the players we have here already. I went to the under 18's, so I saw all of these players that they are trying to pedal, and some of them aren't quite what they are selling".

Some teams have more success at the draft than others. Why so?

"The year that Vancouver got Schwartz and Mezaros was...some people didn't know those guys were interested in playing in the WHL, if you can read into what I am saying. That's why this thing is more about being controlled by the European agents in alot of ways, and that's why we invested and went over to the under 18's to watch it so we could see who was there."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lightning Head Scout on Torrie Jung

The Head Scout of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jake Goertzen had these thoughts on Torrie Jung when I spoke to him earlier today.

We know Torrie Jung well. Let me ask you. What did you know about him prior to drafting him?

"We didn't see him alot because he didn't play much. But he was a highly touted goalie coming out of Cowichan Valley (BCHL). I know Scott Robinson (Cowichan coach), so we kept an eye on him. When he started playing at the end of the year, we got in to see him a couple of times. Corey Schwab, our goaltendering coach saw him and I saw him play once, and we liked what we saw".

Some say he was a gamble to take in the 7th round. Do you believe that?

"I don't think we took a chance on him. We were pretty happy that he was there in the 7th round. I think his style and the way he moves, he could have been a higher picked goalie, but he just didn't play enough. Because he came on late in the year, some scouts ignored him, but he was always on our radar."

I understand you met with Torrie prior to the draft?

"Oh ya, we went for dinner one night. He seems like a really good kid. I asked him about his future goals, what his values are and how hard he wants to work at his game. You get a gut feeling when you meet with these guys, whether they are someone you'd like do take them into your organization or not".

What would you like to see from Torrie this upcoming season in Kelowna?

"I only want one thing from him. I just want to see him play".

Wild Head Scout Talks About Cody/Who Gives A Hill of Beans About Hickey?

Minnesota Wild Head Scout Tommy Thompson was much more open when I talked to him following the NHL draft, then when we last spoke prior to the draft, when I was poking at him over whether the Wild would sign Kristofer Westblom to a contract by the June 1st deadline.

I spoke to Thompson Monday about picking Rockets forward Cody Almond in the 5th round.

Tommy, did you get a steal in the 5th round by selecting Cody Almond?

"Just because he wasn't rated by Central Scouting meant little to me", Thompson said from Minneapolis, Minnesota. "We are not concerned with how other people access the players we are high on."

How many times did you see Cody before you said, yep he's worth being picked?

"I only saw Cody three times, and I never saw him until the first of March in Prince George. To be totally honest with you, when I was in Prince George I was concentrating on Dana Tyrell. I spoke to Lorne Frey (Rockets Director of Player Personnel) about him. I have a lot of respect for him and his judgement with hockey players. He might have all of the notes on the back of his hand, but he has the information there." (chuckle)

Did you speak with Cody to get a sense of what type of individual he was off the ice?

"I came all the way out to Kelowna a week before the draft to interview Cody. He has a good build, and he did very well when I chatted with him. I even brought my tape measure and weigh scale from my bathroom to see how big he was (chuckle). Cody has potential."

What are you looking for when you interview a prospect?

"I am trying to figure out what the guy is all about. I think interviews are dangerous if you pick a guy who is a mediocre prospect, and when you interview him you say to yourself he's a nice guy so we'll move him up on our depth chart. But I think sometimes their are red flags you can get from interviews, that tells you the player doesn't have the right personality to be an NHL prospect."

How tough is it for you to determine if a player can potential play pro with just three viewings like you did with Cody?

"I have two rules in scouting Regan. The essence of the job is to project future performance, not to reward past performance. And the second is, you have to separate yourself from the hype."

Tommy while we are chatting, any thoughts on the Wild failing to sign Kristofer Westblom to a deal by the June 1st deadline?

"We can certainly, or any club can sign him to a tryout agreement and bring him to camp".

Would the Wild be interested?

"I would certainly consider it...yes. We just have to see what out situation is with contract goalies right now. We should know that by the end of this week."

***I hope to talk with the Tampa Bay Lightning Head Scout about Torrie Jung Tuesday, and will post his thoughts on taking the Rockets goaltender in the 7th round.


Can I rant?

Bare with me!

I know I shouldn't care, but I feel sorry for anyone who plays junior hockey in Seattle.
I am sure the organization, including GM Russ Farwell and the coaching staff treat the players first rate, but the media coverage is piss poor.
I mean Thomas Hickey is taken 4th overall in the NHL draft, and in Seattle who really cares? Thomas who?
Sure the 5 thousand hardcore fans that come out to watch the T-Birds would have been pumping their fists in the air in celebration when he was selected, but getting media coverage on what we in smaller market media would consider a 'big deal' is like pulling teeth in Seattle. Yes I realize Seattle has a long hockey history, but the media don't give a rats rear end!
I spoke to T-Birds Marketing Director Ian Henry today, who told me he was calling the media in Seattle to inform them of this 'big deal'. Hickey is the first T-Bird d-man to be taken in the first round since Chris Joseph was taken 5th overall by Pittsburgh in 1987, and is the highest selected T-Bird d-man ever selected at the NHL draft.
One TV station thought they could come down to the arena and interview Hickey that day. They didn't realize that he goes home for the summer and is in Calgary. When that franchise moves from Seattle to Kent, I'll join in with T-Bird fans by pumping my fist in the air in celebration.
Thomas Hickey deserves better, and the kids that preform at this level of junior hockey deserve better from the media.
For the Seattle Thunderbirds, no media coverage, or getting very little of it, is bad business.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hawks Fans Stunned That Mucha Got Missed/Brust Hanging with the Boys

