Sunday, September 30, 2007

It Wasn't Even Close

  • Saturday night's 5-0 loss in Vancouver wasn't even close. The Rockets simply didn't show up to play in this one. I will give the Giants credit for a solid effort, but that was not the same team I saw Friday night in Everett. Where was the battle level? Where was the intensity? Where was the creativity? The only thing I saw was goaltenders Kristofer Westblom and Torrie Jung doing everything in their power to keep the game respectable.
  • Where were the difference makers? If I am a 19 year-old, in what way did I contribute to the cause? If I'm 16, I'm shaking in my boots playing infront of 12 thousand fans against a Giants team that plays pressure hockey. But if I'm an older, experienced player, should I not look in the mirror and ask myself what kind of contribution did I make?.
  • The Rockets two best players outside of the goaltenders? Colin Long and Evan Bloodoff. Long appeared to be hungry for the puck, and wanted to battle. The younger Bloodoff again showed good energy, unfortunately many of his teammates didn't follow his lead.
  • The 5-0 loss to the Giants brought back bad memories of a game between the two teams last season where the Rockets lost 4-0. The Rockets were out-shot 34-13 in that game. Or was it the game in early February, where the Rockets lost 7-0, again in Vancouver, and were outshot 47-11? This time the Rockets were not only shut-out, but managed just 9 shots on goal. By comparison, the Rockets were held to 11 shots on goal three times last season. Once by the Giants, Everett and Kamloops.
  • The Rockets played without captain James McEwan (groin), and Cody Almond (healthy scratch). McEwan would have made a difference in this one with his never say die attitude, but Almond's work ethic and undisciplined play of late, had him sitting on the sidelines. Oddly enough, Almond was a health scratch for a game against the Giants last season as well.
  • Luke Schenn and Giants agitator Garet Hunt got into a scrap in the game. Schenn got in some good early punches, before Hunt ended the tilt with a flurry while trying to pull the jersey over the head of Schenn. I called it a draw, but Hunt reacted like he dominated the affair. It's interesting to note that last season, Hunt fought 11 times at home and just 4 times on the road. It's easy to pick a dance partner on home ice, but much more difficult to tango on opposition ice.
  • I thought the Giants organization did a nice job in raising three banners to the rafters at Pacific Coliseum. The Giants showed a short video for each banner raised, which included BC Division Champions, Western Conference playoff pennant winners and Memorial Cup champions.
  • David and I had another great talk with Giants coach Don Hay prior to the game. Even after the interview was over, we chatted with Hay for another 10 minutes. I could talk to this guy for an hour. Hay is as personable as they come, well respected and is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Not like I need to be friends with the guy, but it sure feels nice that when the interview is over, he isn't giving you the impression that you were wasting his time.
  • I have a beef with public address announcers in this league, many of which you simply can't use on the air because they go into a major tirade when announcing their teams goals. The same can't be said in Vancouver, where John Ashbridge is one - if not the best. Sure he has a certain excitement when announcing a Giants goal, but it's professionally done. The same goes for the public address announcer in Calgary, who's first rate. I heard the Kamloops Blazers have a new p.a announcer this season. While the old guy was apparently popular, he was way to over the top to be used by a visiting broadcaster. And don't get me started on the dude from Spokane!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rockets Road Warriors?

  • One win on the road won't make you a road warrior, but it was a nice way for the team to begin the schedule on opposition ice. I informed Rockets assistant coach Jeff Finley, that last night's post game celebrations were few and far between when Ryan Huska chatted with us last season following another road loss. Think about it. Thirty times, Huska and I had to make sense of another road loss.
  • Cody Almond could be in the dog house, and if you listened to last night's game, you will have a pretty good idea why. Almond took a bad penalty in the second period that almost sunk the teams ship. His shooting the puck after the whistle penalty turned the tide of the game in the Tips favor. Up until that bad penalty, the Rockets had a 4-1 lead. Instead the Rockets went into the final period with just a 4-3 margin of error.
  • I had to chuckle at Dylan Hood after he scored his first WHL goal. He didn't know what to do. He was as startled as Tips goaltender Leland Irving. Hoody looked more like a goal scorer on his second goal, with a much better celebration after he beat Irving from in tight.
  • What's going on with Leland Irving? It's likely the million dollar question in Everett these days. He was fighting the puck all night long, and simply isn't sharp mentally. Don't write this guy off though, he has all the tools necessary to be a good pro, but to say he's struggling in the early stages of the season is an understatement.
  • Kyle Beach had a pair of goals in last night's loss for the Tips. He was affective as usual, by finding the scoring area. Both of Beach's goals were greasy, by standing his ground in front of the Rockets net. He'll get a lot of goals that way, and isn't afraid to pay the price to get there.
  • I will say the Tips didn't play with that Kevin Constantine work ethic I've gotten used to over the years. They used to come at you in waves, with no one line letting down their guard. It was pressure hockey all the time. I thought last night the Tips lost several battles for pucks. Give the Rockets credit for battling, but I just didn't see enough determination from the home team.
  • You've got to love the E.E.C. It is slowly becoming my favorite rink to call a game in. The crowd was energetic, the sight lines are tremendous, and you won't find a better junior rink in Western Canada. I used to think Spokane's Memorial Arena was the 'cat's meow' but every time the Rockets play in there, the place isn't even half full. Spokane's arena doesn't hold a candle to Everett's in terms of atmosphere.
  • Can you believe the Rockets scored just 3 goals after three games last season? This year they've already scored 12.
  • The coaching staff have to be concerned about the penalty kill. While the Rockets have given up just 3 even strength goals, they've given up 9 power play markers.
  • Milan Kytnar returns to the lineup tonight for the Rockets. The 18 year-old will meet the team in Vancouver for tonight's tilt with the Giants. Kytnar didn't play last night because of a lack of a U.S visa.
  • James McEwan is a game time decision tonight against the Giants. The Rockets team captain sat out last night's game with a bad groin.
  • Just to clarify, we are on the air tonight at 6:35 with the pre-game show and the play-by-play a 7.
  • The Giants expect over 13 thousand fans for tonight's home opener.
  • I met a Tips fan last night that regularly reads this blog. He asked me why I don't have other WHL news on this site like other bloggers do. I just think he answered his own question. I see no point in repeating what others have on their blogs. If you want to find out about a trade, you go to the WHL website. If you want to hear about player movement, Gregg Drinnan or Alan Caldwell do a tremendous job on thier blogs of keeping fans up-to-date. When I visit a blog, I want to find out something new, not repeat something I just read on another site two minutes ago.

Time for some Zzz

I will post some thoughts on the Rockets road win in Everett this morning shortly after 10 am.

