Friday, August 31, 2007

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round....

Oh the smell of the bus!
For the first time this hockey season, the Rockets were on the iron lung headed off to Edmonton for this weekend's tournament.
Rockets Head Coach Ryan Huska told me Friday that Torrie Jung will start in goal Saturday against the expansion Edmonton Oil Kings. The Rockets technically have three goaltenders on the trip to Edmonton, the other two being veteran Kristofer Westblom and 16 year-old rookie Dylan Tait. Seventeen year-old Daniel Salamandyk didn't make the trip, as he is expected to join the BC Hockey League's Westside Warriors. Players reassigned by the team following training camp were defenseman Mandeep Nijjar and forward James Kerr.
AM 1150 News-Talk-Sports won't be doing any exhibition play-by-play games as David Michaud has refused to do them! Actually our contract with the team is for regular season games only, but we'll be on the air with game one of the regular season September 22nd.

It's Time for the Dress Rehearsal

Call it a dress rehearsal.
The WHL exhibition schedule for the Kelowna Rockets is just that, a tune up of things to come.
Is it imperative to have success in pre-season play? With this group, the answer is yes. With as many returning players as the Rockets have heading into this season, the winning feeling needs to emerge early for a squad that got kicked in the teeth more than a few times last season. After watching training camp, what's my feeling about the 2007-2008 edition with less than a month remaining before game one?

Defensive Core:
When you evaluate the defensive core, I can see why GM Bruce Hamilton is leaning towards adding a veteran overage presence back on the blueline. Luke Schenn is your number one d-man, but he is still just 17 (He turns 18 - Nov 2nd). Schenn hasn't even been drafted yet! Tyler Myers and Tyson Barrie are solid defenseman, but when you are just 17 and 16 respectively, mistakes are going to be made between the two. Nineteen year-old Colin Joe and Tysen Dowzak have a leg up on Matt Brusciano and Riley McIntosh, but are they significantly better? You tell me. In exhibition, both Dowzak and Joe must separate themselves from those two, while eliminating the chance of a rookie d-man stealing a spot from a veteran.

The Forwards:
My comfort level when looking at the forwards is much better than what I see on the blueline.
Age and experience may be the reason why. Nineteen year-old Justin Bernhardt is looking at getting back to his form of two years ago when he scored 22 goals in his 17 year-old season. 'Bernie' is better and I'm betting on Colin Long making an impact this year too. Cody Almond has been the best player at camp - when he wants to be. Throw in the Bloodoff boys, Brandon McMillan and Kyle St. Denis and you have a young group that will only complement what I hope are the 'big three' - Bernhardt, Long and Almond. I for one, am not putting huge pressure on St. Denis to score. Oh sure he will get his fair share of points, but it's how he reacts to the WHL grind - long term - that will be interesting to watch. Bigger, sturdier d-men will be trying to knock St. Denis to the ice. It's how he handles the tight checking which remains the unknown. He was great in his short stint with the Rockets last season,but let's not get carried away into thinking he will be the savior this season when it comes to goal scoring. Remember Justin Keller scored 25 goals as a 17 year old, so if St. Denis can come close to that, he's met my expectations. James McEwan's heart and determination is valuable enough to earn an overage spot up front.
My question marks are Myles MacRae, Dylan Hood, Milan Kytnar and Jason MacDonald. Why those four? I really don't know what to expect from them this season. I have watched all of them at training camp, but game conditions against those other than friendly teammates is needed, for me to gauge what those four bring to the table.

The Goalies:
As was the case last season, Kristofer Westblom and Torrie Jung will face quality shots again this season. The change is, they won't see as many. The reason? A stronger forward core means the puck will be in the oppositions end more often. Sure both goaltenders will have to preform at a high level with the hope of stealing a game or two, but they won't have to pull off a miracle like last season. This year Westblom and Jung can make a mistake, knowing that the team has the ability to get one back on the scoreboard.

Good luck this weekend guys in an exhibition tournament in Edmonton!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Almond Won't Be Home Sick/Oldies 1150 Changes

  • If Cody Almond had a problem being home sick last year, it won't be an issue this season. The Kelowna Rockets leading scorer from last season saw his mom and dad move from Calgary to Kelowna this summer. Almond will now be living at home with his parents this season. The Almond's are following in the footsteps of Brandon McMillan's family, who moved from Delta, BC to Kelowna last season.
  • It was nice to see three alumni taking in the Rockets ice session last night at Prospera Place. Justin Keller was hanging out with Blake Comeau and Clayton Barthel. Comeau is rooming with Barthel and Troy Bodie this summer. Comeau is the landlord of the two, after buying a home in Kelowna just a block away from Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber. What's home ownership like for the personable Comeau? "It's awesome", he said with a chuckle. "It's a little different trying to keep it clean, but I put my foot down and keep those other two in line."
  • Sophomore defenseman Riley McIntosh admits he got off to a slow start at training camp this year after falling ill just prior to the start of camp. The soft spoken McIntosh says he was busy putting on weight this summer to add to his 6 foot 5 frame. McIntosh is now tipping the scales at about 195 pounds.
  • Rockets goaltender Torrie Jung is likely sharing stories with his younger brother, who is attending a WHL training camp of his own this week. Jung's brother Mikael is at the camp of the Vancouver Giants. Mikael was selected by the Giants in the 6th round of the WHL draft.
  • In case your wondering the Rockets will open an exhibition tournament in Edmonton with a game Saturday afternoon against the expansion Oil Kings. The Rockets face Swift Current Sunday at 11 am followed by a game against Regina Monday also at 11 am.
  • Kelowna's newest radio station is launched today, as Oldies 1150 now becomes AM 1150 - News - Talk - Sports. The new change means the music is gone, and the radio station becomes all talk. For sports fans, it means Kelowna Rockets, Vancouver Canucks, BC Lions and Kelowna Falcons play-by-play. World Junior games are also planned for Christmas. The format change means Dan Russell's Sportstalk in the evenings, ESPN radio from midnight to 6am and Bob McCown's Toronto based Primetime Sports talk show weekdays from 3 until 4. Being a sports fan, the change is music to my ears.
  • If you get a chance at training camp, stop by the Rockets store 'In The Crease' and check out some of the Rockets souvenirs. Kim Sylvester, the Rockets store manager, does a great job of bringing in new Rockets apparel, and has some discounted clothing that is priced to sell.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Things That Make Me Go Hmm at Main Camp...

