Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Franko commits/Matheson's gym work is evident

  • I spoke to 17 year-old Zach Franko this morning. The Winnipeg resident has indeed committed to playing in the Western Hockey League this season.
  • It's hard to believe Shane McColgan is only in his second season in the WHL. He looks like a seasoned veteran with four years of junior hockey under his belt. McColgan is going to have a solid sophomore season as one of Rockets offensive leaders.
  • I ran into 20 year-old Geordie Wudrick this morning before his first workout of main camp. Wudrick will leave for the Phoenix Coyotes camp on September 10th with teammate Evan Bloodoff. Wudrick says while some would think he is a slam dunk to earn one of three overage spots with the Rockets this season, he isn't taking anything for granted. I like that approach.
  • One of the big stories at training camp this year is Tyler Matheson. The 20 year-old has clearly dropped some significant weight in the off-season and he should be applauded for his efforts in the gym. These are the type of players you cheer for and want others to follow. Matheson was playing at over 230 pounds last season.
  • Twenty years. Yes, the opening of Rockets main camp this morning marks the 20th time this franchise has gathered to access the talent which will make up this years team. Amazing to think that majority owner Bruce Hamilton and Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey have been together every step of the way.
  • A fan asked me this weekend if I was optimistic about the Rockets fortunes this season. My answer was, absolutely. I think this team is in pretty good shape. Tyson Barrie is arguably the best 19 year-old defenseman in the league. The same can be said for Shane McColgan as a 17 year-old sophomore, so why wouldn't I be optimistic. These are just two pieces of the puzzle. Add a supporting cast of Wudrick, Bulmer and Callahan and I can't see why this team can't win every night.
  • How the rookies perform makes you a real contender. Can a first year player step up and put up big numbers? Justin Keller had 25 goals as a 17 year-old and Jamie Benn had 33 goals as a 18 year-old rookie.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Is Cooke dishing up what it takes to be the back up?

Who will the goaltender be to push Rockets starting goaltender Adam Brown this season?
Now that veteran Mark Guggenberger has graduated, a rookie is poised to take over the duties of being the glorified cheerleader on the bench.
Is 17 year-old Jordan Cooke the front runner in winning the coveted seat?
You would have to think so.
Cooke was taken in the 4th round of the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft.
Big deal you say?
It's significant that Cooke was selected in the 4th round by the Kelowna Rockets. No goaltender, outside of Josh Lepp in the 1st round back in 2000, has ever been selected by Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey that early in the draft.
Cooke is coming off a solid season in Leduc, where he was named the Alberta Midget Hockey League playoff MVP.
It's best he step up now and show what he can do because the Rockets have another solid goaltender waiting in the wings.
James Fisk, taken in the 9th round of this summers draft, will be at main camp this year. Still a year away from being eligible to play though, Fisk and Cooke surely will be knocking heads at training camp in the near future to see who is the back up and who is the starter.

Who's the other 17 year-old I'm looking forward to seeing?

Who is the other 17 year-old I will be watching closely at Rockets main camp?
His name is Colton Sissons.
Colton who?
He was the player the Rockets picked up in the Curt Gogol deal last season.
Scissons was the property of the Saskatoon Blades and was playing with the BC Hockey League's Westside Warriors.
Sissons was non committal about joining the Blades and was on course to go the college route.
A trade to Kelowna has him looking at the WHL and a possible spot on this years team.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Franco, no flash in the pan

With the Kelowna Rockets opening main camp on Tuesday, I am especially excited about two 17 year-old rookie forwards who are poised to earn a roster spot.
Nothing is a guarantee, but these two may just be too good to ignore.
Zach Franco is a name that may not be on the minds of many, but this dude can play.
Taken in the second round of the 2008 draft behind Shane McColgan, Franco played this past season with the Winnipeg South Blues. As a 16 year-old, Franco scored 24 goals and collected 54 points in 51 games in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Franco is highly coveted, so much so, that the Winnipeg resident was selected in the opening round of the United States Hockey League entry draft in May.
Franco has had scoring success at every level he's played.
In midget two seasons ago, Franco had 25 goals and 72 points.
I don't want to put any pressure on this guy and I don't want to come across like I am heralding him to be the next Jamie Benn, but Franco couldn't have picked a better time nor place to move into the WHL spotlight with this being his draft year.
Play in the shadows of teammate Shane McColgan and prove to NHL scouts that you are worthy of consideration next June.

Who is the other 17 year-old I am referring too? Check back later and find out.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Brett Palin shows up at Rockets rookie camp

What do you remember about your first training camp?