Rockets Game Notes vs Giants

Tonight’s Preview: The Rockets and Giants are meetings for the second time this season, and for the second time in the last four days. The Giants beat the Rockets 2-1 Wednesday night. It’s the second of ten meetings between these two teams over the course of the regular season. After tonight’s game the two teams won’t meet each other until October 8th when the Rockets return to Vancouver, before the Giants visit Kelowna October 24th. Last season the Rockets were just 1-7-0-0 against the Giants. The Rockets are coming off a 6-4 win in Everett last night. Dylan Hood (2+1=3) and Brandon McMillan (1+2=3) led the way offensively, while Evan Bloodoff (1+1) and Myles MacRae (1+1) also had multiple point games. Torrie Jung earned the win in goal making 31 saves. After tonight’s game against the Giants, the Rockets return to Kelowna to face the Seattle Thunderbirds Friday night.

Hood’s Hot Hand: Sophomore forward Dylan Hood scored his first and second goals of his WHL career in last night’s 6-4 win. Hood failed to score a goal in 47 games as a rookie last season. Evan Bloodoff had his first multiply point game of his young WHL career with a goal and an assist. Rookie Jesse Paradis earned his first career WHL point, with an assist in last night’s win. Paradis collected the ‘apple’ on Hood’s second goal of the game.

McMillan Leading the March: Sophomore forward Brandon McMillan leads the team in points with 6. McMillan’s six points are half of the 12 he registered in 55 games in his rookie season. McMillan had 2+10=12 all of last season. The Delta, BC resident has already surpassed his goal total from all of last season. McMillan and Luke Schenn lead the Rockets in plus/minus with a +4.

Taking the Show on the Road: The Rockets open a portion of their schedule playing three of the next four games on the road. The only home game over that stretch is next Friday against the Seattle Thunder Birds. In the big picture, the Rockets play 13 of their next 22 games on the road. The Rockets return home to face Seattle Friday before making stops in Seattle and Vancouver Thanksgiving weekend.

Quick Facts: Ryan Huska earned his first career WHL coaching win in last night’s 6-4 victory over the Tips….Last season it took until the Rockets fourth road game, before they recorded their first point on opposition ice. After that road win, the Rockets would drop their next 6 games on opposition ice…The Rockets six goal outburst on the road isn’t unusual, considering the team beat the Portland Winter Hawks 6-2 on December 6th of last season…The Rockets have scored 12 goals so far this season after three games, after scoring just three goals in their first three games a year ago…Kristofer Westblom has played in two of the Rockets first three games of the season…The Rockets have either carried the lead or have been tied going into the third period in all three games this season. The Rockets were up 4-2 on Tri City going into the third, and were up 1-0 just three minutes in the third period against the Giants. Last night the Rockets had a 4-3 lead on the Tips heading into the final frame…The Rockets have scored four of their 12 goals this season on the power play. Overall the Rockets are 4 for 14 with the man advantage this season….Of the 12 goals the Rockets have given up this season, 9 have been shorthanded.

Tough Schedule to Start Season: The Rockets are in a portion of their schedule playing teams that are predicted to challenge for a division title this season. In the teams next 10 games, they face Vancouver three times, Spokane and Seattle twice, and Kamloops, Everett and Calgary once.

Tonight’s Notables: Tysen Dowzak played in his 100th WHL game Wednesday night. Cody Almond is 6 games shy of 100 for his career. Colin Joe has the most games under his belt of anyone in the Rockets lineup. Joe has played 180 games, but is out with a wrist injury. James McEwan is a close second with 173 games in the WHL, and enters tonight’s game with 454 career penalty minutes. Justin Bernhardt is playing in career game 173 tonight. Bernhardt has 94 career points.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Rockets Game Notes vs. Tips

Tonight’s Preview: The Rockets and Tips are meeting for the first of just four times this season. The Rockets host the Tips October 19th before the Rockets return again to Everett November 16th. The two teams close out the seasonal series January 30th in Kelowna. Last season the Rockets were 1-2-0-1 against the Tips, and were out-scored 12-7 in those four games. The Rockets were a 2-0 winner over the Tips December 8th at Prospera Place, but suffered back-to-back 4-1 setbacks in the season series. In the only other match-up, the Rockets were a 4-3 loser in a shootout. It took 15 shooters before the Tips scored the game winner on Rockets goaltender Torrie Jung. The Rockets are coming off a 2-1 home ice loss to the Vancouver Giants Wednesday. The two teams were scoreless after 40 minutes, before Cody Almond scored his first goal of the season just three minutes into the final frame to give the Rockets a 1-0 lead. But the Giants received back-to-back goals from Evander Kane and James Wright in the one goal win.

Earning a Point in Everett Isn’t Easy: The Rockets failed to win a game in Everett last season. In fact the Rockets last regulation win in Everett was October 2, 2005 in a 3-1 win. Since the Tips broke into the league in 2003, the Rockets are just 2-5-0-1 in 8 regular season games in the arena formerly known as the Everett Events Centre.

Taking the Show on the Road: The Rockets open a portion of their schedule playing four of the next five games on the road. The only home game over that stretch is next Friday against the Seattle Thunder Birds. In the big picture, the Rockets play 14 of their next 23 games on the road. The Rockets are in Everett tonight, travel to Vancouver tomorrow night before returning home to face Seattle. Then the Rockets make stops in Seattle and Vancouver Thanksgiving weekend.

Quick Facts: Kristofer Westblom has started the first two games of the season in goal for the Rockets…In the teams first two games, the Rockets have led or have been tied going into the third period. The Rockets were up 4-2 heading into the third period against Tri City, and were up 1-0 just three minutes in the third period against the Giants…The Rockets have scored two of their 6 goals this season on the power play. Overall the Rockets are 2 for 7 with the man advantage this season, or 28.6 percent…Last season the Rockets were 0 and 2 after two games and 0-3 after three games…Lyon Messier is the son of NHL great Mark Messier. Mark Messier was in attendance to see his son Wednesday in Kelowna’s 2-1 loss to the Giants. The ‘Moose’ will be in attendance at tonight’s game in Everett and tomorrow night’s game in Vancouver…Rookie forward Milan Kytnar won’t play tonight as the team has not yet received his U.S visa. Kytnar will play Saturday against the Giants though.

Tough Schedule to Start Season: The Rockets open a portion of their schedule playing teams that are predicted to challenge for a division title this season. In the teams next 11 games, they face Vancouver three times, Everett, Spokane and Seattle twice, and Kamloops and Calgary once.

Tonight’s Notables: Tysen Dowzak played in his 100th WHL game Wednesday night. Cody Almond is 7 games shy of 100 for his career. Colin Joe has the most games under his belt of anyone in the Rockets lineup. Joe has played 180 games, but is out with a wrist injury. James McEwan is a close second with 173 games in the WHL, and enters tonight’s game with 454 career penalty minutes. Justin Bernhardt is playing in career game 172 tonight. Bernhardt has 94 career points.

Pre-Season Highlights: The Rockets record was 2 and 5 during the exhibition schedule with wins over Chilliwack (3-0) and Vancouver (6-3). The Rockets suffered losses to Edmonton (4-3), Swift Current (6-1), Regina (3-2) and Kamloops (3-1). The Rockets also were shutout 2-0 by the Vancouver Giants.