  • Players competing for a job at Rockets main camp are broken down into three teams. All three teams use every dressing room at Prospera Place, other than the Rockets main dressing room. GM Bruce Hamilton remains strong in his belief that until you make the roster, you won't have the privilege of putting your gear on in the teams locker room.
  • Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton is feeding his scouting staff well at training camp this year. The press box is amply supplied with coffee, donuts and sandwiches. Rockets Athletic Therapist Jeff Thorburn may have had some say on the menu, as the scouts are being offered a bevy of fruits. Something tells me the scouts will be headed to the Timbits box more often than picking up an Okanagan grown apple!
  • Prospera Place is undergoing a face lift...sort of. New carpet was installed last week behind the luxury boxes on either side of the arena. The new carpet will even extend to the stairs leading up the press box. You likely won't notice the change, as the carpet is neutral in color. The smell of carpet glue is the only clue that you are walking on freshly laid carpet. Or is that David Michaud's after shave?
  • The Rockets again this season are not holding an intersquad game. Good on them. In my opinion they are a waste of time. I rather see the hockey club evaluate through exhibition games, rather than boring fans with a glorified intersquad game.
  • Sixteen year-old Dylan Tait may be the best looking goaltender at camp. The rookie netminder has color coordinated pads in the Rockets team colors.
  • Rockets Head Coach Ryan Huska and Assistant Jeff Finley were busy following Monday morning scrimmage, collecting water bottles on the two benches. While it's only a small thing, both coaches are leading by example, showing the players that no one is above the team first concept.
  • Rockets fans are in for a treat this season, as they will be able to see the WHL's newest team, the expansion Edmonton Oil Kings on February 16th. The unfortunate thing is the Rockets won't play a regular season game up in Edmonton this season. That means Edmonton resident Colin Joe will have to show his stuff during an exhibition tournament next week up North, or wait until his overage season, if he has any hopes of playing in front of family and friends.
  • Billets are so hard to come by in Prince George, that the Cougars hockey club has put an advertisement in a church bulletin.
  • I can see it coming. In a couple of weeks radio broadcasters across the league are going to be asked to make predictions on the upcoming season. In junior hockey, it's a guessing game at best. The strides that some junior players make from one year to the next are remarkable. A 17 year-old that scores 10 goals one season can end up scoring 35 the next. Who can predict that, outside of the amazing Kreskin?
  • If I'm forced to predict first place finishers by division, I'd take Kamloops in the BC, Seattle in the U.S, Calgary in the Central and Regina in the East. If my past performance at predicting holds true, I'll be dead wrong on all four counts.
  • I was asked the other day about the reason behind creating the blog. My answer was simple. It's just another tool that can be used to inform the Kelowna Rockets fans of what the team is up too. It's really no different that a newspaper article, except mine has the added feature of poor grammar and spelling errors. Call it a gift from me to you (the spelling and grammar part). The concept is nothing new, as more and more NHL broadcasters are required to write blogs for the teams they cover. Is being proactive a bad thing?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dowzak Breath's Better/Westy M.I.A

  • I was surrounded by familiar faces on the first day of Kelowna Rockets main camp. While the team has brought in no less than ten rookies to battle the veterans, it was nice to see those smiling faces that you enjoyed getting to know as members of the hockey club last season.
  • One of those familiar faces was a ripped Tysen Dowzak. A shirtless Dowzak has put on some significant muscle this summer, and is down from last years playing weight of 225, to about 215. While the 10 pound drop in weight may sound significant, the additional muscle will make Dowzak that much quicker.
  • Dowzak underwent surgery this summer. No, unlike reality tv's Gene Simmons who underwent an awful face lift, Dowzak underwent surgery to alleviate a problem of nasal congestion. Can you imagine playing the game of hockey at a high level, and being unable to breath properly through your nose? The surgery alleviated that problem.
  • Cody Almond stood out on day one of main camp. The 3rd year forward always had the puck, and seemed selfish with it, which isn't a bad thing. Goal scorers are traditionally selfish to a certain degree, because they are not scared to shoot it. Justin Keller, Jesse Schultz and Chuck Kobasew were all cut from the same cloth. All three were trigger happy, and Almond is now realizing that if you have a shooting lane, get rid of it with a quality shot on goal.
  • Veteran Torrie Jung is one of six goaltenders at camp. In Monday's on ice session, he again showed why he can be an elite goaltender at this level. He just never gives up on pucks. Jung was terribly out of position on a scoring chance, but somehow was able to keep it out. The never say die approach Jung brings to the ice makes him a solid starter, even if he has just 33 games of WHL experience under his belt.
  • Veteran goaltender Kristofer Westblom will likely be M.I.A this week as he attends a funeral back home. Westblom is anxious to get back on the ice after knee injury last season. For the record, Westy was at camp on Monday.
  • It may have been the red hockey pants that did it, but I couldn't help but notice rookie Kyle Verdino during Monday's session. Verdino played a simple game back on the blue-line and was never out of position. The 16 year-old Phoenix resident may be a little heavy at camp, but will get accustomed quickly to what type of shape you need to be in to compete with the big boys at the major junior hockey level.