Portland Winter Hawk fans are scratching their heads, wondering why Kurtis Mucha wasn't drafted by an NHL team.
It was even suggested that Mucha should have been selected before Rockets netminder Torrie Jung.
I look at it this way. First impressions are pivotal.
Obviously NHL scouts didn't get a good read on Mucha when they saw him playing this past season on a struggling team in Portland. Those same scouts may have caught Torrie Jung against the Giants in Vancouver in early February, where Jung was named the first star making 42 saves in an overtime loss?
It just goes to show you that NHL scouts can see a junior player at any given time of the season, and you have to bring your 'A' game every night. You simply can't let down your guard!
If you leave a positive impression, or a negative one on an NHL scout on a one time viewing, you can either make a teams list of potential draftees, or be deleted from it.
Taking even one night off can cost you. Maybe Mucha was the victim of a bad viewing while Jung was the beneficiary of a good one?

Technically, three members of the Kelowna Rockets were drafted in the NHL this weekend in Columbus.

Cody Almond and Torrie Jung are the obvious, but the third is a fella by the name of Justin Courtnall.
Courtnall, the Rockets last pick (11th round) in the 2004 WHL bantam draft was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 7th round.
Courtnall played with Burnaby in the BCHL, before he was dealt to Victoria earlier this month.


It was a lazy Sunday spent with my twin boys, and a quick stop on Kelowna's Westside where a roller hockey game was taking place.
We (the boys and I) were admiring the skill level of these 20 somethings going end to end, when a large forward for one of the teams looked vaguely familiar.
It was Barry Brust!
Brust was spending a relaxing Sunday, playing roller hockey with some buddies of his, in a forward capacity I might add.
Brust, the goaltender, is coming off a season where he spent time with the LA Kings. Brust made his NHL debut November 30,2006 in a relief appearance against Phoenix.
Brust has played 11 NHL games in his young career, which started after signing as a free agent with the Kings in June of 2004.
Rockets overage goaltender Kristofer Westbom should have a chat with Barry.
Brust was drafted by the Minnesota Wild, the same team Westy was. Interesting that both failed to earn a contract with the same team.
Brust is a good example of a goaltender who didn't fit into the plans of the Wild, but ended up playing in the National Hockey League none the less.

Here is an interesting fact about Rockets forward Colin Long.
Long was selected in the 11th round of the 2004 WHL draft, the second to last pick ahead of Justin Courtnall.

Long was selected 210th overall that year, taking over the distinction of being selected that late in the draft, yet has earned himself playing time for the Kelowna Rockets.
Pretty impressive.
Long edges out goaltender Kyle Stanton, who played 15 games with the Rockets in 1998-99 and again in 99-2000 before being dealt to Prince George. Stanton was drafted 167th overall by the Rockets in the 10th round in 1997.
Unfortunately for Long, he failed to hear his name at the draft, but my gut says he'll return this season a little more determined, in just his second full season in the WHL. His rookie season (20 games played) was pretty much a write off because of mono.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cody and TJ A Step Closer To A Dream

Is it any coincidence the Kelowna Rockets top two players in the final month of the regular season, were selected at the NHL draft?
I was pleased to see both Cody Almond and teammate Torrie Jung selected this weekend.
Ok I am a bit biased, but when you travel with these young men over the course of the winter, you can either dislike them or cheer for them.

For me it's hard not to like these two class acts, so cheering for them is automatic.

  • Cody Almond
I have had the privilege of witnessing ever game Cody Almond has played in his young Western Hockey League career. I see so much potential, yet don't see it often enough.
But remember he's young, and with that comes inconsistency.
Even though Almond was not considered a rookie this past season, in some respects he really was. He played just 21 games (one over the league limit to be designated a rookie)
in his sophomore season, on a team that frankly wasn't very good.
Yet I saw Cody emerge in the late stages of the regular season, when the team was in survival mode in an attempt to make the playoffs.
Who was the Rockets best player down the stretch, with Chris Ray out of the lineup with an injury?
It was Cody.
Let's let the numbers do the talking here.
Of the 15 goals Almond scored in 2006-2007, nine were scored in the final month of the season. That translated into 9 goals in his final 15 games of the regular season.
Not bad!
It may have been that stellar play,
when his team needed him the most that put him back in the favor of NHL scouts?
The Minnesota Wild obviously took notice.
Almond would put up 17 points in the Rockets final 15 games, which wasn't good enough to lead the team to the playoffs, but good enough to win the scoring title.
Cody Almond likely doesn't read this blog, but if he did, my message to him as an observer would be simple.
You have the ability to step up and be a leader, both in the dressing room and on the score sheet. You've proved without a shadow of a doubt you can be a point a game guy if you have the right mindset.
Come prepared mentally for the start of training camp, and the offensive totals will follow. You were able to hide in the shadows of Keller,Card, Cumiskey and Comeau in your rookie season, and expectations were low in year two.
Now with the draft over and done with, it's time for Cody Almond to show the Wild and the Western Hockey League that he is the real deal!