Taste of the NHL: The Rockets had 4 players attend an NHL camp this fall. Cody Almond attended the camp of the Minnesota Wild after being drafted in the 5th round. Torrie Jung attended the Tampa Bay Lightning camp after being drafted this summer in the 7th round. Milan Kytnar was in Edmonton after the Oilers selected him in the 5th round. Rockets defenseman Tysen Dowzak received a free-agent tryout with Philadelphia.

Tidbits as Rockets Face Tips

  • I was back on the bus for the first time in 6 months, and to be totally honest with you, it takes some getting used too. Last season I rode the bus very little, as David Michaud and I often drove to games out of town. That theme will continue this season, as David plans to miss very few road games, meaning even a trip out to Saskatchewan in December will have the two of us driving a station vehicle.

  • Luke Schenn will be a game time decision. Schenn will take the morning skate to see if he is feeling ok, before he's injected back in the Rockets lineup tonight. Schenn missed the third period of Wednesday’s game with what the team suspected was a mild concussion. It appears it wasn’t that bad, but the training staff want to be careful with the valuable commodity.

  • The Rockets have elected to stay two night’s in Everett. The team elected to drive up the day before the game, arriving at the hotel Thursday night. After Friday’s game against the Tips, the team will again stay over in Everett before traveling into Vancouver to meet the Giants the day of the game. I’ve been told the trip from Everett, Washington to Vancouver is as short as 2 and a half hours.

  • I love arriving the day prior to a game. It gives everyone a chance to get their act together. This way the team can unload their gear, the training staff can make the visiting dressing room a little more user friendly, and the radio broadcasters can get their gear set up, watch the morning skate, and feel a little more in control when game time approaches. I am not sure if private ownership makes a difference, but I am sure community owned teams would think twice about going a day ahead of the game with hotel and meal costs on the rise.

  • I’m looking forward to talking to Tips forward Kyle Beach before tonight's game. The Kelowna resident hasn’t won many popularity contests in his young WHL career, but I’ll admit I like his style. He plays with an edge, is a touch cocky, and frankly is a great young player. The kid is going to be a top draft pick this summer, and the league’s rookie of the year won’t get bad mouthed by me, no matter what odd ball stories I hear about him.

  • Tonight's game in Everett features former teammates facing one another. Rockets defenseman Luke Schenn was a teammate of Everett's Zack Hamill, when both played for Canada during the Russia Super Series.

  • Could these two be teammates down the road? The question has to be asked as Rockets forward Cody Almond faces Everett's Ondrej Fiala. Both Almond and Fiala were drafted by the Minnesota Wild this summer.

  • Rockets European forward Milan Kytnar won't play tonight against the Tips. The 18 year-old didn't even make the trip down, as the Rockets don't have his U.S visa yet. Kytnar will play Saturday in Vancouver though.

  • Don’t forget the start time of Friday’s game from Everett. AM 1150 has the game at 7:05 with the pre-game show, and the play-by-play at 7:35. Color Analyst David Michaud won’t be with me Friday night from Everett, but will be back in the saddle Saturday when the Rockets are in Vancouver.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Meeting Mark Messier

He stuck out like a sore thumb as I approached the Rockets bus, preparing to load my gear onto the iron lung for the trip down to Everett.
Even with his sun glasses on and the Okanagan sunshine hitting his tanned face, there was no mistaking it, it was Mark Messier.

Messier kept out of the media spotlight Wednesday night while in Kelowna, as he watched his son Lyon and the Rockets fall 2-1 to Vancouver. Realizing after the game that he was in attendance, I thought my chance of having the NHL great on our airwaves was lost.

Not so!

Messier - the ‘cool cat’ that he appears to be in person - is very much the way he is when you talk to him. Extremely laid back, he wasn’t as intimidating to talk too as I had envisioned. Sure I’ve spoken to NHL players in the past, but usually in a setting where time is made available to the media to ask questions. This setting was much different, with next to nobody around except for the bus driver at the back of the arena. I learned that Messier will be watching Lyon and the Rockets twice this weekend, when the team makes stops in Everett and Vancouver. I made an arrangement to interview him in the hotel lobby in Everett Friday morning, and that interview can be heard on AM 1150 Friday night at 7:05.

So I thought my quick conversation with the NHL great outside of the Rockets bus was over, as we headed off to the Wood Fire Bakery for lunch before hitting the road. But when we arrived at the restaurant, who was waiting in line at one of Kelowna’s best sandwich and soup places? You guessed it, Mark Messier. Many of the patrons having their lunch Thursday afternoon found themselves biting into their sandwich, while swinging their head around and saying to themselves – “that’s…that’s Mark Messier”.

Let’s be honest, Messier is a big deal, and the fact that he’s hanging around his son’s junior team is a pretty cool experience for the players, the coaches and the radio guy.

I have often been asked by non hockey people, how I can stand riding the bus all of these years following junior hockey with a bunch of 16 to 20 year-old players. Sometimes I question it myself. But when I get opportunities liking sitting down one-on-one with a hall of famer like Mark Messier, I say to myself using my Saskatchewan slang – this gig ain’t half bad!

Rockets Lose Game and Schenn

The Kelowna Rockets suffered a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Giants Wednesday, and lost their top defenseman in the process.
Luke Schenn saw no ice time in the 3rd period when he was needed most, after being hit from what appeared to be the side by Giants forward James Henry earlier in the game. Schenn was not feeling well in the 2nd intermission, and for precautionary measures the Rockets elected to sit him out for the remainder of the game. Schenn will be evaluated Thursday to see if he will be able to play in back-to-back road games this weekend in Everett and Vancouver.

Quick thoughts:
  • I thought it was a pretty good hockey game. The Rockets and Giants were evenly matched through twenty minutes, with the Giants holding a slight edge in the second. I thought the Giants took over in the third, and despite Cody Almond giving the Rockets a 1-0 lead just over 3 minutes into the third, the Giants elevated their play, and the Rockets didn't match it. The shots on goal in the third really told the tale, with the Giants firing 17 shots at Kristofer Westblom, while the Rockets managed just 7 at Tyson Sexsmith in the final frame.
  • Kristofer Westblom had a strong game in goal for the Rockets. It was nice to see him have a bounce back game, after being less than stellar against Tri City. Westblom was sharp all night long, and was called upon to make some big saves in the third period.
  • Was it just me, or did the Rockets forwards have problems picking up passes? Sure the defenseman at times missed the mark, but the forwards often couldn't coral a hot pass coming their way. Veteran Justin Bernhardt struggled the most at retrieving a pass, and I hope his sore groin had something to do with it.
  • I thought Tysen Dowzak played a solid game for the Rockets defensively. Not only did he block a series of shots by the Giants, but he had his fair share of shots on goal. Dowzak was the best Rockets d-man after Schenn went down early with injury.
  • On two separate occasions the Rockets d-men were caught watching the puck. The first came on a quality scoring chance when Giants forward James Henry dipsy-doodled around Rockets sophomore d-man Riley McIntosh for a good shot on goal. Giants forward James Wright caught Rockets d-man Tyler Myers looking at the puck too, scoring a nice goal by swooping around Meyers and then beating Westblom high to the glove hand side.
  • Giants head coach Don Hay wasn't scared in playing his 16 year-olds. James Henry, Evander Kane and d-man Neil Manning saw their fair share of ice time.
  • James McEwan and Garet Hunt dropped the mitts just 3 seconds into the game for a good old fashioned scrap. McEwan was the clear winner, yet Hunt didn't fall down. Hunt can take a punch and is always a willing combatant. I applaud both for doing their jobs, and doing it well.
  • Is Giants head coach Don Hay not the best interview in the league? If not, he's a close second.
  • Mark Messier was in attendance at last night's game. The NHL great was on hand to watch his son Lyon, a Rockets defenseman.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Game Notes vs. Giants

