Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Habscheid says "It would have to be a home run"

It's interesting when you spend a lot of time with someone, you tend to get a good idea of what that person is thinking.
The latest example is a conversation I had with former Kelowna Rockets head coach Marc Habscheid Monday. Habscheid was sitting back and relaxing at his home near Lac Pellitier in Southern Saskatchewan, contemplating what his future holds in the coaching ranks. Habscheid is clearly interested in moving back to the pro game, and would have to be in consideration of joining his buddy Wayne Gretzky as an assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes. Habscheid says he is open to a junior job, but the circumstances would have to be ideal for him and his family. Habscheid told me he won't move back to junior if it's just as a coach. Why would he? Been there, done that. Habscheid wants to move forward in his coaching career, and a move back to junior to hold the single title as head coach, will have him sitting on his farm for a cold winter on the prairies. Habscheid has two kids, including a son who is entering high school, so moving just for the sake of moving and transplanting his two kids and wife while avoiding sitting idle this winter won't happen.
Habscheid says he has already made plans to rent a home in Swift Current for the winter, and his kids are already enrolled in school in Swift Current for the fall.
Habscheid confirmed something I believed all along. Ownership at the junior level intrigues him. Shares would certainly sweeten the pot. When I asked him if he'd consider coaching in Portland, he said "It would have to be a home run". Read into that statement any way you want.
His agent will be busy over the next couple of weeks, with the main priority of getting his client back in the pro game. But Habscheid won't just jump at any opportunity that comes his way. It will have to be the right fit, the right fit for Habscheid and more importantly the right fit for his family.

Brent Howarth has decided where he will be playing this season.
The former Kelowna Rocket will be playing this fall in the Central Hockey League with the Corpus Christi Rayz. Howarth says he will get paid about 500 bucks a week. Sure it's not great cash, but he is still playing the game of hockey (and getting paid) at the tender age of 21, while enjoying the experience of playing South of the border. Howarth was a member of the 2004 Memorial Cup championships Kelowna Rockets, and played this past season as an overage with the Selkirk Steelers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
I hope you like the new look of the blog. It was my wife's suggestion. Honestly it was. She said if I was going to have a pic of me on the blog, it's best to hide it on the right side of the blog, then the first thing that everyone notices is not my mug. I think she loves me, but why is she so darn honest?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Rockets Schedule

The Kelowna Rockets will open the 2007-2008 regular season September 22nd at home against the Tri City Americans.
The Rockets will make a pre-Christmas tour through the Eastern Conference this season from December 7th to December 15th. The hockey club will play 6 games in 9 night's before the break. The Rockets face the Memorial Cup Champion Vancouver Giants for the first time September 26th at Prospera Place. The entire schedule will be released shortly to the general public, but I thought the readers of this blog may want a sneak peek?

Habby and the Hawks

I just can't see it!
While the owner of the Portland Winter Hawks says two prominent individuals have expressed interest in the teams head coach position, Marc Habscheid's name just doesn't fit.
In my opinion, Habscheid would only go to one of two teams in the Western Hockey League, if it was simply as the teams head coach.
Those two cities are Kelowna, where he won a Memorial Cup title, and Swift Current, his hometown team. Obviously we can rule both of those centers out, when Ryan Huska was named to the Kelowna Rockets head coaching position last week, while Dean Chynoweth has cemented himself as the GM and coach in Broncoville after signing a contract extension this summer. On top of that, Broncos Chairman of the Board Joe Arling would never let Habscheid take the reins of the team, so seeing Habby behind the bench at the Civic Centre won't happen as long as Arling has his way. I don't know all the particulars between why Arling doesn't like Habschied, but the two don't see eye to eye.

The only way Habscheid would ever end up in Portland (once again in my opinion) is if he got a bigger piece of the pie. Being the head coach just wouldn't do it. Could that be through an offer to be a partial owner of the team, plus the head coaching duties? It would definitely sweeten the pot. I can't see him even being excited if it was a GM/head coach opportunity with the Hawks, because if I know Marc Habscheid, he hates anything to do with the administration side of the game. Habschied's name still comes up when talk revolves around assistant coaching openings with the Phoenix Coyotes. Until those positions are nailed down, Habscheid's name will surface.
Remember Habschied signed a three year deal with the Bruins prior to the start of last season, so has two years left on a contract. Can he make just as much cash unemployed and living on the remaining two years of his pro deal, than being paid to be the bench boss in Portland? Or do the Hawks absorb some of that deal he signed with the Bruins, just to lure him to the hockey club? It just doesn't make financial sense. But if you are a Portland Winter Hawk fan, does much make sense these days? Everything from the team dragging it's feet before failing to sign Mike Williamson to a new deal, to the slow process in finding a successor makes you scratch your head.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Things That Make You Go Hmm

Things that make you go hmm.
C and C Music Factory made the song famous (ok, not so famous) in the 90's with the top 10 hit.
Yes, I'll come clean and admit I have the CD in my collection.
I thought I'd use it's title to express some thoughts on what makes me go hmm!