Veterans Vulnerable/Thorburn a Positive Thorn

  • Today is the first day of the real deal - main camp! Nothing against the rookies, but now we see who is good enough to wear a Rockets jersey this season. A few veterans better come to camp prepared to win a job though, or they will see themselves sitting on the sidelines while a younger player with less experience earns a chance to show the coaching staff that they deserve to be one of 20 players suiting up every night.
  • The Biggest Battle:The biggest battle at camp this year may be in goal. No weakness here as Kristofer Westblom returns as a solid overager while sophomore Torrie Jung showed us down the stretch last season that he can start in this league. Pick your poison, but both goaltenders are starters in my mind. Sure it will be a friendly battle, but the two will fight it out to see who starts the season September 22nd against the Tri Cities. May the best man win.
  • Who's on the Bubble: Being 19 is not a good age as a junior player if your ability is in question. If you are a 19 year-old defenseman, and you are struggling to get into the top four back on the blueline, you better come to camp focused. In my opinion Tysen Dowzak and Colin Joe find themselves in that scenario. Younger defenseman like Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers and Tysen Barrie have to be considered in your top 3. If so, does a 17 or 18 year-old with the same ability as Dowzak or Joe get the nod over the two veteran d-man. You would think the answer would be yes!
  • Up Front Battle: Speaking of 19 year-old's, Myles MacRae will be asked to do more this season. Fourteen goals and 27 points won't cut it, and he realizes that. Colin Long will make the team no doubt, but the coaching staff would like to see him in the top two lines. Long should be a regular on the power play, and are waiting for the 18 year-old to have a breakout season.
  • While the focus at main camp will be on the individual players battling for 1st, 2nd and third line status, much of the credit in getting the veterans prepared for this season goes to Athletic Therapist Jeff Thorburn. Thorburn was busy this summer making sure that veteran players remained in top physical conditioning, while keeping a close eye and lending a helping hand to some players that may avoid the gym over the summer. Avoiding the gym like the plague usually translates into a poor performance during training camp and the regular season.
    The end result of Thorburn's watchful eye has been huge improvements in conditioning from the likes of Justin Bernhardt and Colin Long.
    "The guys that have come back have done very, very well. Some guys have been excellent, and even beyond our expectations. Overall it's been very, very good", Thorburn told me Friday afternoon during rookie camp. This summer Thorburn pulled a series of players into his office to assess their conditioning, and was asked if that move may have paid dividends at training camp this year. "One of the things we wanted was to make sure guys, especially some of the guys who stuck around after the season ended as they finished school, to really make sure they kept up with the gains that they had made, and carry on their training right through the summer. So we not only wanted to keep them on the right track, but maintain the gains they had built up to that point."
    So who impressed Thorburn when it came to V.O.2 testing and strength testing prior to Monday's on ice session?
    "James McEwan is always in peak physical condition. As far as athletes go, he's in a class of his own in terms of his physical ability, and motivation levels. He drives himself like no other and it makes my job alot easier. Let's just say he doesn't need a kick in the pants like some guys may,"Thorburn added.
    Among the players who needed a kick in the pants following last season was forward Justin Bernhardt. The end result this year is a 19 year-old player who could be in the best shape of his junior career. "Justin was obviously behind a little bit when he got here from Regina, so that was a work in progress through the season last year. We kept Justin close to home through the summer, so we could not only keep an eye on him but help him. He's done very well, and has worked extremely hard on top of the landscaping job he was working at this summer. He still has a ways to go, and we are happy with where he is. Now we want to see that turned into a great season", Thorburn added.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Rockets GM Comments on Blazers Sale

Sorry folks, not much to report on the second day of Rockets rookie camp. All the talk revolved around the Kamloops Blazers being sold. What is Rockets majority owner Bruce Hamilton's take on the sale of the Kamloops Blazers?

"The common line out of there is getting it back to it's glory days, but nobody is going to get back to it's glory days simply because the rules today don't allow what they did, and the player pool is monitored by the draft not by the list system any more. They can say that all they want, but they have to get out there and work hard and find players", Hamilton told me Friday. "The key in Kamloops is getting the hockey operations running properly, and I think they have done a real good job there."

As a WHL owner, is the sale of the Blazers for just over 7 million dollars music to your ears?

"The big mix up on this is, teams are worth what someone will pay for them in your community. Is ours worth more than that? Probably. Is Red Deer worth more than that? Probably. Is Medicine Hat worth that? Probably not, but it's whoever will pay that. "

Could we see other community owned teams like Swift Current, Moose Jaw or Prince Albert eventually becoming privately owned businesses?

"Centers like that are probably concerned, but Kamloops and Lethbridge are the only two that are/were in a position where someone would be interesting in owning them. I don't think that in Moose Jaw, Swift Current or Prince Albert, there is interest in anyone owning those teams and taking on the challenge. Those teams raise a lot of money away from the rink to keep them in business, and the cost of doing business is nothing but going up. In Swift Current, you have a small population base which you need to grind every cent out of the community you can to be there, and I think Prince Albert and Moose Jaw are both similar, just their population base is higher", Hamilton added.

Bruce, on another topic, why don't you allow fighting in rookie camp?

"I never allow it. In the rookie camp for sure their isn't any, and in main camp I ask them not too, but if someone gets foolish and does something that is out of bounds, then they usually deal with it. Their are two things - no fighting and no hitting from behind. All I ask them to do is show me what you do best, so play as hard as you can. If your a skater, be a skater, if your a stickhandler, be a stickhandler. Kids 15 and 16 shouldn't be afraid to play because they are afraid of someone jumping on them and fighting them," Hamilton said.


So Don Hay has signed a long term contract extension with the Vancouver Giants. On this vary blog months ago I stated that Hay was just too good of a coach for an NHL team to pass up, and the Giants would likely be in the market for a new head skipper.

At the time fellow blogger Gregg Drinnan said I would be eating crow, that Hay would not move to the pro level and would stay put in Vancouver. So yes Gregg ,for your enjoyment I am eating crow now that Hay has signed for another five years. The picture above is Gregg holding a...crow! Gregg, I should remind you this isn't the first nor the last time I will put my foot in my mouth,and eat crow. I will eat crow again, and am now quite fond of it. If you are wondering about Gregg's wardrobe in this picture, he is actually dressing up in comparison to what he usually wears at hockey games!