Tonight’s Preview: The Rockets and Giants are meeting for the first of ten times this season. The Rockets were 1 and 7 against the defending Memorial Cup champions last season, and were out-scored 26-7. The Giants managed to shutout the Rockets three times last season. The lone win for the Rockets came February 3rd in a 2-0 win. Kristofer Westblom and Torrie Jung combined for the shutout. Westblom suffered a season ending knee injury in that game. Myles MacRae and Clayton Barthel scored for the Rockets. After tonight’s game the two teams meet Saturday night in Vancouver, in the Giants home opener. The Rockets are coming off a 6-5 overtime loss Saturday night to the Tri City Americans. The Rockets built up a 5-2 third period lead, only to see the Americans score three goals to tie the game, before Erik Felde scored the winner on the power play in overtime. Kristofer Westblom made 26 saves in the loss. The Rockets were 2/4 on the power play.

Tough Schedule to Start Season: After tonight’s game the Rockets play five of their next 7 games on the road. The Rockets are in Everett Friday night before facing the Giants on Saturday. The Rockets open a portion of their schedule playing teams that are predicted to challenge for a division title this season. In the teams next 12 games, they face Vancouver four times, Everett, Spokane and Seattle twice, and Kamloops and Calgary once.

A Night of Firsts: Saturday’s game saw Brandon McMillan record his first two goal game of his young WHL career. McMillan had three points (2+1=3) in the overtime loss. Rookie Tyson Barrie scored his first career goal while rookie Milan Kytnar recorded his first WHL point, an assist on a Brandon McMillan goal. Lyon Messier and Kytnar made their WHL debuts Saturday night. Rookies Tyson Barrie, Kyle St. Denis and Collin Bowman all played a handful of games last season with the Rockets. Barrie and Bowman were just 15, while St. Denis was 16.

Tonight’s Notables: Tysen Dowzak is playing in his 100th WHL game tonight. Cody Almond is 8 games shy of 100 for his career. Colin Joe has the most games under his belt of anyone in the Rockets lineup. Joe has played 180 games, but is out with a wrist injury. James McEwan is a close second with 172 games in the WHL, and enters tonight’s game with 449 career penalty minutes. Justin Bernhardt is playing in career game 171 tonight. Bernhardt has 94 career points.

Scoring Five – Giving up Six: The last time the Rockets scored five goals in the team’s home opener was September 23, 2000 in a 5-3 win over Seattle. The last time the Rockets allowed more than 6 goals in an opening season game was September 26, 1998 in a 7-4 loss in Portland.

Huska vs. Hay: It’s hard to believe, but Rockets head coach Ryan Huska played under Vancouver Giants head coach Don Hay. Huska won three Memorial Cups under Hay with the Kamloops Blazers in the early 90’s. In fact Huska and Hay have the bragging rights of being the only two coaches in the CHL with four Memorial Cup rings. Huska won three as a player and one as an assistant coach with the Rockets in 2004, while Hay won three with the Blazers and most recently as the head skipper of the Vancouver Giants.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Giant Undertaking

  • You'll have to excuse goaltender Kristofer Westblom if he is a little paranoid should a Vancouver Giants forward come blaring down the wing in full flight Wednesday night. The Rockets goaltender suffered a season ending knee injury against the Giants last season, in the Rockets lone win in eight attempts against the division rival. The Rocket won that game 2-0, but it ended Westblom's season.
  • You probably got the hint that Westblom will start Wednesday in goal for the Rockets. Despite a less than spectacular performance in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Tri City Americans, the coaches are going with the veteran Wednesday night.
  • Rockets d-man Colin Joe won't play Wednesday. The veteran d-man is close to returning to the lineup with a playing cast for his wrist. The cast hasn't arrived, leaving C-Joe on the sidelines.
  • It would be a safe bet that designated tough guys James McEwan and Garet Hunt will square off Wednesday night. The two had a tremendous tilt last season at Prospera Place, and win-lose or draw, both guys deserve a ton of credit for standing in there and trading punches back and forth. Hunt has leaned down to about 175 pounds on his 5 foot 10 inch frame. Last year the stocky Hunt weighed in at close to 190 pounds.
  • The media will make a big deal about it, but Rockets head coach Ryan Huska says he doesn't feel odd facing his former head coach Wednesday night. Huska played for the Kamloops Blazers in the early 90's when Hay was his head coach. How sweet would it be though for Huska to earn his first win as a WHL head coach against Hay?
  • Road teams have had early success in the young WHL season. Of the 23 games played so far, the road team has won 13 times or 57 percent of the time.