  • The Kootenay Ice coaching situation. Is it just me or do you scratch your head over what happened there when assistant Brad Lauer left the team, and head coach Cory Clouston left shorty after. Lauer must have known Clouston was up for a pro job, yet took a head coaching position in the BCHL any way. Lauer must have had a clear indication from management that he was not in the plans of the Ice as a potential head coaching candidate. Seems odd considering that Clouston was promoted from within when Ryan McGill jumped to the American Hockey League. Why not Lauer? If Brad Lauer isn't bitter, I'd be shocked. Jeff Bromley is reporting that Lauer may now be named an assistant to Lane Lambert with the Milwaukee Admirals, meaning his move to the BCHL won't happen. Good for him!
  • Ryan Huska is working on his drivers license, but it's not what you think. The Kelowna Rockets head coach has earned his learners to drive the Rockets bus. Huska sees this as a good way of taking some of the pressure off of the Director of Transportation for the Rockets Roger Vandock, who puts in long hours behind the wheel. Huska won't be driving the Rockets bus from Kelowna to Prince George any time soon though, but would likely drive the iron-lung to and from the rink for pre-game skates.
  • Now that Huska is a head coach in the WHL, what makes him different than any other coach in the league? Huska is the only head coach to wear glasses. Or so I thought until Jon Keen pointed out that Moose Jaw's Dave Hunchak also wears glasses. Hunch also has his license to drive a bus. Bob Ridley...look out!!
  • I have to admit David Michaud was extremely well dressed at Tuesday's Rockets news conference. The guy had a friggin suit on, in +30 degree weather! I was the polar opposite wearing shorts and a Rockets golf shirt. The saying in these parts is wearing shorts and saddles is called a 'Okanagan tuxedo'.
  • Why is the Swift Current Civic Centre expanding with more seats? Sure more luxury boxes are needed for a revenue generator, but increasing the seating capacity to an arena which averages 18 hundred a night makes little sense. Who wants to sit in the end zone ( or behind the net) any way? I know the WHL is pressing the Broncos to improve the facility, but the increased capacity is only going to make home games look worse.
  • Let me state I am not a journalist. I have never gone to journalism school, nor have any formal training in broadcasting. Can you tell? Ok, don't answer that. I am clearly a cheerleader for the Kelowna Rockets, and while not employed by the team, I broadcast the games with their best interest at heart. Without the Kelowna Rockets, I have no job. It's as clean cut as that. Oldies 1150 makes significant revenue off of the Rockets broadcasts, and without them I do not get paid. I do not feed my children. Without the Rockets, I am unable to do something I have always dreamed of doing. As the saying goes 'don't bite the hand that feeds you'. The Kelowna Rockets are that hand! Some of my sports writing brethren may not like it, but that's just the way it is. If the team doesn't like me, I'm looking for work elsewhere.
  • Why did the Kelowna Rockets have 5 - 16 year-olds on it's roster last season? The fear that one of them would have considered the BCHL, and potentially a college scholarship was likely the reason. Don't expect the team to have that many this season. Colin Bowman, Tyson Barrie and Jesse Paradis all have a chance to play. Barrie is a guarantee.
  • I wonder why Tyson Barrie chose to be a defenseman? His dad Len was a God with the Kamloops Blazers when he put up 85 goals in 1989-90 as a forward. Len Barrie had 100 assists that year. Wow! Isn't scoring goals more fun than keeping them out?
  • When will Prospera Place get a new score-clock. If Prince George is getting a clock with a video monitor, surely Kelowna can get an upgrade. The clock at Prospera Place makes the one at the Medicine Hat Arena look modern.
  • WHL sports writers belong to a writers group, which enables them to share stories with one another. So essentially after a hockey game, the writer will e-mail his story to his place of work to meet a deadline, and will then post it to the writers group. That story can then be used, or the information contained in it, by the other 20 WHL writers. Simply put, it works great. WHL radio broadcasters belong to a similar group. An e-mail account is set up where radio broadcasters can send information to everyone with just one e-mail. But unlike our paper writing brethren (I've used that word twice in this column) it works horribly. As I stated above, radio broadcasters are protective of the teams in which they call games for. They are in no hurry to release information about injuries or what is happening behind the scenes. They too know that if they fall out of favor with the hockey team, they'll be replaced by someone who is waiting in line for their job. I once read a post on Keen's Korner www.jonkeen.blogspot.com where an unnamed individual laughed that few if any would consider being a radio broadcasters. This individual stated that you would have be insane to sit on a bus for endless hours, and spend a winter with a bunch of pimple faced teenagers. Call it insanity, but I know of many who would love to slide into the broadcast booth.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Wright's Retirement/Nathe the Nail in the Rockets Coffin

I'm feeling old.
Tyler Wright has retired!
Wright has joined the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey operations department as development coach. I remember Wright as this cocky (cocky in a good way) speedy forward when he joined the Swift Current Broncos in the late 80's. In fact he was one of the players on the ice, in his late 80's suit celebrating the Broncos 1989 Memorial Cup win over the Blades in Saskatoon. It was no surprise that the Edmonton Oilers selected him in the first round in the 1991 draft, he was that good as a junior. Wright could skate, score and liked to play the role of the agitator. He wouldn't often fight, but he didn't need to. Wright could throw off anyone on the opposition with his sharp tongue. Wright was never dominant at the NHL level, but played over 600 games over 13 seasons.

Remember Bryan Nathe?
The Kelowna Rockets do!
Nathe was a member of the Everett Silvertips, the team that knocked the Rockets out of the Western Conference final in 2004. Nathe signed a East Coast Hockey League contract with the Johnston Chiefs yesterday.
Nathe scored arguably the series shifting goal in that series against the Rockets. Nathe scored an overtime goal in game five in a 1-0 Everett win, when the Tips were facing playoff elimination. The goal by Nathe brought the series to a 3-2 Rockets advantage, but the goal turned the tide, as the Tips would win games six and seven in the incredible upset. Nathe's goal in overtime in game five was followed by overtime wins by the Tips in game six and seven.