Wheat Kings GM Kelly McCrimmon e-mailed me last night saying that the Wheat Kings have signed 16 year-old Brayden Schenn to a players contract. This summer, you may have read on this blog comments from Brayden's dad that his son wouldn't report to Brandon. I am glad for Kelly and for Brayden that things have worked out, and he'll attend camp next week. Having another Schenn in this league isn't a bad thing!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Two Rookies Impressed Me On Day #1

  • Let me just say it was great to be back at the rink after a long summer off. Maybe it's just me, but I thought the intensity was extremely high in the morning session of Rockets rookie camp. Those on the ice wanting to catch the eye of onlookers weren't afraid to throw the body,with several good hits during the 10 to 12 pm session.
  • Two players impressed me in the morning session. Fifteen year-old Antoine Corbin from Caronport, Saskatchewan played pretty well on defense. Corbin was born in Montreal, Quebec and still has a thick french accent. You gotta love it! Rockets head scout Lorne Frey says Corbin is color blind, but he doesn't use that as an excuse if he gives the puck away to the opposition. One session won't make a career, but I thought 15 year-old goaltender Patrick Fairclough from Campbell River, BC looked strong between the pipes. Fairclough is a big goaltender, already standing 6'1. He frankly reminds me of former Kamloops Blazer netminder Devan Dubnyk. The Rockets can only wish he's half the goaltender Dubnyk was.
  • I ran into three veterans at the morning session. Lucas Bloodoff and James McEwan were on the ice conducting one of the morning sessions, while I bumped into Kyle St. Denis, who is considered a rookie, but looked as relaxed as a veteran should.
  • What are Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton's expectations from rookie camp? "What I really notice now is the kids that can skate.They stand way out compared to years gone by. You have kids that are rough skaters, who will really have a hard time because the game has changed so much," Hamilton told me. "If we come out of rookie camp with two or three surprises, we are really excited. If we were to list two or three guys out of this, we would be really excited, and if we can bring four of five of these players to main camp, then we'd have accomplished everything we set out to do."
  • Hamilton was extremely pleased with the fitness testing results of veteran forward Justin Bernhardt. Hamilton says Bernhardt 's commitment to fitness this summer has been nothing short of outstanding, and that should benefit him in his 19 year-old season in the WHL.
  • I chatted briefly with Curtis Hamilton, the son of Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton. Curtis heads off to the Saskatoon Blades training camp next week, and is excited about joining the team at the tender age of 16. "I think it's a lot easier this year going to camp because I know what's going on. Their will be some younger guys there, so it will be a little stressful for them, but guys like us are there to show them the ropes just like their were guys there for me last year when I was 15". How tough will it be for Curtis to leave home for the first time? "My Mom doesn't want me to go, she wants me to stay", Hamilton said with a chuckle.

Brotherly Love At Rockets Camp

  • Three sets of brothers will be attending the Kelowna Rockets 2007 training camp. You have Evan and Lucas Bloodoff who will both attend main camp, plus overage forward James McEwan will see his younger brother Josh attending rookie camp. Now comes word that Kyle St. Denis' 14 year-old brother Travis will be attending rookie camp as well. I've been told Kyle's younger brother received quite a bit of interest from several WHL teams about attending training camp, but opted for Kelowna.
  • Rockets 19 year-old defenseman Colin Joe should be cooking at main camp next week. Joe told me Wednesday, he spent the summer working out and working as a chef in a local restaurant. Joe says on many night's he was the only one at the grill, cooking up everything from chicken alfredo to hamburgers and fries. Does C-Joe consider himself a good cook? He's not sure, but assured me no one got food poisoning when he was on duty.
  • I had a good talk Wednesday with Scott MacDonald, the father of Rockets forward Jason MacDonald. Scott had high praise for the Regina Pats organization and the way GM Brent Parker and head coach Curtis Hunt dealt with his son. MacDonald was traded from the Pats to the Rockets in a 6 player trade last December. The Pats are a solid organization, and while Parker may get a bad wrap out East with some of the comments he makes to the media, you have to love his passion for winning and his ability to tell it like it is.
  • Am I disappointed that Swift Current Broncos European Daniel Rakos isn't returning this season. When I read on Jon Keen's blog that he wasn't expected back for his 20 year-old season, I took it as a personal setback. The reason? I like his last name. Nothing more - nothing less. While Rakos has a nice ring to it, it can't beat former Chilliwack Bruin Euro Aki Kangasmaki. Kangasmaki may have won the award for the best name in the 'dub' last season. Kangasmaki won't be returning this season either.
  • David Michaud stated in his blog that we will both be at the Rockets rookie camp bright and early Thursday morning. On-ice sessions begin and 8 am, but unlike Michaud, I will stagger into Prospera Place at around 10 am. Michaud is an extremely early riser, while I like to gently move into the day at a much slower pace. Despite our different schedules, we will both be sharing our thoughts daily on what we see at both rookie and main camp.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hamilton & Tory Faced Same Predicament