Fans Still Bashing Deal with Pats

  • It appears hockey fans in these parts are still having a hard time grasping the 6 player trade last December between the Rockets and Pats. One caller to a Rockets phone in segment Monday on AM 1150 thought the trade was terrible, and that the Rockets were the big losers in what he described as a lopsided deal. But what the caller doesn't realize is the Pats better win this year with the players they obtained in that deal, because two of three are ineligible next season. Troy Ofukany and Kaspars Saulietis are twenty-year-old players on the Pats this season, while Kurt Hill is a 19 year-old. By comparison, Justin Bernhardt, obtained in the deal still has a year of junior eligibility left while Jason McDonald has two years remaining. Kyle St. Denis, the reason why the trade was consummated in the first place, has three years remaining after this season. Add it up. Which team gets more service out of the players they acquired? Obviously it's the Rockets. The caller also stated that the Rockets would have made the playoffs had they not made the trade. The truth is, they probably would have. What would they have gained from that experience is the better question. Two playoff homes games, considering they would have been penciled against Memorial Cup champion Vancouver in the first round? I hate to say it, but would the Rockets have beaten the Giants after acommplishing it just once in 8 attempts during the regular season? If the Rockets could do the deal over again, they'd do it in a heartbeat.
  • If you can't get enough of Rockets hockey, I encourage you to join David, Phil Johnson and myself every Monday morning at 9:05 on AM 1150 for 'Ice Time'. We take 30 minutes and chat about the weekend that was, and look ahead to the Rockets upcoming schedule. You can call in at 862-2525 with questions or comments, and I promise I won't rag on you on this blog unless you too think the Rockets got the short end of the deal in the Pats trade last December.
  • I've got to say it. How good would Shaun Vey look in a Kelowna Rockets uniform? With the Americans having four overage players, now that Colton Yellow Horn has returned to junior, is Vey the odd man out? Three goals in three games to start the season likely has Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton kicking tires about obtaining the former Vancouver Giant. But how many other GM's are also interested? Vey scored 23 goals last season with the Americans, after he was obtained from Vancouver after he left the club in the 2004-2005 season. One would think the price for Vey would be high, even though he has just one year of junior eligibility remaining.
  • Do you think Cory Clouston is smiling these days? His former team, the Kootenay Ice are 0-3 to start the season. Ice new head coach Mark Holick is likely fairly concerned with the slow start. It just goes to show that Clouston was a good coach. No matter what type of team Clouston guided, he seemed to get the most out of his players. Holick is still finding his way, and is hoping the slow start is just an early hiccup in a long season.
  • Is Clayton Bauers future with the Ice in doubt? The former Rocket has played just one of the Ice's first three games. Kootenay has 5 overage players on it's roster, so Bauer will likely have some anxious moments before GM Jeff Chynoweth makes a decision on his three 20's.
  • Am I the only one keeping my eyes out for Mark Messier at the next Rockets home game. The father of Rockets forward Lyon Messier will surely show himself at a Rockets home game this season. He will undoubtedly get a seat in the Rockets luxury box if he takes in a game, but we'll do our best to get him into the broadcast booth for a little chat if he appears at Prospera Place.
  • The Kelowna Rockets really don't matter. If you look at the Western Hockey League website, the Rockets do not appear in power play stats, penalty kill stats or in overall penalty minutes statistics. I'm sure it's just a glitch in the system, but I thought it was odd that the Rockets were left out.
  • Former Rockets forward Troy Bodie is literally fighting for a spot with the Edmonton Oilers this season. Bodie got into an exhibition scrap with Calgary Flames d-man Dion Phaneuf Saturday night. It will be interesting to see if Bodie is back in the Oilers lineup tonight with an exhibition game in Phoenix.
  • Blake Comeau remains with the New York Islanders. Comeau had 13 minutes of ice time in Monday's 5-4 overtime exhibition win over the Rangers.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Things That Make Me Go Hmm...

  • I'd be surprised if Rockets forward Brandon McMillan is suspended by the league after receiving a five minute major and game misconduct after a hit in the third period of Saturday's 6-5 overtime loss. From my viewpoint, Eric Mystery caught a edge before he went sliding into the boards. Referee Andy Thiessen had to make the quick call, and likely ruled on the side of caution that McMillan pushed him heavily into the side boards. But the video replay will show Mystery did indeed slip and fall before McMillan made contact.
  • While the Rockets blew a 5-2 lead in Saturday's game, their spirits should be extremely high at practice today. They played a solid first period, were as good as the Americans in period two, and simply ran into penalty trouble in period three. The positives far exceed the negatives in game one. The end result of Saturday shouldn't affect this team one bit.
  • Who starts in goal Wednesday against the defending Memorial Cup champions? Do you go back with Kristofer Westblom, who allowed 6 goals in the opener? The last time Westblom faced the Giants, he suffered a season ending knee injury. What I ask of the goaltenders is to make one or two saves that frankly shouldn't be made. A goal taken away, if you will. Did Westblom do that Saturday night?
  • My greatest annoyance the season following the Rockets Memorial Cup win was every time they lost on the road, the p.a announcer would exclaim with glee "The Spokane Chiefs have defeated the Memorial Cup Champions 4-3". The fact of the matter is, the Rockets were a much different team than the one the year they won it all. Will the Giants receive the same treatment when they lose on opposition ice this season?
  • Once the regular season starts, their are three WHL General Managers I love to run into. Don Hay heads the list followed by Jeff Chynoweth in Kootenay and Brent Parker in Regina. Why those three? Hay is just a smart hockey man, Chynoweth always has a smile on his face and is as competitive as they come, and Parker is open and honest and tells it like it is.
  • The Rockets only play three games in three nights on two occasions this season. November 16-17-18 and February 22-23-24.
  • Again people are getting excited that Rockets prospect Luke Moffatt has verbally agreed to joining Michigan State. The key word to consider here is 'verbally'. The Moffatt's also 'verbally' agreed to come to Kelowna if they considered the WHL as the best option. The Moffatt's 'verbally' spoke out against playing in Portland. Until Moffatt signs something that slams the door shut on the Rockets, I'm putting little alarm into his intentions of potentially playing U.S college hockey.
  • Hip hip hooray, scoring is up in the WHL! If you look at the first four night's of hockey and compared them to the first four night's a year ago, scoring is up, but only slightly. Twenty games were played on the first four night's last season accounting for 126 goals. This season 21 games were played through four night's, resulting in 137 goals. But don't get too excited. The difference is 6.5 goals per game this season as compared to 6.3 goals per game last season.
  • It's not often I feel sorry for one of my broadcast brethren, but I had some sympathy for Tri City broadcaster Craig West on the opening weekend. His voice got a rough introduction to the season by calling three games in three nights. What's more impressive is Westy did all three solo (without a color guy), and had to babble his way through two home openers in Everett and Kelowna. So if West is a little quiet Monday morning in the office, consider what he's been through.
  • I told you the expansion Edmonton Oil Kings would be 2-0 to start the season, and that the Tri City Americans would go 3 and 0 on the opening weekend. If you believe I predicted that correctly, I have a plot of land in Fort Worth Texas I'd like to sell you.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"It's my fault, I'm to blame"

"It's my fault, I'm to blame".
That's how a dejected Kelowna Rockets head coach Ryan Huska spoke about not having another player out on the ice to kill a power play in Saturday's eventual 6-5 overtime loss to the Tri City Americans.
A Brandon McMillan five minute major penalty at the halfway point of the third period had expired with the Rockets holding a 5-2 lead. But because Huska hadn't put another player into the penalty box to serve the 5 minute McMillan penalty, once the major expired, the Rockets were unable to put another man on the ice until the next whistle. Myles MacRae jumped off the bench in the confusion to make it a 5 on 4, but was called for too-many-men on the ice. T.J Fast would score during the mishap, making it a 5-3 game. The visitors got momentum, scoring two goals in a span of just 1:21 to tie the game at 5. In overtime, on a Tyson Barrie penalty, Erik Felde would score as the Americans came away with two points in a come-from-behind 6-5 overtime win. Was it the sole reason the Rockets blew a 3 goal lead late in the game? I don't think so, but Huska wasn't having any of it. The bottom line is
Huska could have passed the buck on the miscue. He could have taken the lesser traveled road by overlooking the mistake. But Huska is a coach of integrity, and didn't hide. He even went as far as to tell his players after the game that he was to blame. It took guts to come clean. The way I see it - if it was going to happen - it's best he get it out of the way early in his career. While the overtime loss does sting, the Rockets still managed a point in the game. But knowing Huska, the single point should have been two.