Jim Hammett, a Kelowna native, has been named the new amateur scout for the New York Rangers.
Hammett comes to the Rangers from Hockey Canada, where he served as Head Scout of Men’s National Teams. He was responsible for all of the men’s player evaluations for under 20 years of age players, the selections for Canada’s future National Junior Team Development, and selection camps for Canada’s National under-18 programs. The under-20 team won a gold medal this past season in Sweden. Hammett also served for eight years, from 1998-2006, as a scout with the Colorado Avalanche, including the role of Chief Scout from 2001-2006.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Breaking the Story Before it Happens Isn't Easy

I love the fact that David Michaud, my partner in crime on Kelowna Rockets broadcasts, has a blog.
While we attend many of the same events, and share those experiences on our blogs, we often both take away different things from what we either hear or see.
David, www.michaudinthebooth.blogspot.com had some interesting thoughts and observations from Tuesday's Kelowna Rockets press conference.
He may have had the best line, when he said to Kelowna Daily Courier Sports writer Doyle Pontenteau, "I suppose you tell your kids there is no such thing as Santa Claus". Michaud made the comment tongue-in-cheek after Pontenteau broke open the Rockets announcement Tuesday morning by having a interview with Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton on who the teams new coach was going to be - Ryan Huska.
While Hamilton gave Doyle a 'verbal shot' when the press conference began, I sympathize with what Pontenteau was trying to do.
The way I see it, if Hamilton wants to talk in great detail about who the coach is, on the record, before the press conference takes place, how can he just sit idly by and not report it? Plus the paper can be at a disadvantage when it comes to these early morning press conferences, because by the time it's reported in the paper, it's old news, as the TV and radio stations have spread the news to the mad-information hungry public 12 hours before it hits the pages of the local paper.
Plus I can't slag Pontenteau, because he is responsible for tying my ties. For the life of me, I can't master the double windsor.

My main point is...don't hack of my favorite paper guy. Sorry Gregg (Drinnan), you get second billing. I have heard some criticism in the past about the Courier's Rockets coverage, yet Pontenteau has done a great job with it, since he took over as the beat writer for the daily rag.
The fact is people in Kelowna don't know how good they have it. The Daily Courier is, surprise surprise, a daily newspaper. Where I'm from (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) the best thing that community had to offer when I was broadcasting the games for the mighty Broncos was the Southwest Booster. That paper (I use that term loosely) came out three times a week, and was so out of date when it arrived on your doorstep, it wasn't even worth opening. Scott Anderson was the sports reporter there at the time, and let's just say a motivational speaker couldn't have jump started this guy.
The Southwest Booster was great for bowling scores, but little else.

And a nice story out of Regina about a WHL player:

A junior hockey player who received severe head injuries in a car crash in southern Saskatchewan says he's determined to attend his team's training camp next month.Garrett Robinson, 19, of Surrey, B.C., says he's working out and skates every day to prepare for training camp for the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors. Robinson received severe head injuries and two other players received minor injuries when a pickup truck being driven by a 23-year-old man slammed into their vehicle near Moose Jaw last October. Robinson says his doctors have told him he can't play any contact sports, but he's determined to go to training camp `no matter what.'Robinson and his teammates were in Smith's car on a road trip when a pickup ran a stop sign and slammed into the vehicle's passenger side where Robinson was sitting. In May, Curtis Jay Mullen, 23, was sentenced to nine months in jail after admitting he'd been drinking before the crash.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Finley Faces Unfamiliar Challenge

For Jeff Finley, jumping into the assistant coaching role with the Kelowna Rockets doesn't come with it's share of trepidation.

Finley knows the game well, having played over 700 games in the NHL with 6 teams, but coaching is a totally different story.
When Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton approached Finley to see if he was interested, he jumped at the challenge, but not without some reservations.

"Basically Bruce called me and asked I was interested. I told him I had thought about coaching, and I thought I'd be good at it, despite not having any experience. Bruce (Hamilton) arranged a meeting with Ryan Huska and he explained to me what was all involved, all the duties you have as an assistant coach, including the travel and what goes on. I then got together with Bruce Monday and that was it", Finley added.

What is his greatest challenge?

"I am coming out of playing, and I don't have any coaching experience so their will be a bit of a learning curve there. My greatest challenge it trying to get the message across to the young guys, but I am really looking forward to it."

Will you rely heavily on what you learned as a pro?

"I hope it's a big asset. I lend my experience to Ryan in all different areas of the game, but especially on defense and especially working with these young
defenseman that they have in the organization, who I got an opportunity to watch last season. I can really see the potential in these guys, so I am looking forward to working with the d, but t just helping out and lending my thoughts and experiences in all different areas.

What will be his demeanor as the teams new assistant?

"I hope to think I am player friendly. I think their has to be a fine line where you have to be tough at the right times. The players have to know that you are here to work, you are here to win. Part of that will by Ryan's job, but at the same time I feel the same way as he does. He wants to get back to be known as a hard working team, and that's the same philosophy I have".

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Huska Da Man!

Ryan Huska was officially introduced today as the Kelowna Rockets head coach. Jeff Finley is the assistant coach. Both signed two year deals with a team option for a third. This is Huska's first head coaching job while Finley has no coaching experience.

Huska was informed he would get the job Sunday night, while Finley just committed Monday.

"It's nice. I am very excited about the opportunity, Huska said. "I am really looking forward to working with the guys we have in place, and working with some of these young players. I think we have the makings of a very good team, so we are all excited about this."

Do you feel fortunate that your road towards a head coaching position at this level has been a relatively short one?

"I never really expected to get a coaching opportunity here in Kelowna. I always thought, or assumed that Jeff (Truitt) would stay a few more years, or I would go somewhere else to get my first chance to become a head coach. So I am very excited it is here, and as I said earlier this is the best organization to be a part of."

With training camp just a month away, what's next?

"We have decided we will sit down on Monday, and get ourselves going. Once we get our scheduling meetings over, we can plan a few different things. With Jeff (Finley) as the assistant coach, we are very similar in the way we expect the team to play, so I'm really looking forward to working with him and getting this team to play the way we want to see them play".

With Jeff Finley, how involved do you want him to be?

"I want him to have a lot of input. He's going to be a guy who will be very good for our defenseman. He's got amazing experience, and I think even he will admit we wasn't the best defenseman in the world, but he was always good technically and he had so many tricks that he taught himself over the years that helped him play over 700 games in the NHL.He's also a fresh face, so he's going to bring some fresh ideas into the mix. I think sometimes when you have the same group around for a long period of time, you tend to recycle some of the ideas. We are expecting Jeff to bring in a lot of his ideas, and he'll be a big part right off the bat."