"I was pretty happy because I was on a team with Mitch Fritz and Nolan Yonkman, so I was pretty happy about that. It was pretty intimidating."

You've been hanging around Kelowna this summer?

"Ya, it was a good summer. I have been at the rink a lot and training a lot, so summers coming to an end".

You signed with a new team, with the Nashville Predators, so where does that path lead you?

"I leave on the 13th when I go to camp. Same thing as these young guys at Rockets rookie camp, I am going to try to go there and make an impression and see what happens from there."

So if you play with the Predators AHL team in Milwaukee, are you familiar with anyone there?

"Lane Lambert is the coach and he's coached in the American League for the last five years, four as a head and one as an assistant coach there. Before that he coached against us in Prince George. I know quite a few of their players because I've played in that same division over the last couple of years".

You played in Abbotsford last season. What was that like?

"Anytime you get to play hockey close to home its an added bonus. It was a good year for that...I got to see my family more than I ever had, so nothing to complain about there."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rockets rookie camp on day one

  • I can honestly say it was nice being back at the arena for an early morning session on day one of Rockets rookie camp. All the usual suspects were there, including director of player personnel Lorne Frey and his multitude of scouting staff. General Manager Bruce Hamilton made it back in town from Toronto to watch the opening scrimmage as well. The coaching staff were huddled together as curious on-lookers too.
  • One face I was surprised to see was that of Glen Zacharias.'Zach' is a long time scout, most recently with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Zacharias found himself on the outside looking in with a shake up in T-Bay, so he is now doing some work for the Rockets. We go back when he was the Swift Current Broncos director of player personnel and I was the teams broadcaster.
  • While I spoke yesterday about the inconvenience that the Capital News Centre may poise for the Rockets, I must admit they are making the best of a bad situation. A riser is set up above the seats allowing management and scouts a chance to watch the action without being bothered by eager parents. A souvenir stand was even located outside the playing surface for players and families to take a look at.
  • One familiar face that was taking in the mid-morning session was former Rockets captain Brett Palin. Palin was sitting up with the scouts watching the players being put through the paces before making his way to the fitness facility in the arena to get in a workout of his own. Palin, who signed this summer with the Nashville Predators, will likely be playing in Milwaukee (AHL) this season.
  • The mid-morning workout had second year defenseman MacKenzie Johnston playing the role of referee. If Johnston has one thing going for him, it's genetics. His dad, Larry, is a big man and the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. If Johnston can play a little nastier, the Rockets could have a good one.
  • I arrived too early to see first round bantam pick Jesse Lees during the morning session. I will have to make a point of watching him during Friday's workouts. I will admit, I am a little handicapped this week as I am pulling afternoon news duties on AM 1150, so my time at the arena is limited.
  • I did so much visiting at the arena in my limited time there that I saw very little of the on-ice action on day one. I hope to share some light on the players I liked on day two.

Pitter patter...let's get at 'er

  • Rockets rookie camp opens this morning at the Capital News Centre. No one is complaining, but it has to be a real pain for the organization to be holding camp in that venue. The arena just isn't a great setup for the training staff, nor the scouts. Usually perched high above the ice surface in the press box at Prospera Place, the Rockets coaches and scouting staff will be sitting in the seats like everyone else.
  • One of the biggest headaches for many players and their families attending rookie camp will be getting to the arena. The main road leading to the Capital News Centre is under construction, meaning a significant detour is necessary to find your way to the arena. It's not a huge inconvenience if you are familiar with the area, but you can bet your bottom dollar that someone is going to get lost.
  • Watch for 15 year-old Jesse Lees. Lees was the Rockets 1st round pick in this summers WHL Bantam Draft. Lees was taken 9th overall. Lees is a defenseman that played bantam hockey last season in Calgary.
  • The Rockets picked Madison Bowey in the second round of the April draft. Bowey is playing in the Canadian Bantam Baseball Championships, so will be unable to attend rookie camp. Instead, Bowey will be at main camp next week.
  • Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton won't be attending day one of rookie camp. Hamilton, as heard on AM 1150 earlier this week, is in Toronto at the World Hockey Summit.
  • The rule will surely apply again at this years training camp. No fighting.
  • I will be at the morning session taking in some of the action. Check back for thoughts on day one of rookie camp.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Things that make me go hmm....