Random Thoughts:

  • Up until being ejected, Brandon McMillan was solid in the Rockets home opener. McMillan scored twice, matching his goal total from all of last season.
  • The Rockets power play was a threat to score on about every chance they had. Kyle St. Denis and Tysen Barrie just about hooked up for a power play goal on a slow developing 3 on 1. St. Denis appeared to be passing the puck to a streaking Colin Long who was going hard to the net, but at the last second spotted Barrie who was the trailer on the play. Americans netminder Kyle Birch made the save, but the play was executed to perfection. Last season the Rockets looked confused with the man advantage, yet in game one, the unit looked crisp and well oiled. Lets just hope it continues. The Rockets were 2/4 on the power play. The Americans were 4 for 8.
  • Myles MacRae and Justin Bernhardt showed me some good things in game one. I thought both 19-year-olds showed good work ethic in the overtime loss.
  • I can't say I was disappointed with any Rocket in Saturday's overtime loss. At times the team struggled in their own zone, but I thought those struggles were sporadic rather than a constant last season. I chatted with Steve Long (Colin Long's Dad) at the post game show. Even Long's grandpa and grandma made the trek up for Saturday's game and Wednesday's tilt against Vancouver.
  • I felt so bad for Huska after Saturday's game. We have always had great chats on the air during his time as an assistant coach, but to see him down and out like that is something I want to avoid in the future. He could have avoided us (radio post game show) after the game, but came up and faced the music. You have to admire him for that!
  • Another solid crowd at Prospera. Just over 62 hundred strong, the teams 121st straight sellout.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Game Notes vs. Americans

Rockets vs. Americans
Saturday September 22, 2007
Game Time ‑ 7:00pm

Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to the 2007-2008 season. The Rockets and Americans are meeting for the first of just four times this season. After tonight the Rockets will battle the Americans in Kennewick on November 21st. Following that game, the two teams won’t see each other until the final two weeks of the regular season when the Americans make their final visit to Kelowna on March 8th. The Rockets return the favor on March 14th to close out the regular season. Last season, the Americans spoiled the Rockets home opener with a 3-1 win. The Rockets were 0-4 against the Am’s last season, including back-to-back shutouts in Tri City by scores of 4-0 and 5-0. In the only other meeting last season, the Americans used a Colton Yellow Horn goal in overtime in a 4-3 victory. The Rockets are 4-5 with one tie in their last 10 season opening games.

Breaking Down the Schedule: The Rockets open the season playing four of their first seven games on the road. After hosting the Americans tonight and the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday, the Rockets play four of their next five games on opposition ice. The only home game over that period is October 5th against Seattle.

Tonight’s Notables: Tysen Dowzak is two games shy of 100 for his career. Tonight Dowzak plays in game 99. Cody Almond is 9 games shy of 100 for his career. Colin Joe has the most games under his belt of anyone in the Rockets lineup. Joe is playing in career game number 181 tonight. James McEwan is a close second with 171 games in the WHL and enters tonight’s game with 447 career penalty minutes. Justin Bernhardt is playing in career game 170 tonight. Bernhardt has 93 career points.

Pre-Season Highlights: The Rockets record was 2 and 5 during the exhibition schedule with wins over Chilliwack (3-0) and Vancouver (6-3). The Rockets suffered losses to Edmonton (4-3), Swift Current (6-1), Regina (3-2) and Kamloops (3-1). The Rockets also were shutout 2-0 by the Vancouver Giants.

Wet Behind the Ears: The Rockets enter this season with 25 players on their roster. Of those 25, only 6 are rookies. Last season the Rockets had 8 new faces. The Rockets return 18 players from last year’s team. The Rockets have 3-20 year olds – 4-19 year-olds, 8-18 year olds – 6-17 year olds and 4-16 year olds.

Taste of the NHL: The Rockets had 4 players attend an NHL camp this fall. Cody Almond attended the camp of the Minnesota Wild after being drafted in the 5th round. Torrie Jung attended the Tampa Bay Lightning camp after being drafted this summer in the 7th round. Milan Kytnar was in Edmonton after the Oilers selected him in the 5th round. Rockets defenseman Tysen Dowzak received a free-agent tryout with Philadelpha.

Familiar Faces No More: The Rockets said farewell to just four faces from last years team. Captain Chris Ray is playing with the University of Waterloo. Twenty-year-old Clayton Barthel received a free-agent tryout with the New York Rangers. Brett Breitkruez was selected in the WHL expansion draft by Edmonton, and overage defenseman David Schulz has elected to play pro hockey in the East Coast League. Jeff Truitt also left the team as head coach to pursue a pro opportunity with the Oilers AHL affiliate.

Back Looking for Better Numbers: The Rockets return four of their top five goal scorers from last season. Cody Almond led the way with 15+28=43, 6 points better than Justin Bernhardt. Chris Ray led the Rockets last season with 19 goals. Almond and Bernhardt had 15 goals apiece followed by Myles MacRae with 14. Almond led the team in assists with 28, one better than Luke Schenn’s 27. The Rockets had only two players reach the 100 or more penalty minute total. James McEwan had 202 followed by Schenn’s 139. McEwan had 26 fighting majors last season.

Rockets History: The Kelowna Rockets enter their 17th season in the WHL. The Rockets are celebrating its 13th year in Kelowna, after spending 4 years in Tacoma Washington. The franchise has played a total of 1152 games since joining the league in 1991 as an expansion franchise. Tonight’s game is #865 since the team relocated to the Okanagan. The franchise has a total of 577 victories over 16 seasons. The Rockets enter the 2007-2008 campaign having won 45 games or more in 4 of the last five seasons. The team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season.

Looking Back @ Last Year:
Last season the Rockets were winless in their first four regular season games. The Rockets managed just one win in their first 9 regular season games.
The Rockets have 4 wins, 5 losses and a tie in their last 10 season opening games.
The Rockets were 22-41-5-4 for 53 points last season, 4 points back of Chilliwack for the final playoff spot in the BC division.
The 22 wins by the Rockets were the 2nd fewest in the WHL last season. Only Portland had fewer with 17.
The teams 41 losses last season tied the Rockets with Moose Jaw and Saskatoon for the second most losses in the WHL. Portland led the way with 52 setbacks.
The Rockets had 16 home wins last season. Portland had a league worst 11.
The Rockets had 6 road wins last season, tied with Portland. The Hawks lost 27 road games last year, the Rockets lost 26 times. On the road the Rockets averaged just 1.8 goals per game.
The Rockets power play was dead last at 12.4%. The Rockets scored a league low 57 power play goals.
The Rockets scored 156 goals last season, the 2nd fewest in the WHL behind Portland's 146.
The Rockets allowed 245 goals last season - 6th worst in the league. Portland (316), Moose jaw (271), PA (266), Leth (265), Chilliwack (260).
The Rockets longest winning streak of the season last year was 4 games. The Rockets longest winless streak was 12 games on the road, from January 5th to February 25th.