People questioned Jeff Truitt when he took over from Marc Habscheid. What do you say to those that question your abilities taking over from Jeff Truitt?

"I think no matter what position you are in, their will be some people who will be supportive of you and think I am the right choice, and some that won't. I think that's in every walk of life. So I think you just have to believe in your plan, believe in what you are trying to accomplish and not worry about what those nay-sayer's may be saying."

Huska's Dad and Mom were on hand for today's announcement, and let's just say they were tickled pink that their son has been handed his first head coaching job in the WHL.

What does Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton think of the new hires?

"Ryan has earned his stripes here, and he's the best guy for the job", Hamilton said. "Why I waited as long as I did shouldn't be construed as anything more than, I've been gone for three weeks at a lot of business things and holidays. In order to get Jeff (Finley) into place it took till now, because I wanted to spend some time talking to Jeff, and let Ryan meet with him so they could decide if they were going to get along and where their philosophies were and things like that. It's going to be quite the pair ".

How did Jeff Finley come into the mix as an assistant?

"I know that he has been around. I knew that when he first retired, he was interested in coaching. But I think it's important for those guys to sit around for a year, and just watch what's going on. I think he's had his eyes opened with how much time and commitment there is. He has four young kids, but to me he's going to be really good", Hamilton added. "If we have one area that we need to improve on it was on defense, and I think Jeff is so excited about working with the Schenn's, Barrie's, Myers and Bowman's of the world. And I think if Dowzak and Joe can't learn from this guy then I am not sure they are going to get any better."

Bruce you mentioned some potential new faces in your lineup for this season. Can you expand on that?

"I can't because I am in the middle of...we have an exceptional player that played college last year that I think is considering leaving. That will be a real good edition to our team. I will know in early August what his situation is. We are working away on visas for our European players and I am speaking with Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter about Backlund. Darryl didn't know what was going to happen with him, but if they can sign him then I think their is no doubt where they (Flames) want him to play. Darryl has told me that this (Kelowna) is where they want him next year."

Huska A Slam Dunk

It looks like Ryan Huska is a slam dunk to be named the head coach of the Kelowna Rockets. GM Bruce Hamilton is quoted as saying "Ryan's our man" which pretty much tells you the assistant coach will be promoted from within.
Good for him!
While Huska is the new head coach, former NHL'er Jeff Finley will be named his assistant.
Quotes from Hamilton, Huska and Finley will come following the press conference.
With Huska landing the Rockets job, Mike Williamson has no where to go in the Western Hockey League, but to the Kootenay Ice.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Huska Gets Head Coach Gig, Or Does He?

The Ryan Huska era officially takes flight.
A news conference has been set for Tuesday morning at 10:30 where the Kelowna Rockets will name the teams next head coach, filling the vacancy left with the departure this summer of Jeff Truitt.
Huska has no previous head coaching experience at any level, yet has earned high marks as a player with three Memorial Cup titles with the Kamloops Blazers, and one as an assistant coach with Marc Habscheid at the helm in 2004.
If Huska is named the teams new head coach, who will his assistant be? Is goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh even in the Rockets plans in a capacity of that magnitude. No question 'Dilly' is an outstanding goaltending coach, but is fully immersed in that craft. Is he a capable assistant to help an inexperience head coach like Huska through the growing pains of the added responsibilities?
Or will Huska be at tomorrow's new conference as an innocent bystander, as GM Bruce Hamilton brings in an individual with more mileage under his belt as a head skipper? Or does Mike Williamson make his mark in K-Town, as Hamilton beats Kootenay GM Jeff Chynoweth to the punch by hiring Williamson before he takes over the duties of the Ice?
Only time will tell.
This blog will be full of comments from the familiar, or new face when the Rockets finally put a close on a situation that has dragged on for far to long for everyone involved, Hamilton, Huska and the team.
If I am a betting man, this is my percentage breakdown on who gets hired. Huska 70% - Williamson 20% - Habscheid 5% - Other 5%.

Milne Married/Mick Vernon Bound

Kamloops Blazer assistant coach Andy Milne got married on the weekend. While he should be an arch rival of mine, he is anything but.
I got a chance to meet the personable Milne, as a player, when he wore a Swift Current Broncos jersey in the late 90's.
Milne also spent some time with the Broncos organization as a guest coach under the watch of Todd McLellan, and during that time I had the privilege of having Milne in the broadcast booth for road games. Milne was well spoken, yet had a hard time shedding his mindset of being a player. Not far removed from his battles on the ice, I remember a game in Regina where the Broncos and Pats were involved in a rare fight filled affair. The Pats had designed tough guy Kyle Freadrich, who according to Milne was taking liberties. Milne became emotional involved on what was happening below on the ice, that the only word that could come out of the mouth to explain Kyle Freadrich's antics was the word 'retarded'. Politically correct, it was not! If I remember correctly, Milne used that word about 30 times as the events unfolded, causing me to turn his mic off, electing to take the reins myself until cooler heads prevailed in the broadcast booth.
Milne was a character, and still is. He would always take his dress shoes off in the broadcast booth (excluding Cranbrook where it was -30 in their old building) and if room permitted, would sit on the counter with one leg on the floor and another parallel to the counter. I never thought much of it, until he became so excited on the air, that he lifted his leg off the counter to stand upright, sending my broadcast board onto the floor and taking us off the air.
It wasn't long after the 'retarded' episode, that Milne was squeezed off the air, no not by me, but by the Broncos coaching staff, after hearing word of Andy's antics.
Troy Mick is coming back to the Okanagan...sort of.
Mick, who resigned as GM of the Vernon Vipers for a job selling real estate in Mexico, will be one of several familiar hockey people attending the Vernon Vipers Alumni weekend August 10th and 11th.
Mick will be joined by Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who has been named the guest chairman of the second annual event.
The two day event includes both a senior and junior hockey game.