  • The Kamloops Blazers should be happy with this hire. Radio NL made it official Friday by announcing Jon Keen is the new play-by-play radio voice of the Kamloops Blazers. Keen has spent the last seven seasons cutting his teeth with the Swift Current Broncos. Keen and I are close, so the move out west is music to my ears. I think this is a great opportunity for him with a quality organization. Yes folks, I am speaking kindly about the Blazers, who I don't despise as much as many people would think. Blazers fans will like what Keen brings to the table. He loves the team he calls the action for and will be loyal to the organization. Keen may be moving from the smallest market in the CHL, but trust me, he is not a small time broadcaster. Congrats Keener. Instead of seeing you once a season, now it will be ten times.
  • I will be down in Penticton next month for the Vancouver Canucks prospects tournament. It features the Canucks top prospects facing off against the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks top prospects. The majority of Okanagan hockey fans will be focusing in on the Canucks, but my attention will be on the Oilers. This team is stacked with some impressive young talent. No question they will take their lumps this season, but watching them grow, mature and develop will be fun to watch.
  • The Kelowna Rotary Club has asked Gord McGarva and I to speak at a noon hour luncheon August 31st. Are they hard up for guest speakers? I thought I would throw that out there before someone else did. The Rotary has asked us to talk about our time in the broadcast booth following one of the top major junior teams in the country. We are looking forward to it and appreciate the local Rotary Club for the invite.
  • It's not often that an assistant coach hiring by another team intrigues me, but the Tri City Americans hire of Brent Bilodeau does. Why? Bilodeau was a hulking defenseman that played for the Swift Current Broncos in 1991. At the time that Bilodeau was wearing Broncos colours, I was a young sports reporter at CKSW in Swift Current. A big player with an offensive upside, it will be neat meeting Bilodeau for the first time in 19 years.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My sympathy goes out to Shea Weber

Shea Weber and I have something in common and the game of hockey plays no significance.
If we both had it our way, we would erase this commonality and just stick with what brought our two paths together nine years ago with the Kelowna Rockets. He was the player and I was the broadcaster.
Unfortunately, Weber and I have both lost a loved one to cancer - brain cancer - to be specific.
My mother, Lil, past away from brain cancer three summers ago after being diagnosed just six weeks prior. Weber's mother,Tracy, fought brain cancer for several years before passing away last week.
Lil Bartel was 68.
Tracy Weber was just 47.
I had many conversations with Tracy Weber when her son Shea first made his mark with the Rockets during the 2001-2002 season. Shea would play only five games that season but Tracy would tell me that she listened to the games on the road and following home games she would hop into her car and listen to the post game show as she traveled back to Sicamous.
She loved to talk hockey, and yes like any proud mother, she loved to talk about her son Shea.
The last time I spoke to Tracy was prior to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I called her up to see if she indeed would be going to watch her son proudly represent Canada.
It's not often you meet a parent of a Rockets' player and build a relationship with them even after their son has moved on. Tracy Weber was the exception to the rule. Tracy Weber will be missed no question. The positive impression she left on her two sons, husband, friends and this radio broadcaster won't be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Questions that need to be asked 12 days before main camp

  • Who will challenge Adam Brown for the starting job as the Rockets number one goaltender? Brown is a competitor and wants to beat someone to earn the #1 duties. He doesn't want to be handed the job without a fight. Let's hope a challenger pushes Brown to be better. If that happens, Adam Brown benefits and so does his team.
  • Who will the Rockets overagers be this season? Kyle St. Denis, Geordie Wudrick, Tyler Matheson, Evan Bloodoff and newcomer Brendon Wall from the Prince Albert Raiders will fight for those spots. Unless Wall falls flat on his face, you would think the veteran d-man would be safe. Overage defenseman that contribute are highly coveted. Look no further than to Dallas Jackson's contribution at last years WHL trade deadline. Wudrick and Bloodoff would be the safe picks unless Kyle St. Denis can prove he is fit and able to play with contact.
  • Does Tyson Barrie return for his 19 year-old season? You can't but be paranoid considering the Rockets have lost a defenseman to the NHL in the two previous years. Luke Schenn was nabbed by the Leafs as a 19 year-old and Tyler Myers, also 19, was yanked up to the NHL a season later by the Sabres. Could the Rockets be unlucky three years in a row?
  • Who's the captain? Barrie would be my pick, but if he stays with Colorado who is next in line? Would Wall or newly acquired Kevin Smith be looked upon in a leadership role with a team of strangers?
  • What does Brett Bulmer do for an encore? A second round pick of Minnesota this summer, Bulmer easily has the ability to lead his team in scoring if he plays with urgency. If he can get on the same page as Shane McColgan, these two could reek havoc on opposition goaltenders this season.
  • How does Shane McColgan handle the attention of potentially being a first round pick in the 2011 NHL draft? Some players handle it well while others let it go to their head, fracturing their game. McColgan is worthy of the praise and media attention he has already received, but how he handles those early accolades will either improve his stock or see him fall out of favor with scouts that peg him as a safe pick in the second round.
  • If I'm 18, I don't necessarily get a free pass as a fringe player. Any player in the 18 year-old age (born 1992) bracket better come to camp and make a big impression. Bulmer, Spencer Main and Mitchell Chapman are all but guaranteed roster spots, but can the same be said for Max Adolph and Shaun Ashim? Those two need solid training camps to prove they belong.
  • What can we expect from a healthy Cody Chikie? A dynamic player who exceeded expectations with 18 goal, Chikie missed the final two months of the season with a broken collarbone. You have to wonder what he could do if he was healthy for all 72?
  • Jason Siebert, Colton Heffley, Tyrell Goulbourne and Damon Severson all saw action with the Rockets last season. Which one of those rookies makes the squad this season? All four? Severson, in my opinion, looked the most WHL ready. That's saying a lot for a defenceman, who's mistakes are often magnified as where a forwards miscues are often unnoticed by the casual observer.
  • What no name newcomer will make a name for himself this season? The Rockets tend to find a player that is either a castoff from another WHL team or simply a player that somehow fell through the cracks. Cody Chikie was the poster-child last season while Adam Brown/Mitchell Callahan took the honour in 2008-2009. Players like James McEwan, Torrie Jung and of course Tyler Mosienko also come to mind.
  • Can the Rockets two european born players selected in the CHL import draft make an immediate impact? The two arrive on North American soil next Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tipping my hat to Tips season ticket holder