  • I've heard a ton of negativity towards the Rockets management following the news on this blog that Luke Moffatt isn't going to attend training camp next week. Many have blasted GM Bruce Hamilton and Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey for making the pick at the 2007 draft table. But as my good friend, and radio partner David Michaud has pointed out, Moffatt couldn't play here this season anyway. He is still a player that is a year away from suiting up in the Western Hockey League, and if he indeed commits to the U.S Under 17 program after playing midget hockey this winter in Michigan, he can still wear a Rockets uniform when it really counts - his draft year. Was it a gamble to select him in the draft? Of course it was. But he was what the Rockets believed was the best player at that position in the draft. In 2003 should the Tri City Americans have avoided picking Jonathon Toews with the first pick overall? Should Americans GM Bob Tory have gone with another top five player like Ben Maxwell or Zach Hamill? It's pretty easy to pick apart the Americans now, but had they landed Toews, how dominate of a player would he have been for the Americans in their quest for a WHL title? He was a player the Americans just couldn't pass up in 2003, the same holds true for the Rockets and Luke Moffatt in 2007. Until the door is completely shut on Luke Moffatt, I am giving the organization the benefit of the doubt. Luke Moffatt and his dad are smart hockey people, and when the time is right, will choose the right path towards his dream of playing in the National Hockey League. Moffatt has several options, Kelowna being one of them. Let's just hope that when Moffatt finds that fork in the road, the path he takes goes directly through the Okanagan. If he indeed makes that choice, those that are saying bad things about Hamilton and Frey now, will be singing their praises.
  • Kelowna Rockets defenseman Tysen Dowzak is off to an NHL camp next month. The 19 year-old d-man has received a tryout with the Philadelphia Flyers. Dowzak has played 98 games with the Rockets since breaking into the WHL in the fall of 2005. The Rockets 6th round bantam pick from 2003 will be in a pressure cooker at training camp, as he attempts to solidify himself as a top 4 defenseman. Right now the spots open, with the other three likely taken by Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers and 16 year-old Tyson Barrie. Veteran Colin Joe and Riley McIntish along with rookies Collin Bowman and Mandeep Nijjar will challenge for that spot.
  • Lorne Frey tells me close to 120 players will participate in rookie camp, which opens Wednesday with registration. The players take to the ice for real Thursday morning at 8 o'clock. Frey has some advice for the 14 and 15 year-olds, that are looking at catching the eye of the scouts. "I will tell them, and we always tell them before camp begins to show us what they can do. Play to your strengths and don't do anything that you wouldn't normally do."
  • With all of this talk about Luke Moffatt, the Rockets second round pick is being lost in the dust. Spencer Main from North Vancouver should be interesting to watch at rookie camp. Main is a right winger. The Rockets didn't have a pick in the 3rd round because of a deal they made with the Tri City Americans to get Lucas Bloodoff.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Moffatt M.I.A

Luke Moffatt will be M.I.A when the Kelowna Rockets open main camp next week.
In a conversation with Rockets director of player personnel Lorne Frey today, he told me Moffatt informed the Rockets Friday that he's had a change of mind - or is it heart - and won't be attending camp as originally thought.
"We just understand his situation. He has to go where he can play the best hockey, and we'll be a little more concerned two years from now if he doesn't show up at training camp", Frey told me.
"I think right now we have to give him a couple of years here. The bottom line is Luke wants to play at the best level he can play at, and this presented the best opportunity for him by playing midget hockey in Michigan this winter. We wish him well, and hope he has a great year and continues to develop. Next year, we will see where it takes us," Frey added.
Moffatt was the Rockets first pick in this summers WHL bantam draft, and was ineligible to play with the team this season as an underage 15 year-old.

Luke Moffatt has Pulled Out of Rockets Camp

Moffatt won't attend Rockets main camp. I spoke to Rockets Head Scout Lorne Frey this afternoon. More details to follow.


Mac-T Makes Rare Appearance/Benn on Rockets Radar

  • It was as unusual as a sighting of Ogopogo on Okanagan Lake. But like the mythical lake monster, who has supposedly been seen in these parts by half drunk onlookers over the years, Craig MacTavish was on the ice Sunday as a player. Yes it's a rare sight indeed. The head coach of the Edmonton Oilers was at center, flanked by linemate Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators and Heatley's brother for a charity hockey game. NHL players, and Mac-T, gathered Sunday at Royal Lepage Place on Kelowna's Westside for a charity hockey game for 13 year-old cancer victim Jonathon Neitsch. "You know I haven't played in a game like that since the last game I retired", MacTavish told me after the game. "I haven't had the gear on or anything. The only way I was going to play was if helmets were not mandatory. It was fun, but it's tough though. You skate out there in a track suit as a coach and you feel like you can still skate, and then you get the gear on and it's a completely different animal. It's actually not a bad thing. All coaches should do it because you get pretty critical, but you realize just how difficult it is", MacTavish added. In case your wondering MacTavish retired after the 1996-97 season, becoming the last player in NHL history to play without a helmet.
  • I had a chance to meet Dany Heatley after the game. The Ottawa Senator forward has a home on the Westside of Okanagan Lake. Heatley was one of the first players to put his name forward for the charity fundraiser.
  • The Kelowna Rockets were represented at the game by former alumni, Brett McLean, Shea Weber, Blake Comeau, Ryan Cuthbert, Jason Deleurme, Nolan Yonkman and Josh Gorges.
  • LA Kings goaltender Barry Brust, who was born and raised on the Westside, was the winning goaltender in the no-hitting 8-6 win.
  • The game was a sellout, as over 17 hundred hockey fans packed the new Royal Lepage Place arena on the Westside. Sunday's game was the first event in the arena, which was over a year behind schedule in it's completion. My first impressions of the building is that it's too small. The seating capacity of 15 hundred is just to small, considering it's main tenant are the BCHL's Westside Warriors. The press box still needs some work, and a beam runs directly in the sight line of the score clock for anyone who is sitting in the press box. The score clock was operational for the game, but the lower half of it has yet to be attached. Does it come anywhere close to the BCHL arena's in Salmon Arm or Vernon. The answer? Not even close. But is it better than Memorial Arena? Absolutely!
  • The Rockets will be busy this week persuading Jamie Benn to join them for training camp. The skilled forward, who is on the Rockets 50 man protected list, has apparently committed to playing college hockey in Alaska-Fairbanks in 2008-2009 after scoring 42 goals with the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL as a 17 year-old. Benn was drafted by the Dallas Stars in this summers NHL draft. Hockey Prospects says "Benn is a pure sniper with both good shooting abilities and dekes in close. He showed consistent and rapid improvement over the course of the 2006-07 season. He has an uncanny knack for finding loose pucks, finding the space to make himself available for a pass and being in the right spot to bury rebounds. His skating is average at best. At 6’2, 185 lbs he doesn’t use his size particularly well and he’s not an overly physical force. He is extremely effective when he has the time to set up and shoot or on odd-man rushes. His defensive play is limited and will need improvement."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ray Heads to Waterloo/Do You Want to Buy the Rockets?