I ran into ex-NHL'er Glen Cochrane today. He is good friends with Jim Hammett. Cochrane confirmed that Hammett has indeed handed in his resignation with Hockey Canada and will be named the new Director of Amateur Scouting for the NHL's New York Rangers.
Hammett, who is based in Kelowna, is no stranger to the the NHL, having held the post as Director of Scouting for the Colorado Avalanche.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lord Stanley Comes to K-Town/Rockets Invest in Fitness Test

The Stanley Cup is coming to Kelowna this summer.
Anaheim GM Brian Burke will be in Kelowna, cup in hand, next Friday at Moxies Restaurant. Burke will be signing autograph's for 2 hours - between 10 am and noon - with all the proceeds going towards a three year old Summerland boy involved in a car accident. In October 2006, Joshua Dyck was traveling with his parents when they were involved in a head-on collision. The accident left Joshua paralyzed from the chest down. If you don't want Burke's autograph, you can still get your picture with the cup!

Don't forget about a fundraiser for a Westbank
teenager who is battling cancer is set for August. Several NHL players including Nashville's Shea Weber, are getting together for a fundraising hockey game to off-set the expenses the Westbank family incurred on a trip to New York where the young hockey player underwent cancer treatment.


Kelowna Rockets forward Cody Almond will take the first step in trying to impress the team that drafted him this summer, when the Minnesota Wild conduct a prospects camp July 24th to the 30th. Almond was a late pick of the Wild in this summers draft, but will join the team's top prospects for workouts down in Minneapolis.
A total of 31 players, Almond included, will attend the 6 day camp.


The Kelowna Rockets pride themselves on having one of the fittest teams in the WHL, and this season will be no exception.
The team brought in several players for fitness testing this week, including Colin Long, Myles MacRae, Cody Almond and Dylan Hood. This summer testing period gives the hockey club a better idea of what the teams players have been up to over the summer, while keeping the players themselves accountable when it comes to their own conditioning. The process of bringing in these players in July is not an inexpensive venture, but one the Rockets believe is money well spent.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Are the Kelowna Rockets Mad About Mike?/Fiddler a Father

Now that Mike Williamson is on the open market, would the Kelowna Rockets be interested?
I can't see why they wouldn't be.

Williamson has over 500 games under his belt as a Western Hockey League head coach with the Portland Winter Hawks, and now that Williamson is no longer in the Hawks plans after failing to have his contract renewed, Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton surely would like to have a conversation with him.
I could see both Williamson and assistant Ryan Huska co-existing on the Rockets bench, as the duo would comprise two of the youngest coach/assistants in the WHL. While Williamson is just 34, Huska is just a touch younger after turning 32 on July 2nd.
Williamson is a smart hockey man, and likely saw the writing on the wall that his days in Portland were numbered. The fact that he pressed ahead by spending time this summer attending and essentially running a prospects camp for the Hawks in Calgary, despite being without a contract, shows what type of guy he really is.
n will undoubtedly inquire about the Rockets coaching opening, and will surely give Kootenay GM Jeff Chynoweth a call to see what type of interest they have in him as the bench boss of the Ice. Maybe Williamson will have no need to pick up the phone, as Hamilton and Chynoweth race to see who can lock him up first to guide their respective hockey club?
You've heard the saying 'Good things happen to good people'. If that is indeed the case, look for Williamson to resurface in the WHL in the not so distant future.

Summer in the Okanagan has it's good points, and it's bad. The bad has to do with the traffic problems at this time of the year. Highway 97 is a disaster, as holiday travelers combine with Kelowna commuters, resulting in lengthy delays in a frustrating attempt getting from one end of

the city to the other. During these extended periods of time in the car, you often pass the time listening to the radio. I did just that Wednesday, and had to chuckle at a local radio stations sportscast. The announcer was reading a story about the Pan American games where a rower from a community in Saskatchewan known as Coronach (Cor-a-nack) was pronounced cor-nich. Trust me I've butchered my fair share of names since I've moved to BC (hello Osoyoos), but being a former Saskatchewan resident, the mispronunciation of Coronach made my drive home just a little more enjoyable.

Vernon Fiddler is now truly a family man.
The former Kelowna Rocket and his wife celebrated the birth of a baby boy (Blake), and are now celebrating a new contract with the Nashville Predators. Fiddler signed a new deal with the Pred's on Wednesday. Fiddler is a regular at the Rockets Alumni weekend, but had to opt out this summer with his wife just days away from the birth of the couples first child. The new deal will pay him 1.7 million dollars over the next two years. You can buy a lot of diapers with that kinda coin!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Crying Over Clouston's Departure-Not!/The Voice of the Canes

So my buddy Cory Clouston is off to the American Hockey League.
I say my buddy, tongue-in-cheek, because I admittedly am not a fan of the impersonal Kootenay coach. We have never had a verbal disagreement per-say, but simply Clouston wasn't a coach I'd hunt down for a pre-game interview. Clouston frankly made you feel like you were wasting his valuable time, and I am not the only broadcasters to think this way.
But to Clouston's defense, he did some pretty remarkable things with that team over his time in 'Kootenay Country', and he did what coaches are suppose to do...win. He could take a good old fashioned Dale Carnegie course in my opinion, but their is no need to change his coaching style.
While Clouston will be named the new head coach of the Binghamton Senators, the team announced Tuesday they are hosting the 2008 AHL All-Star game.

A new face, or should I say voice is joining the Western Hockey League this season.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes have named Pat Siedlecki as the teams new radio broadcaster. Siedlecki beat out close to 50 applicants for the honor. Siedlecki most recently called games with the Naniamo Clippers of the BCHL. Congrats to Siedlecki, who I don't know from a hole in the ground, but will likely get to know better this season.