I received a nice e-mail the other day from a season ticket holder in Everett. It's nice to hear from opposition fans who appreciate the work we do...even if you are considered the heated enemy in a playoff series. So for you Cathy, here is audio from the opening round playoff series that features the Tips scoring. But just remember who won the series!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mid August Thoughts

  • What a week it's been. After two weeks of holidays, with stops in Idaho and Washington, it was back in the saddle as the afternoon news/sports reader on AM 1150. Management had to go to the bullpen as two of our news staff moved on to bigger and better things in Toronto and Vancouver. A shortage of staff translates into the play-by-play guy taking over the anchor chair.
  • Excited. That would best describe defenceman Kevin Smith, who was acquired this past week from the Moose Jaw Warriors. Smith met the Rockets coaching staff on Tuesday while I spoke to him by phone from his North Vancouver home Friday afternoon. Smith is thrilled with the trade and can't wait to arrived for camp later this month.
  • What do I think of the Smith/Bowman trade? Bowman was unhappy with his role in Kelowna. You do not want an unhappy veteran in the dressing room, especially around the younger players. My hope is Bowman has a chance to develop into the type of defenceman he envisioned when he broke into the WHL three seasons ago.
  • The Rockets rookie camp later this month will be held in a venue other than Prospera Place. Cirque du Solei is coming to town August 25th to the 29th, so the Rockets will be moving camp to the Capital News Centre.
  • Astral Media and the Kelowna Rockets hosted their annual sponsorship golf tournament at the Harvest Golf and Country Club Wednesday afternoon. It was great to touch base with all of the sponsors that make Rockets broadcasts possible on AM 1150. I never forget the role they play in allowing me to call junior hockey games on the radio.
  • It's time to archive some audio. Here is a piece that will bring back some memories.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bowman traded

The Kelowna Rockets have swapped defencemen with the Moose Jaw Warriors, sending Collin Bowman to the Warriors in exchange for Kevin Smith.
A three year veteran, Smith, 19, played 70 games with Moose Jaw last season, scoring seven goals and adding 17 assists and 76 penalty minutes.
Bowman, 19, played three full seasons with the Rockets but requested a move to another team at the end of last season.
In Smith, the Rockets hope to fill the role Bowman was playing with the team. The 6-foot-2 192 pound Smith is a native of North Vancouver and has played 169 career regular season WHL games, all with Moose Jaw.

Rockets acquire 20 year-old

The Kelowna Rockets have added a 20-year-old defenceman to its roster in a trade with the Prince Albert Raiders.
The Rockets acquired veteran defenceman Brendon Wall from the Raiders in exchange for a conditional 7th round draft pick in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft.
The 6-foot-1 191 pound Wall will enter his fourth WHL season after playing 62 games with the Raiders last season.
“I’m really excited, it’s a top organization,” said Wall. “I’ve heard nothing but good things.”
A Saskatoon native, Wall grew up and played minor hockey with current Rockets forward Codey Ito.