  • Torrie Jung
I remember when Torrie Jung decided to join the Rockets for training camp last fall.
When I asked the coaching staff what they thought of the Naniamo resident, the word cocky came out of coach Jeff Truitt's mouth.
But it wasn't cocky in a bad way.
Truitt said Jung has the type of personality that he wished more of his players had. Jung is outgoing, extremely talkative and has a confidence about him that is desperately lacking in some of his teammates.
Unlike most rookies who appear to be shy and lacking confidence around adults, Torrie Jung is the exact opposite.
Of the rookies on last years team, I'd have to say I have gotten to know Torrie the most out of that group.
When Kristofer Westblom was injured February 3rd against Vancouver, Jung had no choice but to face the fire. Yet he did so in such a professional and focused manner. He became the Rockets workhorse in the final two months of the season playing in 19 consecutive games, all of which were pressure packed as the Rockets battled Chilliwack for the final playoff spot.
Maybe those final 19 games of the regular season were enough to convince NHL scouts to draft a goaltender, who saw limited duty playing in just 13 games in the first four months of the season?
It is Jung's performance in the last two months of the season, that have many Rockets fans unconcerned about a potential trade should the team move Westblom elsehwere. Torrie Jung proved it last season to the Prospera faithful, that he indeed is the goaltender of the future.

Cody Almond and Torrie Jung have experienced the darkest of times in a Rockets uniform after missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. It will also be Almond and Jung who will be key pieces of the puzzle in getting the Rockets back to respectability.

Congrats Cody and Torrie for being recognized at the NHL draft. While the hard work begins now to earn a pro contract, you've taken a huge step in your goal of playing at the elite level.
Now go out and get it!

One other Rockets note:
Former Rocket Jesse Schultz had his rights traded from the Vancouver Canucks to the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday. in exchange the Canucks get Jimmy Sharrow in the deal. Maybe Schultz will have to postpone plans of heading over to Europe?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Almond is Wild about Minnesota.

Congratulations Cody Almond.
The Kelowna Rockets leading scorer from last season has been chosen in the 5th round of today's NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild, 150th overall.

Torrie Jung was taken in the 7th round, by Tampa Bay.

I will post some thoughts on those two players later tonight.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Hamilton Has One Task in Columbus/Me and Mac-T

Bruce Hamilton is going down to the NHL draft for one reason...and one reason only!
It's a chance to get into the faces of European agents and find out if their client is interested in playing in a place called Kelowna.
The Rockets have the 7th overall pick in the CHL European draft next week, and Hamilton wants to make a splash, after the team ended the season without a single European born player on it's roster.
If I am not mistaken, the Rockets were the lone team in the WHL last season to end the year without a euro.
Hamilton says he will not be interviewing any potential coaching candidates at the draft, but will wait until next week, when he interviews what is believed to be five candidates for the head coaching duties.
All coaching interviews, according to Hamilton will be conducted in Kelowna.

When the new coach of the Kelowna Rockets is known, don't expect to see it on this blog prior to the teams announcement.
In case you are unfamiliar with the way things work, it would be like shooting your foot to name the coach prior to the announcement, when in essence, you work for the team.
While I am not paid by the Rockets, our relationship is extremely close and I wouldn't want to jeopardise that in any way.
I may know who he is, but won't release it until the hockey club officially does.
You will have to look to some other source (blog) to get the dirty details, before it is officially released by the hockey club.
I love investigative reporting...but I'm not that stupid!

J.S Giguere signed a nice new deal with the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.
Giguere was inked to a 24 million dollar deal, not bad for a goaltender who many chastised for wearing extremely large equipment when the Ducks advanced to the finals in 2003.
Under the new rule changes, which includes smaller goaltender equipment, Giguere proved many people wrong by showing he is an elite goaltender, with or without larger padding.
It just proves guys, that larger isn't necessarily better!!
Tell the J.S Giguere story to your significant other, and tell me how that turns out.

What are the benifits of living in the Okanagan if you are a hockey fan?
Oh sure, the girls are great, but if you are a minor hockey coach, I've go some good news.
A coaches clinic is planned for next month, and the guest speakers are Barry Trotz (Nashville), Craig MacTavish (Edmonton), and Ken Holland (Detroit). All three will be speaking to minor hockey coaches during a two day seminar.
Trotz is building a new lakefront property near Vernon, Holland is from the Vernon area originally, and Mac-T (can I call him that?) has a place on Okanagan Lake.
I was asked to MC the event.
My answer?

Color analyst David Michaud has a new and what he calls 'improved' blog.
It can now be found at

Schultz Looking for Work/Who Gets Drafted from K-Town?

He scored 50 goals in a Kelowna Rockets uniform, and now finds himself looking for a place to play.
Jesse Schultz was official released by the Manitoba Moose following the conclusion of the team's American Hockey League season. What that means is Schultz' time with the Vancouver Canucks organization is over.
Schultz played two games with the Canucks this season, failing to earn a point, and recording 6 shots on goal.
What's next for the Strasbourg, Saskatchewan resident?
A stop in Europe, where he can make some decent coin, yet his dream of returning to the NHL has definitely taken a step backwards.

Who gets drafted in the first round of the NHL draft on Saturday from the Western Hockey League?
Calgary's Carl Alzner, Everett's Zach Hamill, Kamloops d-man Keaton Ellerby, Vancouver's Michal Repik and Brandon Sutter of the Red Deer Rebels.
Jonathon Blum of the Giants, Oscar Moller of the Bruins, Dana Tyrell of the Prince George Cougars and Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds also have a chance of hearing their name in round one.
Don't get excited when you hear a familiar name of the Kelowna Rockets picked this weekend.
You will hear the name Brett McLean being mentioned in the first or second round. No, he is not the former Rocket now Colorado Avalanche, who mysteriously made his way back into the draft.
Brett McLean is a forward for the Oshawa Generals, who scored 47 goals playing with teammate John Tavares.