Rockets Schedule - Next 5 Games: Rockets Results - Last 5 Games:

Sept 26 vs. Vancouver
Sept 28 @ Everett
Sept 29 @ Vancouver
Oct 5th vs. Seattle
Oct 6th @ Seattle

Rockets Players by Province: BC=11 US=5 ALB=4 SASK=3 MAN=1 EURO=1 Total=25

Rockets Season Highs and Lows:

Most Goals Scored:
Most Goals Allowed:
Most Power Play Chances:
Most Power Play Goals Scored:
Most Power Play Goals Allowed:
Most Shots Taken:
Most Shot Allowed:
Fewest Shots on Goal Taken:
Last Shutout:
Last Time Shutout:

NHL Draft Picks-Training Camp Attendees: Torrie Jung (Tampa Bay 07), Cody Almond (Minnesota 07), Tysen Dowzak (Tryout Philadelphia).

Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel (AM 1150)

Friday, September 21, 2007

What I Want From The Vets

The Kelowna Rockets have a bright future ahead of them, with the likes of Barrie, Myers and St. Denis to name a few. But it's the 18-19 and 20 year-olds that will be the deciding factor in the Rockets success,or lack-their-of this season.

This is what I anticipate/want from the Rockets 16 returning players from last season. I'm leaving the goaltenders out of this:

Evan Bloodoff: Again Evan will provide energy for the Rockets, but this season I anticipate his name showing up on the score-sheet more often. Bloodoff isn't an offensive threat, but should score 10 goals this season. The younger Bloodoff is used in more of checking role, so don't expect big offensive numbers from the guy.
Lucas Bloodoff: Lucas wants to be an offensive player, and my expectations are a 15 goal season from the 18 year-old. I'd like to see him use his body more. He should run over people at 6'2 - 210.
Justin Bernhardt: Can he regain his form when he scored 22 goals as a 17 year-old? I think he can, with the right mindset. Bernhardt will need to see extensive time on the power play to reach that goal, and needs to play with a set-up man.
Brandon McMillan: A great 16 year-old season in my mind. McMillan is going to score some goals this season, and 15 isn't out of the question. Could he be a Rockets captain down the road?
Tyler Myers: If he can shore up his defensive game, I have no concerns about the offensive side. I hope he rushes the puck more this season, and uses his greatest strength (skating) to his advantage. Sure he is a big dude, but don't expect him to punish people.
Luke Schenn: All I want to see from Schenn is physical play, and a good first pass out of the zone. Schenn will get his share of points, but brings more value as a strong presence in the corners and infront of the Rockets net.
Dylan Hood: Hoody needs to bring more to the table this season. Sure he's just 17, but has to show he can either score, or get involved physically. Hood is just 175 pounds, so bringing a physical edge is tough to come by. I'd like to see him get his confidence back by getting his first WHL goal.
Myles MacRae: Would the real Myles MacRae please stand up? You've teased me for two pre-seasons with your ability to score, it's now time to bring that 'touch' into the regular season. As one of just two 19 year-old forwards, no less than 25 goals is a disappointment.
James McEwan: The heart of the team. If you notice pushing in the corner, McEwan will be in the middle of it. He won't back down. As captain, it will be interesting to see how he response to the new role. He loves to fight, and will continue his aggressive ways, yet he is also valuable on the Rockets bench, rather than sitting for 5 minutes in the box.
Tysen Dowzak: Keep it simple. Off the glass and out, or make a strong outlet pass to get the puck out of your own zone. Dowzak needs to eliminate the number of holding penalties he takes. Improved positioning will go a long way in making Dowzak as solid defensive defenseman.
Jason MacDonald: An energy guy, who can contribute on the penalty kill. I don't expect much offensively from MacDonald, but if he can keep the opponents top guys off the scoreboard, he's doing his job.
Cody Almond: Almond needs to again be among the leaders offensively. After 15 goals last season, 25 to 30 should be right down his alley. Almond has to again use his shot to his advantage, as it's hard and accurate. A little selfish play won't hurt his cause if he wants to be an elite goal scorer. A strong work ethic won't hurt either.
Colin Long: I have such high expectations for him this season. Is 20 goals too optimistic? I could see him leading the team in assists. If he remains healthy, I believe Long will show the greatest improvement offensively from one season to the next.
Colin Joe: The coaches were so high on his play in the exhibition season, things look promising for C-Joe. Those comparisons with Josh Gorges were killer for him in the early stages of his career. He is not that gifted offensively, but has the ability to skate and fend away forwards who are trying to use their foot speed to the outside. If Joe can keep it simple, fans will realize why he is a top 4 d-man on the Rockets this season.
Matt Brusciano: Where does he fit into the scheme of things? I frankly don't know. Is he a forward or a defenseman? He has to earn a spot up front, considering all of the bodies on the defensive core. A big man at 6'4 205, but I haven't yet seen him play like it.
Riley McIntosh: Rockets head scout Lorne Frey says McIntosh has improved substantially since arriving with the team last season. You wonder if an extra year if midget would have served him better? McIntosh is just 17, yet is he better than Verdino, Barrie or Bowman? All three are a year younger. An added burst of intensity is needed.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Westy Get's the Nod

  • Kristofer Westblom will start in goal for the Rockets in the teams home opener Saturday night. It only makes sense to start the veteran, who has looked extremely sharp in the pre-season.

  • Brandon McMillan is expected to play Saturday night despite a sore shoulder. Justin Bernhardt skated Thursday, and will likely be a game time decision as the 19 year-old is hampered by a groin injury. Rookie defenseman Kyle Verdino skated again today, after dislocating his shoulder in pre-season. It's doubtful that Verdino will play on the weekend. Veteran Colin Joe will miss this weekend's game with a wrist injury.

  • AM 1150 was pleased to have Rockets head coach Ryan Huska and Jeff Finley join us Thursday morning for a hour long round table discussion. David Michaud, myself and Phil Johnson grilled the coaches about the upcoming season. Ok, we didn't exactly grill the coaches, but it was clear the work ethic of this team needs to improve, and the coaching staff won't stand for a lacklustre effort. I think the most interesting thing Ryan Huska said during our conversation was the fact the players were told at the start of the season to forget about last year. Forget about the 22 wins. Last year was a write off, the 2007-2008 season is a new beginning.

  • Now the Kootenay Ice know what it's like to lose to an expansion team in their very first game. The Edmonton Oil Kings were a 4-3 winner Thursday night. The Rockets felt the wrath of an expansion franchise when they lost to the the WHL's 21st team, the Chilliwack Bruins, in the 'Wack's' first game in the league by a 3-1 score.

  • Brett Breitkreuz leads the WHL in scoring. Sure it's only one game, but the former Rocket, selected by the Oil Kings in the expansion draft, has to feel pretty good about his start to the season.