Now the Edmonton Oil Kings are the only team to finalize it's radio broadcaster. By the look of things, it's priority #1045 on the to-do-list, just behind what urinal cake scent the team should use in the mens washroom during Oil King home games this season.
All joking aside, the candidate who gets the Oil Kings gig better be a quick learner, with training camp not that far away.


My fellow blogger Ryan Switzer in Swift Current may have misinterpreted what I posted on this blog a while back about the Oil Kings radio opening.
I posted that the Edmonton Journal newspaper was reporting that James Gallo is rumored to be the new play-by-play voice of the Oil Kings. In that blog posting I did not say Gallo was a slam dunk, but was in the running for the position. I am only stating what I read, not what I heard. Switzer's blog www.ryanswitzer.blogspot.com is always a good read, and his often warped sense of humor puts him in my good books no matter what bad things he says about me! I'm joking Switzer..,I'm joking.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hamilton Courting Habby

If Bruce Hamilton had it his way, it would be a done deal.
The Kelowna Rockets GM has likely broken bread more than once with Marc Habscheid, bringing up the issues of him taking over the head coaching duties for a second time.
The fact that Habscheid is hanging out in the Okanagan this week as his son attends hockey school, makes it even more
For Bruce Hamilton the conversation with Habscheid this summer must bring back memories of when the two were discussing his possible return to junior hockey in the spring of 2000.
Hamilton was calling on Habscheid to join the coaching staff after relieving Clint Malarchuk of his duties. Habscheid was still feeling the sting of leading the Kamloops Blazers to the WHL finals in 1998-99, but not having his contract renewed.
At the time Habscheid was in the drivers seat, and really had no interest of quickly get back into the coaching racket. He had heard that Hamilton was a hands on GM, maybe to hands on, and was a little leery of joining the Rockets unless Hamilton backed off! He'd come to Kelowna, but only on the condition that he would have the say on the player development side of the hockey club. Habscheid wanted to coach, but wanted to coach a certain way, with a certain type of player. It was tough for Hamilton to agree too, but he took a leap of faith that day by letting Habscheid run the team the way he wanted too, and the rest is history.
If Habscheid comes back and assumes the coaching duties again in Kelowna, he will again resume full control while padding his bank account at the same time. Will it match the salary he got at the NHL level with Boston? Potentially, and why not? Habscheid filled the pockets of Hamilton to overflowing with cold, hard cash during his time in K-Town with playoff runs that went well into April, and three times into the month of May.
Count it up.
At 16 bucks a ticket x 6100 fans in the building, Hamilton can turn a profit of just under 100,000 bucks per game. A Rockets win in post season, in front of a full house put a smile on Hamilton's face for more reasons than just winning.
Let's just say that right now Marc Habscheid is like real estate in the Okanagan...a good investment.
Rumor has it Habscheid still has a home in Kelowna, making the sales pitch by Hamilton even that much easier. The old saying, 'the home is where the heart is' may just be enough for Habscheid to consider moving back to the Okanagan for a second time.

Congrats to Kelowna Rockets d-man Tyler Myers for making the U.S Under 18 Select Team roster. Myers is one of just two WHL players to make the squad.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Sutter Snub!

For Brent Sutter it was all about timing.
Approached last season to join the New Jersey Devils, Sutter took a pass on the opportunity feeling that the Red Deer Rebels needed him more, and another chance would eventually come down the road when a NHL GM would come knocking on his door, asking if he was interested.

Now that he's the main man in New Jersey, will Sutter retain the same assistant coaching staff that the Devils had last season? I would be surprised if he wouldn't look for his own staff, considering Devils assistant coach John McLean was rumored as a potential candidate before Sutter's name came out of no where to take on the head coaching duties with the Devils. I say Sutter's name came out of no where, because the owner of the Red Deer Rebels appeared content in staying in the junior game, and playing the role of owner, gm and coach of his enterprise.
But now that Sutter is in the NHL, he will want to surround himself with his kind of people, those he can trust and take the same type of approach to the game as he does. If he intends on picking his own coaching staff, Marc Habscheid surely has to be on his radar.

When it comes to my encounters with Brent Sutter over the years , I can count them on one hand.
What I remember most was his unwillingness to talk to our radio broadcast crew before games during the WHL final in 2003. Sutter would avoid me like the plague, sending out assistant Dallas Gaume to do his dirty work. Nothing against Gaume - he is a former Swift Current Bronco
by the way - but people want to hear from the opposition head coach, and let's face it Sutter is a pretty big deal. I wanted the 'big deal' on my broadcast!
I thought the best way to handle the 'Sutter snub' was to talk to the league about my problem. One game later, Brent was available to me, but only for pre-game comments in games played in Kelowna.
I took what I could get!
Brent Sutter didn't like to play by other people's rules, only his own. He did just that at the WHL level, and likely spelled it out to Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, before committing to taking the head coaching duties with the Devils hockey club.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Is Sutter's Move to the NHL the Rockets Gain?

If Brent Sutter takes on the coaching duties with the New Jersey Devils, it has essentially shut the door on Marc Habscheid's chances this season of being a head coach at the NHL level.
Rumors have circulated that Habscheid had a good shot at the job in New Jersey, after he and Dave Lewis were turfed at the end of the season by the Boston Bruins.

So if 'Habby' has had the door closed on being the head coach with the Devils, would Sutter consider him as an assistant coach? Or does this now pave the way for Habscheid to return to major junior, and the coaching duties with the Kelowna Rockets?
It seems odd doesn't it, that Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton has been extremely slow in naming a successor to Jeff Truitt. Or was Hamilton simply waiting for Habscheid, and now that a door has been slammed shut on a pro job , the coach that led the Rockets to a Memorial Cup title in 2004 is headed back to save a team that missed post season play last season?
The wheels are definitely spinning in every ones head over the latest developments, but no ones head is likely spinning more than Ryan Huska's, who at this point doesn't know if he's in or out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sutter Moving to NHL?