In one publication I was reading this week, one draft 'insider' predicted six Western Hockey League players will be selected in round one.

Lets predict, just for fun on who will be selected from the Kelowna Rockets in this weekend's draft.
I think rookie Torrie Jung will get picked just before teammate Cody Almond.
Jung didn't play many games, but really interested scouts with his performance down the stretch when Kris Westblom was out with a knee injury.
Cody Almond will be a late pick. Cody did something this season, few players were able to do at the tender age of 17. Almond led his team in scoring. The only other player to accomplish that feat was Lethbridge's Zach Boychuk.
Lucas Bloodoff has a outside chance, but bet on Jung and Almond to hear their names called.


I was shocked that Bruno Campese was named the new head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders on Thursday.
Weren't you?
All kidding aside, Campese is back in the WHL after a short stint as an assistant coach with the Calgary Hitmen a couple of years back.
I guess the Saskatoon Star Phoenix newspaper doesn't read the blog. They were reporting everybody but Campese as coach in PA on Wednesday, while it was nailed down on this blog Tuesday afternoon.

The expansion Edmonton Oil Kings finally announced Steve Pleau as the teams first ever coach. It was the worst kept secret in the WHL.
The Oil Kings also announced that Team 1260 will be the radio home of the expansion franchise.

Who is the Oil Kings next radio caller? Why not Brian Munz? I had lunch with Munz on Wednesday, as he was holidaying in Kelowna. Munz spent this past season as the 'voice' of the Manitoba Moose, yet has a link with Edmonton after calling games for the Edmonton Roadrunners two seasons ago.
Munz didn't let it out of the bag that he's applying, but is their a better candidate outside of what the radio station would consider hiring internally?

If the radio stations looks within the ranks, Bob Stauffer has to be the guy. He's been calling Edmonton Golden Bears hockey for 10 years. Stauffer doesn't look to happy in the picture to the left does he? Wait till he gets off a bus at 4:30 in the morning after a road trip, and then we will see a very angry man!

I took a tour of the new home arena of the Westside Warriors (BCHL) today.
Despite being about a year behind schedule, it looks like it will be ready for the start of the 2007 -08 season in September.
It's a 10 million dollar rink on Kelowna's Westside.
I have two problems with the arena though. The seating capacity and the dressing rooms.
It will seat just over 15 hundred, yet the Warriors drew over 18 hundred fans last season when they were forced to play home games at Memorial Arena in downtown Kelowna.
While the arena is short on seating, the dressing rooms are also to small.
I guess the Warriors will get to know each other pretty well this winter, as they dress eyeball to eyeball with one another in the locker room.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Raiders Find New Coach/Yawney Makes Sense

A coach in the Okanagan is finally getting his big break!
Got you excited for a minute that Ryan Huska was being named the Rockets new head coach, didn't I?
Nope, it's not least not yet!
Bruno Campese will be named the new head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders as early as Friday.
Campese will take over the duties in the Northern Saskatchewan community, even though the Raiders have failed to notify the media of a press conference.
Their was speculation Campese was going to either be a head coach with the Rockets or an assistant under Ryan Huska, but obviously that didn't happen.
He was also rumored to be going to Prince George as an assistant there, but Campese gets what he was looking for all along, the first time chance to be a head coach in the Western Hockey League.


While we are talking about rumored coaches, the latest name to be thrown around in Kelowna is Trent Yawney.
Yawney was most recently the Canadian Under 18 coach, with his assistant being...wait for it, Jeff Truitt.
Yawney is still reaping the rewards of an NHL contract despite being gassed with the Chicago Blackhawks, but finds himself in the unemployment line.
After the Under 18's, I am sure his interest in coaching was rekindled, and the junior age group may be another starting point for the Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan resident.
He is connected with Rockets General Manager Bruce Hamilton in one small way.
Both are alumni of the Saskatoon Blades.

If Yawney was named the head coach in Kelowna, he has something in common with assistant Ryan Huska as well.
The two were drafted by the same NHL team. The Chicago Blackhawks. Both were drafted in the 3rd round. Yawney in 1984, Huska in 1993.


I am sad to say a former colleague of mine is moving from the Okanagan.
Roger Snow, who was my color analyst for 4 seasons will be moving to
Phoenix, Arizona next month.
Snow was as dedicated as they come, and took great pride in the numbers side of the game. Roger could tell you which Rocket scored on what day, at what time, and how many games it was since someone had bulged the back of the net.
He loved statistics, and it showed on the broadcast. Roger joined me for three consecutive appearances at the Memorial Cup, a time we will both treasure.
Good luck Roger in your next endeavor.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Let's Hear from Huska

Ok, we've talked enough on this blog behind the back of Kelowna Rockets assistant coach Ryan Huska.
Let's get an idea of what he's thinking as he looks at the possibility of becoming the teams new head coach.

Ryan, what have the last couple of day been like for you?

" I'm anxious a little bit. I have some good days and some bad days (laugh) where I am doing alot of thinking, but I am trying to stay positive and hope that in the end it works out. But if not, I know I will be part of the staff here that is very good, and I will have the ability to learn from someone in my final go around on the last year of my contract".

Are you ready to be a head coach?

"I feel I am! I would be excited for an opportunity. I am really looking forward to putting my ideas to work and seeing what type of response and results we can get. It's something that, I think when you get into the business, originally you think your ready. I think alot of guys that played the game think that way, but you quickly realize no, I don't have a clue what I'm doing yet. But I think over the last five years, with Marc (Habscheid) and Jeff (Truitt) I think I've learned a ton and I feel I am ready to take on the challenge like that".