  • Kelowna Rockets captain Chris Ray is off to school. Ray has decided to attend the University of Waterloo in the fall, meaning he will be handing in his Rockets jersey for a Warriors one - Waterloo Warriors that is! Ray found little interest in his services after he graduated from the WHL this season. The Westbank, BC residents only taste of the pro's came during a NHL tryout last fall with the Vancouver Canucks. Ray was one in a line of Rocket captains that were never selected in the WHL bantam draft. Ray joins Ryan Cuthbert and Josh Gorges as players never selected in the draft, but wore the coveted 'C'. The trend in Kelowna will likely continue this season, as undrafted James McEwan appears to be the early favorite to be named the Rockets leader.

  • So you want to buy the Kelowna Rockets do ya? With so much talk about the sale of the Kamloops Blazers, I had to ask GM and majority owner Bruce Hamilton if he'd take a look at offers. The answer? "I have no interest in selling". Hamilton says he has people speaking to him daily about getting in on the ownership of the hockey club. Hamilton says it will continue to be a family run business, and if shareholders want to sell their portion, family members have first dibs on buying those shares. It's frankly the way it should be. It was Hamilton and family members that stuck their heads out when they obtained a franchise in 1991 and landed in Tacoma. They took a hit financially for several years, and likely at the time couldn't have found a buyer if they had wanted to sell. Despite some tough times, they grunted it out and are now prospering financially at Prospera Place.

  • A new scoreclock at Rockets home games this season? Maybe! Hamilton says he will be meeting with R.G Properties this fall to talk about a possible upgrade. Hamilton isn't making promises, but a new score clock at center ice could be in sooner rather than later.

  • The Rockets won't be playing any 15 year-olds during the teams exhibition tournament in Edmonton, nor it's two pre-season games prior to the start of the regular season. Hamilton says he'd like to have 25 or 26 players at the Edmonton tournament, workable numbers to see who can make the roster and who can't.

  • Hamilton has many things on his mind these days regarding his own team, plus he has to worry about his only son Curtis moving away from home for the first time. Curtis Hamilton is off to the Saskatoon Blades training camp on August 27th, and is a sure bet to make the Blades as a 16 year-old. You can bet, Hamilton and his wife will be making many a trip to 'Toon-Town' this season to see the younger Hamilton in action. How cool is it that Bruce's son is playing on the same team that he played junior hockey for?

  • Hamilton didn't shy away when I asked him about his dealings with Marc Habscheid in an effort to bring the former head coach back to K-Town. Hamilton says he spoke to Habschied before the draft, and was definitely a candidate for the coaching job.

  • Special thanks to Everett Herald Sports Writer Nick Patterson for some kind words on the Everett Herald website when speaking about this blog. He didn't necessarily say good things about the blog per-say, but more so about the guy making the spelling and grammar mistakes. Now if my employer and the Rockets just felt the same Nick! Thanks again.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Barthel Getting Invite/Bernie Busting His Butt

  • Former Kelowna Rockets d-man Clayton Barthel is venturing out into pro hockey.
    The 21 year-old has received word of a free-agent tryout with the NHL's New York Rangers. Barthel will be headed to the Rangers rookie camp in Traverse City next month. Barthel is no stranger to pro hockey, after hooking up with the Phoenix Roadrunners at the end of last season. Barthel played in four regular season, and four playoff games with the Roadrunners registering one assist.

  • Mike Carman won't be coming to the Kelowna Rockets after all. I spoke to Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton today, and he says the deal to bring Carman to Kelowna fell through yesterday. Carman is a 19 year-old forward, who played last season at the University of Minnesota. Carman is a 3rd round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche. Carman has elected to stay at the U of M, and appears to be on the verge of signing a pro deal. You may remember a couple of weeks ago on this blog, I stated that Hamilton was looking at potentially bringing a NCAA player up to Kelowna. Mike Carman was that player. It appeared that Carman was a good bet to be at Rockets training camp this fall after struggling in the classroom. Carman will sit out the first half of next season after becoming academically ineligible, and will rejoin the Gophers after Christmas.
  • Clearly Justin Bernhardt is taking his hockey career a little more seriously. The 19 year-old forward has spent the entire summer in Kelowna, which has meant a date with Rockets Athletic Therapist Jeff Thorburn. Five days a week, Bernhardt is in the gym under the watchful eye of Thorburn, who is trying to whip the Yorkton, Saskatchewan resident into shape. I remember clearly when the Rockets acquired Bernhardt from Regina last season, the greatest discrepancy in his games was conditioning. Even 'Bernie' realized it, meaning a concerted effort was needed in the gym for his game to improve to the standards that saw him score over 20 goals as a 17 year-old.

  • Congrats to Andy Kemper, who officially has taken on the radio play-by-play duties with the Portland Winter Hawks. Kemper has most recently been the sidekick of Dean Vrooman on Hawk broadcasts. I'll be honest, I have never heard Andy call a game, but believe his outgoing personality and knowledge of the Hawks and the league will be a real asset to the airwaves this season. While I haven't known Andy for a long period of time, he's one of those individuals who you meet and say to yourself, 'he seems like a long time friend'. Welcome aboard Andy! I take it before he committed to the job, he wasn't told about the bus ride from Portland to Prince George? Gulp.
  • Great story from my bud Jon Keen in Swift Current on former Rocket Travis Moen's acting career. Acting career? Ya check it out at Just scroll down a bit.
  • Non hockey related was 4 years ago today (Aug 16, 2003) that lightening started the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire that damaged or destroyed over 230 homes.
    The fire maxed out at 25-thousand-6-hundred hectares, and also burned 12 trestles in the Historic Myra Canyon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ten Reasons Why Luke Moffatt Should Choose the Rockets

These are the ten reasons, in no particular order, why Luke Moffatt should join the Kelowna Rockets next season.