  • Nice to see/hear Dan Russell and Billy Wilms on Shaw's telecast of last night's game from Edmonton. I know these two gentleman personally, and their passion for the game, especially junior hockey is tremendous.

  • I heard today that the Saskatoon Blades have released veteran forward Craig Cuthbert. Cuthbert was the Rockets #1 pick in the 2005 draft, and had huge pressure put on his shoulders in his first few seasons in Kelowna. He was compared to his older brother Ryan time and time again, with most of the comparison talk coming from the media. I had a special place in my heart for Craig, considering he is from my hometown of Swift Current. Craig Cuthbert is a great kid - just like his older brother Ryan - and I wish him all the best.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Call The Coaches on AM 1150

AM 1150 will have an open line show at 9:05 am Thursday morning revolving around the Kelowna Rockets. David and I will join Phil Johnson in studio, while Rockets head coach Ryan Huska and assistant Jeff Finley will also be on hand to answer questions fans may have about the upcoming season. You can listen to the show on AM 1150 in Kelowna or on starting at 9:05 Thursday morning. If you have a comment for the coaches, you can call 862-2525.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How Do You Like Me Now?

Country singer Toby Keith wrote a song called 'How do you like me now'.
If Kelowna Rockets forward James McEwan could play a guitar, loved country music and could ascend to the top of the Key Arena in Seattle, those words may have come out of his mouth today. McEwan, left for dead when the T-Birds told him after the 2005-2006 season he wasn't worth a spot on the teams roster, is now sitting pretty as the leader of a WHL team. That team is the one he joined in the fall of 2006 on a tryout, and did everything in his power to hang onto a dream of playing in the WHL. Not only did McEwan prove to the Rockets that he could contribute last season with his fists and overall hustle, he had a leadership mentality that made management reconsider his worth to the team as a potential returning twenty year-old. He wasn't the fastest skater, he wasn't a play maker, and he struggled putting the puck in the net. But consistently night in and night out, McEwan gave it all he had when it looked like others had waved the white flag of surrender.
"As a little boy, James grew up watching the Rockets, always wanted to be a Rocket, and now his dream has been fulfilled." That's a quote from an excited Brenda McEwan (James mom), who I spoke with Tuesday afternoon while doing an interview on a feature that we'll be running this hockey season on Rockets radio broadcasts called 'The Parent's Perspective'. Brenda was likely as proud of James as she was when he was named the unsung hero at last years Rockets awards banquet . Brenda noted that James may call Kelowna home, but he was born in Terrace BC and moved to K-Town when he was 11. Much was made at Tuesday's news conference that McEwan is the 4th player from Kelowna named as the captain of the hockey club. That is partially true, yet Josh Gorges, Jason Deleurme and Chris Ray were born in Kelowna while McEwan's birth certificate states otherwise.
Like Chris Ray before him, McEwan will have the tough task of leading a team which remains wet behind the years. Sure he can lead by example or yell in the face of a teammate if he isn't pulling his weight, but McEwan's assistant's will also have to play a pro-active role in setting the tone early. If you don't want to work, you'll find several people getting in your face outside of the coaches and McEwan. Luke Schenn, Colin Long and Colin Joe were named those assistant captains, and all three should use that 'A' on their shoulder to the teams advantage, not their own. McEwan and his three assistants will find out early that they often times won't win popularity contests with their teammates with that in your face style. Yet the last time I checked, no teammate of Ryan Cuthbert had a bad thing to say about a captain who called out a teammate, led by example on the ice and was instrumental in helping his team capture the franchises first ever WHL championship. In fact McEwan has many of the same characteristics as Cuthbert, as both compete no matter what the score. Whether McEwan is willing to get in the face of his peers like Cuthbert did, is yet to be seen.

Call Me Captain McEwan!

James McEwan was officially named the new captain of the Kelowna Rockets today. He becomes the 4th Kelowna born player to be named to the post. Can you name the other 3? McEwan's assistants are Luke Schenn, Colin Long and Colin Joe. Oh, the other three Kelowna born players to wear the 'C' is Jason Deleurme, Josh Gorges and Chris Ray.
I'll have some thoughts on McEwan being named as the teams official leader later tonight.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Three Areas The Rockets Must Correct For Success in 2007

Here we are just 6 days away from the Rockets home opener, and I've been asked numerous times if this years team will be better than last year. I think the Rockets will be, if they improve in these three key areas.

1) Improved Work Ethic: You still can't persuade me that the Chilliwack Bruins were a better team (skill wise) than the Rockets last season. Sure they had the deadly three-some of Moller, Aspenlind and Santorelli, but the offensive production dropped off dramatically after that. The Bruins scored just 13 more goals than the Rockets while allowing 15 more against. Down the stretch the Bruins just worker harder than the Rockets did. The young, inexperienced Rockets were so focused on the Bruins in their rear view minor, they lost sight of simply winning hockey games. Once the Bruins had moved past the Rockets for the final playoff birth, it was just too much to overcome. This season the Rockets have to come out and play desperate hockey every night, not occassionally. I don't care if they are playing a team with more skill. Heart and determination will go a long way in collecting valuable points during the regular season.
2) Improved Power Play: The Rockets were dead last with the man advantage last season, and on most night's even a single goal would have made the difference between collecting a single point, or even two, with a win. Puck handling defenseman who make clear decisions with the puck are essential to a good power play. While the Rockets are relying on a 16 year-old - hello Tyson Barrie - to lead the charge, his ability to move the puck around as the quarterback on the power play will go a long way towards the teams success with the extra man. Are the Rockets crazy to rely on a 16 year-old to be the quarterback on the power play? Remember Giants d-man Jonathon Blum? Giant head coach Don Hay used the 16 year-old consistently two short seasons ago. Sure he made mistakes back there, but he also manufactured scoring chances for his teammates. Blum is now a Memorial Cup Champion, a draft pick of Nashville, and is still just 18 years-old.
3) Improved Road Success: Six road wins won't cut it in any league, unless your 36 and 0 at home. The Rockets and Portland had the fewest road wins last season, yet the Rockets have the bragging rights of losing fewer games (or earning more points on the road) with 26 losses as compared to the Hawks 27. If the Rockets (in a worst case) can double the total number of road wins from one year ago, it would be a big step forward. Twelve victories on opposition ice doesn't sound like alot, but it would almost match the highest road win total of a team in the Eastern division last season. First place Brandon had just 14 road victories all of last season. It appears the days of playing .500 hockey on the road are fading. Fourteen of the 21 teams in the WHL last season had a winning percentage of less than .500 on opposition ice. Only Vancouver, Medicine Hat, Kootenay, Tri City, Everett, Seattle and Calgary were classified as GOOD road teams.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Oilers Send Rocket Back to Junior

The Edmonton Oilers reduced it's roster today by sending 18 year-old Milan Kytnar back to the Rockets. Kytnar will be at practice Monday, and will be in the lineup when the Rockets host the Tri City Americans in the teams home opener this Saturday.