What type of head coach would you be?

"I would like to be a coach that's very honest, very direct with the players. Someone that they know what they are getting. I would try to hold them accountable for how they play. I am not going to yell and scream, because that's not the way I am. But I think accountability is a big thing, and I think it's important whether it's at the junior level, minor hockey age or at the pro level".

When you see Bruce looking at others to coach this team, how does that make you feel?

"I totally understand it. I think when you sit back and you put yourself in his shoes, as President and GM and owner of the team, he has to do what is best for his hockey club. By him not going and seeing who might be interested or who might be able to apply, I think it would be a mistake on his part. It's his responsibility to this hockey club to search for the guy that's best for this job. If it turns out to be me that's fantastic, if it turns out not to be me it's going to be a choice that Bruce has done his homework on, and he's going to be a guy that is going to help this organization get back to where we need to be."

Ok, I've Changed My Mind - Sue Me!

To say it's anxious times for Ryan Huska would be an understatement!
Within weeks you could be getting the biggest break of your coaching career by being name the Rockets new head coach, or you will humbly find yourself being passed over, assuming the assistant coaching duties under a third head coach.
For Huska, the waiting game must be like a kid at Christmas.
In one sense you are excited beyond belief over the prospect of getting that dream toy, yet in the back of your mind you also have a sense of doubt knowing that you could open that present, and the gift inside is not what you were hoping for.
Huska must have gotten a sinking feeling Friday when he learned Marc Habscheid was relieved of his duties with the Bruins.
"Oh great, another quality coaching candidate I have to compete against", is likely what Huska muttered.
To be honest , I've been teeter-tottering around the issue of Ryan Huska taking on the job as the new head coach of the Kelowna Rockets.

At first I questioned the move.
Now after considerable thought and debate, like a good politician I've changed my mind.
I can.
It's my blog!
Sure Huska has no head coaching experience per-say, but how many of today's successful coaches were given a shot, despite a lack of 'head' coaching experience at the time?
Were the Melfort Mustangs hesitant when they hired an ex-pro in Marc Habscheid to guide their team?
Habby had played the game, but had no real knowledge of what it took to coach.
Were the Kamloops Blazers crazy to hire a fireman to be an assistant coach in the 90's? Promoting him didn't hurt, as he'd eventually lead the team to a series of Memorial Cup championships as the eventual head coach.
Take a bow Don Hay.
Everyone deserves a chance - a first time if you will - and Ryan Huska is in the same boat.
I can look at my own life experience as a good example. If I had never been give the chance to do the Swift Current Broncos radio broadcasts in 1995, where would I be?
I'll tell you where I'd be.
I'd be holding a weed whipper in my hands cutting grass on the side of the Swift Current overpass. That's where I'd be. Don't get me wrong, their is nothing wrong with working for the parks department for the City of Swift Current, but it's not exactly where my passion lies.
I had no experience doing play-by-play at the time. Sure I had been in the radio business, but if I had not been given that first chance, my life would have likely taken a different direction.
With Huska, it's not like he's never played the game, and has no clue of what it takes to coaching at the major junior level.
Huska has won championships as a player, and as an assistant coach, so why would I think he is unable to do it as a head coach in the WHL?
Like I said, I've changed my mind. Everyone deserves a first chance.
Ryan Huska should be awarded the same luxury.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Would Habscheid Consider Returning?

Do I feel for Marc Habscheid.
Just a year into his first taste of coaching at the NHL level, and he's gassed Friday by the Boston Bruins.
Oh sure he remains in the Bruins organization in a different capacity, but he isn't where he wants to assistant with a goal of someday being a National League head coach.
What Habscheid's new role will be, is any ones guess, but would he ever return to Kelowna and again assume the head coaching duties of the Rockets?
It has to be going through his head, and that of General Manager Bruce Hamilton.
The timing couldn't be better!!
While Hamilton says he isn't pursuing coaches to fill the vacancy, he'll definitely touch base with Habby to find out if he's interested.
Been there done that may be his response, when he accesses the possibility of coming back to K-Town, or is it, I've done it before, I can do it again?
If Hamilton is looking for a motivator, who get's the most out of his players, Habscheid is the man. He won't make friends with his players, but he'll make them successful. It's for that one reason - success - that Habscheid is held so highly by the organization and it's fans.
Habscheid left the organization on a high in 2004 after winning the Memorial Cup. Now with the team coming off a year where they missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, Habscheid has another challenge staring him right in the face. No challenge is greater in junior hockey, than again leading a franchise back atop as a Western Hockey League powerhouse!

Habby Gone as Bruins Assistant Coach!!

The Boston Bruins are relieving former Kelowna Rockets head coach Marc Habscheid of his duties as an assistant coach.
Bruins head coach Dave Lewis was also sacked.
The Bruins say both will be re-assigned to other positions within the club. In his lone season as head coach, Lewis guided the team to a 35-41-6 record.Boston missed the playoffs after finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference standings.Habscheid is a former Canadian national men's team coach.

Is Ryan Huska the Man? Let's Ask the GM!

The Kelowna Rockets will make a head coaching announcement in the first week of July.
General Manager Bruce Hamilton and I sat down to chat today about the process of finding a new coach to replace Jeff Truitt.

Bruce, after so much success in hiring coaches in Marc Habscheid and Jeff Truitt, now with a vacancy, do you feel pressure to hire a solid candidate?