The Red Deer Rebels have called a news conference for Thursday and sources suggest team owner Brent Sutter will announce that he's stepping down as general manager and head coach.

NHL sources tell TSN that Sutter is stepping down from his junior club to pursue a head coaching job in the NHL and that Sutter is the odds-on favourite to be named the next head coach of the New Jersey Devils.

Brent's brother Brian is reportedly taking over the Rebels.

Colin Long Feeling Like a King/Westy and Minny Finished

Congratulations to Kelowna Rockets forward Colin Long.
Despite failing to hear his name called last month at the NHL draft, the 'Kid from California' is getting a taste of the NHL after all.

Long has been invited to the LA Kings summer evaluation camp this week. Long will be joining the likes of Jack Johnson, the Kings number one pick from the 2006 draft, along with Oscar Moller (Chilliwack) and Thomas Hickey (Seattle). Does Long have pressure to perform? In a sense he has nothing to lose, but sure he has some weight on his shoulders. If he can leave a positive impression, return to Kelowna, put up some solid numbers, anything can happen.
Let's don't get to far ahead of ourselves, but a former Rocket by the name of Josh Gorges was never drafted, was a bit on the smallish side as a junior, but the San Jose Sharks liked him enough to sign the d-man to a NHL contract.
This experience will only help Long , as he returns for his 3rd season with the Rockets this season. While it's technically his third in K-Town, I consider it his second or sophomore season. Long's rookie campaign saw him play in less than 21 games, because of mono.
My gut tells me Colin Long is a late bloomer, and we will really see what he's made of this season.

It looks like Kristofer Westblom's affiliation with the Minnesota Wild is officially over.
The Wild informed 'Westy' last week they will not invited him to training camp this fall on a tryout. Earlier on this blog I spoke to Tommy Thompson (Director of Player Personnel) of the Wild, who said the team was genuinely interested in having him at camp, despite failing to sign the Meadow Lake product to a contract by June 1st.
The Wild signed Josh Harding today, which gives you the feeling he is indeed the goaltender of the future for that organization.
Westblom is now open to offers for a free-agent tryout. Stay tuned!
I spoke to Westblom today, as he arrived back in Kelowna after spending time back home celebrating his grandpa's 96th birthday. It's an event Westblom wouldn't miss, because he's just that kind of a guy.

I failed to mention in this blog that Clayton Barthel also participated in Sunday's Rockets alumni hockey game.
Even Darren Deschamps was on the ice. The likable Calgarian is playing senior hockey in Cow-Town with of all people, Liam Couture's dad. Remember though, Liam's dad is a former WHL alumni who can still wheel and deal.


I found it interesting that this blog even made it on the Nashville Predators message board. It was relating to news about Vernon Fiddler's baby. No word on the former Rockets status on whether he can be called 'Daddy' yet?
Fiddler recently held the "Fiddler Fights Cancer'' golf tournament in Edmonton and raised between $30,000 and $40,000 for cancer research. Joining Fiddler as tournament sponsors were Nashville's Jordin Tootoo, Philadelphia's Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul, and Jason Chimera of Columbus.

Gregg Drinnan is reporting on his blog www.gdrinnan.blogspot.com that Jeff Finley may be the new assistant coach of the Rockets, if Ryan Huska gets the top job.
Finley is a former NHL defenseman, and has a link to the Okanagan. Finley is an instructor this summer at the Okanagan Hockey School.
So if we are throwing around names of potential assistant coaches, why not Ryan Cuthbert? Cuthbert is arguably the best leader the organization has ever had, was a coach with the Kelowna midgets until the program folded, and has the respect of everyone he meets. Cuthbert may be young, but so are many assistant coaches in the WHL. Look down the road in Kamloops, where good friend Andy Milne is sharing the bench with Dean Clark and the Kamloops Blazers.
Cuthbert just turned 25 in April and makes Kelowna his home year-round.

Remember Lane Lambert? The former coach of the Prince George Cougars is moving up the ranks.
Lambert today was named the new head coach of the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals. Milwaukee is the farm team of the Nashville Predators.

I found this interesting from a radio broadcasting perspective. It is from the Tennessean in Nashville:

Nashville Predators fans will once again listen to Pete Weber and Terry Crisp on both radio and television broadcasts this coming season.
Last season the franchise had separate broadcast teams for radio and television for the first time. Veteran sportscaster Eli Gold handled play-by-play duties on radio, joined most often by former Predators player Jim McKenzie. But Predators spokesman Gerry Helper said having separate broadcast teams didn't generate enough additional revenue to offset the cost of two additional broadcasters.

"When we made the decision to go with two teams last year, we wanted to see if it made a big ratings difference or if we were able to generate additional revenue that way,'' Helper said.

"We viewed it as two properties, where we could maximize selling on both radio and television. But at the end of the season, I don't think we found that we were able to generate the additional revenue that went along with the extra costs (of a second team).''

Helper praised the work of Gold and said it's possible the franchise could revisit the idea of using separate radio and television teams in the future.

"This is clearly not any reflection on Eli,'' Helper said. "He was a great addition for the organization and the feedback we got was that people really enjoyed his broadcasts.''

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lauer Won't Coach in Kelowna/115 Days Long Enough For Ya?

Brad Lauer has resigned as an assistant coach of the Kootenay Ice. But before you jump to conclusions, Lauer is not coming to Kelowna as the next head coach of the Rockets. How do I know that? I called him!
I spoke to Lauer earlier today, about his decision to leave the WHL after five years as an assistant and the frustration of failing to land several head coaching jobs this off season in the league.

"I didn't pursue the Kelowna job really. I thought that Ryan (Huska) and I are in the same boat. Sure I would have been interested in it, but I didn't contact Bruce (Hamilton) about it because I figure that if I got the job, Ryan wouldn't want to be there", Lauer told me.