10) Location:

The Rockets are situated in arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Western Canada. I am a bit biased here, but if you've ever visited Kelowna, you have to admit it's a pretty special place. Is it any reason why so many NHL players make it their off-season home?
The game is played on the ice, but a parent wants to make sure their child is left in a quality environment. There are much worse cities to have your son playing junior hockey than Kelowna. Plus Moffatt's dad is from Vancouver originally, so the area is not unfamiliar territory for Luke or his family.

9) Arena:

What type of an environment do the Moffatt's want their son to play in? While Prospera Place isn't exactly a palace, it's still a pretty sweet junior rink. It's relatively new - 1999 - and is full to capacity every night. Playing in a pro-type of environment, even as a junior age player, can't but help him as he prepares for the next level.

8) Ownership:

Rockets GM and majority owner Bruce Hamilton is no dummy. He knows how to build a winner, and runs a first rate organization. Hamilton takes great pride in being on top, and failing to miss the playoffs last season was a bitter pill for him to swallow. Hamilton hates to lose, and will do whatever is necessary to produce a winner. For Bruce Hamilton, the goal is not to fill his pockets full of cash by filling the building. It's all about winning championships.

7) Alumni:

Luke Moffatt, I encourage you to talk to two former Rockets who were wooed into giving the NCAA a try, and ended up on the doorstep of the Rockets. Chuck Kobasew and Duncan Keith are now in the NHL thanks to a stop in Kelowna. Were the Rockets solely responsible for these two players acceleration to the pro's? Not necessarily. But the move to Kelowna gave them a fast track to where Luke Moffatt wants to go - the NHL.

6) The Team:

The Rockets are on the upswing. I know. I know. Their is no where to go but up, but Moffatt would join a team next season that would surely be a season away from challenging for a league title. If Moffatt joins the team at 16, players like Kyle St. Denis will be 18 while goaltender Torrie Jung will be 19. Coupled with the fact that Tyson Barrie will be a 17 year-old sophomore when Moffatt breaks into the WHL, and you have a team loaded with high-end older and younger talent from the goaltender out.

5) The Schedule:

The WHL boosts a 72 game schedule, just shy of the 84 games that the big boys play. Those long bus rides, games and schooling are building blocks for future players at the NHL level. Is it wonder why so many NHL GM's encourage draft picks to leave college hockey and develop their game at the WHL level?

4) Expectations:

Sure every WHL team wants to win, but is their any reason why the last Saskatchewan based team to win a league title was the Swift Current Broncos in 1989? Smaller market teams are at a disadvantage whether the league, or it's fans residing in those cities want to believe it. Whether it's scouting or recruiting of players, some teams just do a better job of it, and no one did it better starting in 2000 than the Kelowna Rockets. Having won two titles in 2003 and again in 2005 has the bar set extremely high in Kelowna. The Rockets don't just want to compete for a title on a four year cycle, they want to win it outright.

3) Teammates:

Let's don't put the cart before the horse, but if Kyle Verdino makes the Rockets this season as a 16 year-old rookie, Moffatt would be able to make a comfortable adjustment to the dressing room with a familiar face at his side. Verdino and Moffatt played hockey together in Phoenix, and are not only former teammates, but good friends.

2) NHL Exposure:

Sure NHL scouts do watch college games, but more NHL scouts are able to see a player like Moffatt more times over the course of the season. The biggest concern players face is a one time viewing by an NHL scout. A one time viewing, combined with an off game, can have a player leaving a bad impression on a scout. A second viewing, followed by a strong showing by the player, can often change the scouts mind in a hurry.

1) I'm Selfish:

I'll admit it. I'd love to see Moffatt on the Rockets roster. By all reports, he is the real deal. He is as skilled as they come, and could be the best 16 year-old this team has ever seen. While still young, Moffatt would likely make an immediate impact offensively, and would be a joy to watch along with Kyle St. Denis.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Verdino May Be the Key In Getting Moffatt/Moffatt-Tavares Comparisions?

The state of Arizona will be well represented at the Kelowna Rockets training camp later this month.
The Rockets number one bantam pick from this summers draft, Luke Moffatt, and former teammate and Phoenix resident Kyle Verdino will be heading up to Kelowna on August 26th.
It was confirmed this morning in a conversation I had with Ralph Verdino, the father of Kyle. Oddly enough Ralph had just spoke with Luke Moffatt's father Kenny earlier in the morning about the two families arriving for training camp at the same time. It's a done deal, both players will be at camp!
The late arrival tells me the two 15 year-
old's will be attending main camp, not rookie camp, which starts on the 23rd of this month.
Verdino, who turns 16 in late October, attended rookie camp last season and is good friends with Moffatt, and played under Luke's dad for four seasons. Verdino was the Rockets 6th round pick in last years bantam draft. If Verdino can make the Rockets as a rookie this season, it may just be enough to persuade Moffatt to join the team next season as a wide eyed rookie.
In speaking to Ralph
Verdino , he told me his son will likely play as a forward, after spending the majority of his hockey career as a d-man. The Rockets envision Verdino - who is 6'1 225 pound - as a power forward. Remember the kid is still just 15!
Many hockey fans across Western Canada have been putting the fear of God into the Rockets faithful by suggesting that Luke Moffatt won't attend the Rockets training camp. That simply isn't true!
I've also been told that while Moffatt has been offered a chance to play for the Under 16 U.S Development Program, the Moffatt's have not agreed to the offer.
To say that Luke Moffatt's experience at the Rockets main camp later this month will go a long way in persuading him to join the team next season, is an understatement. From all accounts this kid is a game breaker, and could frankly play at this level even as an underage player. It makes you wonder if the WHL could take a page out of what happened to Oshawa Generals forward John Tavares? Tavares played in the O-H-L as a 14/15 year old and scored 45 goals in 2005-2006. This past season, at 16, Tavarse scored 72 goals. Would the WHL allow an "exceptional" designation for Moffatt, much like Tavares received in the 'O'? Or does it cause problems for the league down the road, when teams lineup at the front door of the league office in Calgary claiming they too have an exceptional player, and want to fast-track the underage phenom into their lineup? Is Moffatt really that good to play against competition 5 year's older than him? Maybe the entire issue is mute, considering Tavares is Canadian and Moffatt is American? Not to put additional pressure on Moffatt, but the Tavares/Moffatt comparisons are intriguing to say the least.
Enough blogging for now...It's week two of my vacation. I'm off to the beach!!!!