"Their is always the thought that we need to make a drastic change because of what happened last season. I don't think we need to gut it...that's not the plan. The culture side of our operation is pretty solid, and it's water under the bridge on what happened last season. Who coaches them will have to understand that teaching needs to go on, and the expectations in this community is for this team to win."

Are you inclined to hire a coach with a long track record, or what type of coach are you looking for?

"If Don Hay wanted to move here and wasn't under contract, I'd be interested. If Todd Mclellan (assistant coach in the NHL with Detroit) wanted to come here, we'd love to have him. I think that anyone who coaches at this level has to be a good teacher. Your dealing with young men, and if their is one thing about this league, it's repetition-repetition to get these guys to the next level".

Do you want a players coach, or someone who is more of a motivator, and isn't scared to call out a player?

"The head coach has to be the disciplinarian here, and the assistant coach has to be the guy they (players) deal with alot of time. When Marc (Habscheid) was here, that's the way it ran, and Jeff did a good job of that. When Jeff moved into the head coaching role, he communicating with the players that way while Ryan Huska was probably a little harder on them than they thought it should be."

Rockets fans will say assistant Ryan Huska should be a slam dunk to get the head coaching job. Is Huska a slam dunk?

"I like him. We've invested alot in him by having Ryan here for a number of years. Having him work under Marc Habscheid and then Jeff Truitt has been great. I am not as worried if he is the guy, but I would be making a mistake if I didn't go through the process to see who's interested in coaching here. Like I've told everyone who's applied, don't apply for the job to live in Kelowna, apply for the job to coach this team to win because that's the expectation that comes with playing in this city".

Myers Could Wear American Colors?

The Kelowna Rockets #1 bantam pick from 2005 will indeed have a chance to represent his country at the Under 18 World Hockey Championships in August.
Tyler Myers won't be wearing the colors of the red and white, but potentially those of the red-white and blue.
Myers was born in Texas, and now resides in Calgary. While I have talked to Tyler numerous times about his citizenship status, I always came to the conclusion he was a duel-citizen.
The fact is 'the big man' is an American - through and through. Myers will attend the U.S under 18 camp in July. Good for him !!

McMillan-St. Denis Picked/Wild Off-Season in WHL

Brandon McMillan was a pleasant surprise being named to the Under 18 Canadian summer evaluation camp roster.
While he isn't an automatic to make the team - only 22 of the 40 players attending the camp will make the squad -
just being considered is huge for the 17 year-old. McMillan benefited greatly by being on a young team last season that struggled, especially on the power play. McMillan saw a regular shift, killed penalties, and played the point with the man advantage.

If you look up and down the roster of the players from the Western Hockey League who are invited to August's camp, most are high bantam draft picks, many of which are first rounders.
McMillan was a 4
th round pick in 2005, meaning 78 players were drafted before he was.

Speed kills, and Kyle St. Denis has the wheels to be a game breaker.
Hockey Canada couldn't leave him off the list of players invited to the summer camp.

St. Denis was acquired by the Rockets from the Regina Pats in December in the 6 player deal, and St. Denis is a guarantee to make the Rockets this upcoming season.
St. Denis is also an odd duck among the players attending the camp, because he too was a late bantam pick. The Pats selected him in the 5th round, 89th overall in 2005. St. Denis went 11 players after McMillan was snagged by the Rockets.

Of the 17 players from the WHL attending the camp, 8 are first rounders.
While McMillan and St. Denis are great examples of players that were selected by Hockey Canada, it's Regina's Jordan Eberle that really stands out. Eberle was a 7th round pick of the Pats in 05. Now that's impressive!!


Has this been a great off-season in the WHL?
We have seen more coaching changes, hirings, trades and resignations like never before.
Moose Jaw hires Dave Hunchak, Prince Albert and Edmonton have yet to officially announce their coaches, and things are still up in the air in Kelowna and Portland.
Will Ryan Huska get promoted, and if so, who is his assistant? Does Mike Williamson get his contract renewed at the end of the month with the Hawks?

Hurricanes Assistant GM Brad McEwan resigned Thursday, while Jeff Truitt took Tuesday as the opportune time to resign his post with the Rockets.
When the 2007-2008 season starts, I'll need a program just to find out who's behind the bench of the twenty-two teams.

The Oldies 1150/Kelowna Rockets golf tournament was another success Wednesday afternoon at the Harvest.
I chatted with Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton about the number of phone calls he's received since Jeff Truitt resigned.
If you want the job in Kelowna, what do you do?
Hamilton says whether you are Scotty Bowman or a minor hockey coach, he wants to see your resume.
While Bruce is collecting names, he's far to smart of a hockey man not to comb the weeds himself looking for the ideal candidate.
He coaxed Marc Habscheid to join him in Kelowna a few years back, and being persistent paid off. Hamilton knows what he wants in a head coach, and will likely go out and get it. Maybe it's staring him right in the face with Ryan Huska?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Truitt's Move Makes Sense in More Ways Than One!