" I didn't pursue it really. I know Ryan well and it would have been a very uncomfortable situation. I think Ryan would be a perfect fit, and any time you can hire from within, and your comfortable with him, I think it's a good thing", Lauer added.

Lauer can't say where he's going, but says it's a head coaching job with a team in Canada and it is not at the pro level.
Lauer admitted to me he was involved in interviews in Moose Jaw and Prince Albert, but was unsuccessful with Bruno Campese getting the job with the Raiders and Dave Hunchak earning the duties with the Warriors.
Brad Lauer was a class act during his time in Kootenay and I wish him the best. I never wanted his team to win in those Rocket/Kootenay playoff battles that seemed to be common place every spring, but I appreciated his openness with me over his time in the WHL.

It's been 115 days since the Kelowna Rockets last game. By the time it is all said and done, and the Rockets open the 2007-2008 regular season, it will in fact be the longest off-season in franchise history.

Think back to last year at around this time. The Rockets made a significant trade with the Seattle Thunderbirds acquiring Clayton Barthel for goaltender Derek Yeomans. The deal went down July 7th, 2006.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Creep Chooses K-Town for Summer Home/I'm Shrinking!

Who is the next pro hockey player to own a piece of real estate in the Okanagan?
You can add Blake Comeau to the list.
Comeau bought a new home this summer, and had a house warming party - if you will - this past weekend with former teammates.
What amazes me is Comeau has already purchased a home at 21.
At 21, I was having problems purchasing a tank of gas to drive my 1986 Honda Civic around the streets of Swift Current.
Blake Comeau probably has one of the best nicknames I have ever heard - Creep!
When Comeau was 15, he had a chance to play three games with the Rockets on a Saskatchewan road trip. The Rockets Athletic Therapist at the time, Scott Hoyer, gave him the name because the Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan resident was just creeping him out with his blank stare.
To this very day the nickname has stuck - Creep!


James McEwan's youngest brother will be attending the Rockets rookie camp this fall.
Josh McEwan, who is just 16, will be given the chance to show his stuff, while his older brother nails down an overage spot, and proves to those that doubt him that he is the best bet to be the team's next captain.


It's always great to see former Rocket
players back for the alumni tournament.
It seems that every year each one of them grows just a little bit bigger.
Or am I just starting to shrink? Even Tyler Mosienko is bigger!
Speaking of Mosienko, he hasn't changed a bit since his days with the Rockets. He is still the quirky teenager I remember when he played five seasons with the Rockets.
When I asked him about last season in the East Coast Hockey League, he said, "Las Vegas", his eyes lighting up, "It's wild man", he said with a laugh.
Mosienko will again have a tryout this fall with an American Hockey League team, but is preparing himself to go back to Vegas for another season.


Do you remember who was the referee for the alumni game last summer?
It was Ryan Huska.
This summer Huska did his best job of avoiding the alumni game like it was the plague. Could you imagine all of the people who would have come up to him and asked if he is going to be the new head coach? Sunday's referee (I use that term loosely) was Kim Gellert, a scout with the Buffalo Sabres.

Nice to see some current Rockets participating in the alumni game. Cody Almond, Myles MacRae, The Bloodoff boys and Luke Schenn were taking part.
Former Rockets still in the league, Clayton Bauer (Kootenay) and Troy Ofukany (Regina) also played in the contest.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Moen Makes it Back for Alumni Weekend

We sure must love the game of hockey.
That may explain why close to 800 hockey fans jammed into the C and C on a sunny, hot, +34 degree summer day to watch hockey.

The Kelowna Rockets alumni hockey game once again saw a tremendous turnout of both former and current players, as the White team beat the Black team 9-7. It was more than just about the score though, as Rockets fans were there to see and reminisce with the players who have brought them so many smiles over the years.
Two former Rockets alumni at the game Sunday afternoon (but were not playing) were Scott Hannan and Travis Moen.
Moen was drawing the majority of the attention after winning a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks last month.
I even had a couple of minutes to chat with him, about living out a childhood dream of drinking out of Lord Stanley's mug.

"It's pretty unbelievable to win the Stanley Cup. I've been working 25 years to win it, so it's a dream come true. I don't know if it has really sunk in yet? I think when I bring the cup home to my hometown (Stewart Valley, Saskatchewan) and share it with everybody, then it will really sink in a bit".

What has the last month been like for you, with so many people congratulating you on winning the cup?

"Ya, especially since I live in a small town, lots of people have come up to me to shake my hand and have just wanted to ask me how it feels. It's been fun though. I enjoy getting out there and talking to the people. It's been a busy summer, and it's probably going to get busier".

Along the ride to the Stanley Cup, when did it hit you that, hey my name could be etched on the cup forever?

"I think winning that last game against Detroit, and the realization that we were going to the Stanley Cup finals really hit me then. To play in the series, and play so well because our team was so tight, I think that was the biggest thing about our team and why we had success."

Do you see yourself as an example to other players, junior players like a James McEwan, that if you work hard and contribute in other ways then on the scoreboard, you can be a Stanley Cup champion?

"I was never blessed with an abundance of skills, and I've always had to work hard to get where I am. It's been a long process along the way, and at times it's been a grind but it just shows that if you want something bad enough, and you work hard enough to get it, it can happen".

Moen told me he had just four tickets he could use for family and friends for the Stanley Cup finals. Travis had the pleasure of having his Mom, brother and sister take in a couple of games down in Anaheim. Father-in-law Lorne Frey elected to let Travis' immediate family enjoy the experience, as he watched his son-in law win the cup on television.
It was interesting to hear that Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton offered to purchase Lorne and his wife Jan flights down to the finals, even though they couldn't be in the arena to enjoy the festivities.

I had a chance to reminisce with so many players at Sunday's game, I'll share those thoughts on a blog posting tomorrow.