Moffatt is Coming to Kelowna for Camp

More later!


Monday, August 13, 2007

Cutter Comes Full Circle/Rockets Look to Southwest Saskatchewan

  • When you have the franchises best captain in your own backyard, doesn't it only make sense to put him to work? That's the Kelowna Rockets philosophy by adding Ryan Cuthbert to the coaching staff, as an assistant. Cuthbert is arguably the best captain the Rockets have ever had, helping the team win it's first WHL title in 2003. Cuthbert won't be traveling with the team (the exception may be the occasional Kamloops/Chilliwack/Vancouver stop) but will be a welcome addition at home games and during practice sessions. The guy is all about intensity, and will be able to give a player a kick in the pants when needed.
  • The Rockets organization has announced a new website will be born on September 1st. Few details are being released, but the general feedback is the website is one of the best in the WHL as is. I am sure the organization will only add upon it's current successes.
  • Just in case you have had your head in the sand, Oldies 1150 is changing it's format in September. The music will be gone, and will change to a News-Sports-Talk format. Rockets broadcasts will continue to be heard on along with Canucks hockey when it doesn't interfere with our Rockets broadcasts. David Michaud and I have few tricks up our sleeves for this season, which is designed to bring Rockets fans even more information on the team. Our blogs will likely change location when the season starts, and will be found exclusively on the Oldies website. For now though, the blogs remain where they are.
  • The Rockets organization has had success in the past bringing in players from Southwest Saskatchewan for a tryout. Look no further than to Stanley Cup champion Travis Moen, or how about Ryan Cuthbert. Let's don't forget about J.J Hunter. All three were invited t o camp and made the team. So this fall the Rockets have invited 15 year-old Riley Grose from Swift Current, Saskatchewan to the teams rookie camp. Grose is the son of Rod Grose for all of you Swift Current readers.
  • Barry Brust, Blake Comeau and Chris Ray have been added to the long list of players taking part in the August 19th fundraiser for a 13 year-old Westside boy battling cancer. The fundraiser will be held at the new Royal Lepage Place arena. Even former New York lslander Bob Borne will be taking part, as one of the coaches during the fundraising hockey game. Borne, who has more Stanley Cup rings than you can shake your stick at, sells real estate in Kelowna.
  • If your wondering, Rockets rookie camp opens Wednesday August 22nd with registration. The first on-ice session is Thursday August 23rd at 8 am. Camp runs until Sunday August 26th. Are you as excited as I am to see Luke Moffatt? More on his status tomorrow.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Little R & R For Regan's Rant

Unlike the thousands of blogs that are abandoned, 'Regan's Rant' will not end up as one of those statistics.
I took a week off, spending time in Calgary/
Banff with my family. The time away included no blogging, no computer, and little to do with hockey. I managed to make it through the week without all three, only to find out many things in the junior hockey world changed over the week.

  • Congrats to A.J Jakubec for being named the new play-by-play voice of the Edmonton Oil Kings. I am especially pleased to see A.J back in the Western Hockey League, simply because he was my color analyst the first year I was in Kelowna, calling Rockets games during the 2000-2001 season. Jakubec eventually moved to Ottawa where he was involved in calling games for the O-H-L's Ottawa 67's. A.J will do a great job in Edmonton, and should make a smooth transition back out West, considering he was born and raised in the Alberta city. Don't let the innocent picture of A.J fool ya!!!
  • A colleague of mine just down the road in Penticton is on the move. Vee's play-by-play man Dan Marshall is now the new radio voice of the Naniamo Clippers. Marshall and I have had a rather close relationship over the years, and my goal was to get him to the WHL level. While I haven't yet succeeded, Marshall, in my opinion is one of the best callers of the game at the BCHL level, and will hopefully make the jump in the next couple of years. Marshall joined our broadcaster crew as radio host for the 2004 Memorial Cup and did an unbelievable job. He is a pro, and I wish Dan and his wife Tammy all the best on the island.
  • Keith Gerhart is no longer the play-by-play man for the Everett Silvertips. What is going on here? First it was Danny Larochelle with the Chilliwack Bruins pulling the pin, then Dean Vrooman from Portland and now Gerhart calls it quits. Once again I am sad to see someone like Gerhart go, because of his passion for the game and the team that he followed. As I have stated on this blog before, Gerhart likely took the losses harder than many of the Tips players during his time in the broadcast booth. Yet Gerhart was fortunate to call some pretty spectacular games, with a team that quickly became one of the most entertaining to watch. He'll also have the bragging rights of calling each and every game that Peter Mueller played in the Western Hockey League. Gerhart was always a great host to me and my color analysts, Roger Snow and David Michaud. Gerhart should also get props for hanging in there while traveling with former Tips head coach Kevin Constantine. When Constantine's team lost, I am sure everyone including the radio guy, paid the price in defeat in one form or the other.
  • During my week in Cowtown, both the Portland Winter Hawks and Kootenay Ice were busy making coaching announcements. In Portland, a familiar face resurfaces in the coaching ranks with Richard Kromm, while the Kootenay Ice pluck the Vernon Vipers GM and head coach, Mark Holick, to guide the team this season. Once again I don't know all the details, but failing to consider assistant coach Brad Lauer at the time was a shock from this outsider. Lauer got passed up for what he believes was a lack of head coaching experience. If that indeed was the case, would Lauer have used GM Jeff Chynoweth as a reference on his resume?
  • The Canadian Under 18 team was selected this week, and two Kelowna Rockets failed to make the grade. Brandon McMillan and Kyle St. Denis may not have made the 22 man roster, but just being selected to tryout for the team has to give both players an added boost of confidence heading into this season. Don't forget that one member of the Rockets will be attending the Under 18's. D-man Tyler Myers has been named to the U.S Under 18 squad.