The timing couldn't have been more right for Jeff Truitt.
Pro jobs come and go quickly, and when you are offered the chance to move up the coaching ranks, you have to seize the opportunity.
Truitt did that Tuesday.
With the 2007-2008 regular season now just over 3 months away, many believe Truitt would have been on the chopping block had the Rockets gotten off to slow start this season.
Oh sure the Rockets will be a considerably better team than a year ago, but substantially better?
If the Rockets struggled just 10 games into next season, hockey fans in these parts would be calling for his head. It happened last season when the Rockets iced a young team, short on talent.
General Manager Bruce Hamilton wouldn't come out and say it, but the leash for Truitt coming into this season was likely a short one, and had the team struggled 20 or 30 games in, my gut feeling is Hamilton would have made a change and pulled the trigger, sending Truitt towards the unemployment line.
I'm not saying Truitt avoids a disaster waiting to happen by leaving the organization, but the room for error behind the Rockets bench was extremely small. Truitt's successor, whoever he may be, will be able to struggle and get away with it, something Truitt no longer had the luxury of.
Truitt new job allows him the ability to again get out of the spotlight. As an assistant coach, Truitt can wait patiently, like he did in Kelowna, for his chance to prove he can get the job done at the pro level.
He did it in junior, and will again prove to us he can do it at the next level.
Now that Truitt is with a new organization, he has bought himself some wiggle room, something he unjustly was
running out of within the Rockets organization.
Truitt officially joins the Edmonton Oilers family today, and as an assistant coach of the American Hockey League team, I wish him all the success in the world. To say I'll miss him is an understatement.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Truitt Talks About Moving to Pro's

It pains me to say today that Jeff Truitt is no longer the coach of the Kelowna Rockets. I knew this day was coming, and I let it out of the bag as quietly as I could on this blog a few days ago with a post about two openings in the American Hockey League that SOME WHL coaches may be interested in.

This is the transcript of the interview I had with Truitt this afternoon.

Your thoughts on leaving the Rockets after 7 seasons?

"I have mixed emotion because I am leaving a quality organization. The way we have been treated by Bruce Hamilton and everyone in the Rockets organization has been second to none. But in saying that, we are excited about the challenge ahead and moving up to a new level".

What is it going to be like coaching pro players after spending so many years in junior?

There is always going to be an adaptation to the players your coaching, but coaching is coaching. No matter if your coaching little guys, major junior or pro's, you need to know your players and find out what makes them tick, and make them better. But at the pro level, they are more mature as they want to make it to the next level, so your player management has to be good".

You've been a head coach for the last three years, what will it be like to get back to an assistant coaching role for you?

"I think at the next level it's wise to sit back a little, learn the ropes and find out what it's all about. It's a position I am familiar with, it's nothing new to me, and I am looking forward to developing players and being a part of that."

Jeff, what is the highlight of your time as a head coach with the Rockets?

"Winning the WHL title in Brandon and the Memorial Cup in London will always be a highlight for me. Even though we didn't preform well there, it was a thrill to see the work we did over the season pay off, and got the guys to the pinnacle of the season."

Truitt will leave for his new post in the first week of August.

Truitt Gone !!!!

The Kelowna Rockets today announced that Head Coach JEFF TRUITT has resigned from the team in order to accept a coaching position with an, as yet, un-named professional organization.

Truitt joined the Rockets as an Assistant Coach to former Head Coach, Marc Habscheid, for the 2000-01 season and took over the head job himself at the start of the 2004-05 season.

During Jeff’s 7-year tenure in Kelowna, the Rockets participated in 3 consecutive Memorial Cups, capturing the title in 2004. Truitt led the club to the 2005 WHL Championship in his first year as Head Coach and, as an Assistant, was instrumental in the Rockets’ successful run to the 2003 WHL title.

“Jeff has been a great employee and an excellent coach for our organization,” said President and General Manager, Bruce Hamilton. “He came in here 7 years ago and, along with Marc (Habscheid), helped turn our culture into a winning one.”

“He’s a guy who comes to work every morning and gives everything he has. We’ll always have a lot of fond memories of Jeff’s time here. Our family thanks him from the bottom of our hearts for what he’s given this organization.”

“We’ll miss him and we wish him nothing but the best as he moves on to pro hockey,” continued Hamilton. “But, the team hiring him has had interest in him for a couple of years now. He’s been to 3 Memorial Cups, so there was not a lot more for him to accomplish at the WHL level.”

“He’s ready for a new challenge at the professional level.”

“Today is certainly a day of mixed emotions for me,” said Jeff. “On the one hand, I’m very excited to be moving up to the next level. It’s a great opportunity for me with a great team.”

“But, having been here for seven years and helping build something, it’s very emotional saying good-bye. Being a part of this organization has been a very special time in my life.”

“I’ve had a chance to coach some great players and quality young men in my time here. I can only thank them all for their co-operation and dedication over my seven years here.”

Hamilton doesn’t anticipate a long wait before naming Truitt’s successor behind the Rockets’ bench.

“We’re going to give it some time and go through the process to see who might be interested,” said Hamilton.

“We know we already have quality coaches and good people here (Assistants Ryan Huska and Kim Dillabaugh) in whom I have the utmost confidence. It will be interesting to see if any other serious candidates emerge in the next while.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Conacher Believed in Moen/Hockey School for Fighting!

All of you who thought Travis Moen would play in the NHL, please stand up.

Mrs. Moen please sit don't count!

Ok, just two of you eh?

Kelowna Rockets Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey was a believer, even before Moen married his daughter.

But Pat Conacher, the Rockets assistant coach at the time, thought Moen had the potential to play in the NHL, even when Moen made the Rockets on a tryout in the fall of 1998.
Conacher liked Moen's heart, drive, determination and never give up attitude.
Oh sure, Moen was rough around the edges, but Conacher believed even then that with some good coaching, Moen would make it at the NHL level.

Nine years later, I am sure even now Conacher is a little surprised that Moen is sipping out of Lord Stanley's Cup.

Can you imagine sending your 12 year-old son to a hockey camp this summer to learn the finer art of -- fighting?
Son, forget about skating, passing and shooting! You need to be able to
beat your opponents face in if you want to play in the NHL!! Can you imagine that coming from a father's lips?
It happened in Regina last week, as Minnesota Wild tough guy Derek Boogaard and his younger brother Aaron, held a summer camp for 12 to 18 year-old's on fighting.
The Boogaard's said the camp was more designed to show hockey players on how to defend themselves, but the main thrust of the camp - let's call a spade a spade - is learning to knock the snot out of your opponent.

What's happening to the sport of hockey?

The next thing we'll see is an event staged in, let's say a place like Prince George, where fans will come out just to see hockey players skate on the ice and fight!
Come to think of it, we all ready have.


It looks like the cats out of the bag on the expansion Edmonton Oil Kings new coach.
Steve Pleau will be named to the post later this week.
In a sense it's a shame the news has gotten out already. It's one of the biggest hiring's a hockey club can make, and the hype and speculation can only help as the team attracts new fans for the start of the 2007-2008 season.
While I expected the Oil Kings to hire a 'big name' coach, past history has shown expansion teams often don't hire heavy hitters.
The Edmonton Ice hired Dave Sicliano while the Vancouver Giants went with Milan Dragicevic. Even look at the Chilliwack Bruins, who nailed down Jim Hiller.
The Everett Silvertips were the exception to the rule, hiring a big name in Kevin Constantine.

Doing an internet search on several Kelowna Rockets brings up some interesting results.
Head coach Jeff Truitt's name produces a Jeff Truitt, who is a photographer in San Antonio, Texas.
Rockets captain Chris Ray brings up Baltimore relief pitcher Chris Ray.
A search of General Manager Bruce Hamilton's name produces a furniture maker in Glasgow, Scotland while Colin Joe's name brings up the Project Leader of the BC Securities Commission.


Quote of the day:

Clark Gillies on a underachieving Todd Bertuzzi when the two were teammates on Long Island.

"If you are built like a freight train, you can't drive around like a Volkswagen".

Friday, June 8, 2007

Devils deciding on Habby/McLeod Looks @ Europe

The New Jersey Devils are considering former Kelowna Rockets bench boss Marc Habscheid as the teams new head coach.
The Devils are looking for a successor after GM Lou Lamoriello took over the duties after punting Claude Julien with three games left in the regular season.
Habscheid is still under contract as an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins, but media reports says Habscheid was in the running for the coaching job last summer in New Jersey before Julien was given the reins. Habscheid and Julien know each other, after coaching for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.


If your a well established coach in the Western Hockey League, two opportunities in the American Hockey League may interest you.
Jeff Ward was recently named the new head coach of the Springfield Falcons - the Oilers American Hockey League affiliate - and is looking for an assistant.
Kelly Guard's team, the Binghamton Senators are without a head coach, after David Cameron moved back to the Ontario Hockey League.


He had NHL'er written all over him when he played with the Kelowna Rockets, yet now his next move in hockey may be a trip to Europe.
I spoke to Kiel McLeod Friday about his best season of pro hockey, as captain of the East Coast Hockey League's Victoria Salmon Kings.
McLeod had a great year, scoring 32 goals and collecting 63 points in 65 games this season. Yet after a season in the E.C.H.L, the 6'6 power forward believes he needs to jump overseas to continue his hockey career.

McLeod told me he still loves the game of hockey, but admitted he has made some bad decisions along the way that may have cost him a spot in the N.H.L.

The biggest blunder?

I remember vividly at the 2003 Memorial Cup in Quebec City, sitting down with Columbus GM Doug McLean, where he told me he wouldn't sign McLeod. The Blue Jackets offered Kiel a contract , but it wasn't rich enough for him, or his agent.

He was a 2nd round pick of the Jackets in 2001, and looked to be a slam dunk on playing at the elite level. But rejecting that contract had him out of favor with that franchise, eventually turning him into a free agent before signing with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2003. An unsuccessful stint in that organization had him traded to Philadelphia in December of 2005.

Kiel McLeod has never played an NHL game, and now finds himself facing the fear of going overseas where the old adage, 'out of sight - out of mind' comes into play.
Sure you can make a decent living in Europe playing hockey, but for many, going over there means the dream of playing at the N.H.L level is over.

Kiel McLeod is at a crossroads, and will make the biggest decision of his hockey career this summer.

Note: The last time I had an article on this blog about CBC hockey coverage, a Saskatoon reader e-mailed the Drew Remenda radio show saying I had inside information on what is going on within that department. So for that one reader who appears to be a little s-l-o-w-e-r than the rest of us, this article is taken from another on-line newspaper (Toronto Globe & Mail). Again this information did not come from a conversation I had with Peter Mansbridge or anyone else at CBC headquarters!!

Ok let's move on. Here is the article:

The National Hockey League season is over, but an important question about its television coverage remains unanswered.

Will the longest tenured play-by-play team in Canadian broadcasting, the CBC's Bob Cole and Harry Neale, return to the Hockey Night in Canada booth next season?

It's too early for a CBC announcement, but you can anticipate one of two decisions: Either the network will thank Cole, 74, and Neale, 70, for their long and estimable contribution to the show and say goodbye. And Jim Hughson will be offered Cole's spot as the No. 1 play-by-play caller, and the CBC will look for additional announcing and analytical talent.

Or Cole and Neale will both be given another one-year contract, with perhaps a reduced workload and the understanding they will retire at the end of 2007-08.