Sunday, July 31, 2011

Former Rockets d-man calls it a career

Last November, Clayton Barthel knew his hockey career was in jeopardy.
Playing in the Central Hockey League with the Arizona Sundogs, the now 25 year-old, was limited to just eight regular season games after suffering his third concussion.
Most players are able to bounce back after suffering a knock to the head, but few manage to return to the ice with any normalcy after a series of concussions.
Barthel falls into that category.
A third round draft pick of the Washington Capitals in 2004, Barthel told me at the Rockets alumni golf tournament earlier this month that he is weighing his options.
A firefighting career or dabbling in coaching are two paths the soft spoken d-man is considering.
Barthel spent one season with the Rockets in 2006-2007 after being acquired in a trade with Seattle for 20 year-old goaltender Derek Yeomans.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rockets acquire high profile event

The CHL Top Prospects game is coming back to the west. Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton made it official this morning. The top 40 eligible players for the 2012 NHL draft will compete over two days at Kelowna's Prospera Place in the 17th annual showcase. A skills competition is planned for January 31st with the game itself on February 1st. It marks the first time the game has been played in BC since 2005, when the Vancouver Giants hosted it. The game was hosted by Edmonton in 2008. Here are a few notes from today's press conference.

  • Prospera Place is the smallest venue to ever host the Top Prospects game. Prospera Place, which has a seating capacity of (6007), is only slightly smaller than Windsor (6500), who hosted in 2010.
  • No word on if Don Cherry will be back to coach one of the two teams. Cherry last made a stop in Kelowna in 2004 at the Memorial Cup. We all know what happened then!
  • Who will coach Team Orr? Doug Gilmore took over the reins last season at the 2011 Top Prospects game in Toronto. A player with connections to the West would be a nice added touch behind the bench.
  • Close to 300 NHL personnel are expected to watch the two day showcase.
  • Former Rockets who have participated in the Top Prospects game include Shane McColgan, Tyson Barrie, Brandon McMillan, Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn.
  • Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton says despite earning the event, by no-means has this stalled their attempt at making a competitive bid for the 2013 Memorial Cup.
  • The last major event that Prospera Place hosted was the Canada-Russia Super Series in 2009.
  • Tickets will range from 40 to 50 dollars for the two day showcase. They are available to Rockets season ticket holders on September 10th before they are released to the general public.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Final Alumni Weekend Thoughts

  • Still no word on how much was raised from the Kelowna Rockets alumni weekend, but it again was another huge success. Anne-Marie Hamilton is the key in making this event run flawlessly from Thursday's golf game at the Harvest to Sunday's alumni hockey game at the Capital News Centre. The players, like Shea Weber below with a fan, deserve a tip of the cap for playing in both events and spending time signing autographs.

  • It's not often that you sit and enjoy a buffet dinner and talk with an NHL player, but I had that opportunity when crossing paths with Brett McLean. The former Rockets alumnus is a class act and is willing to spend time with any one, even me, to talk hockey. Making his off season home in Kelowna, McLean was genuinely pleased to sign a new deal with the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks in early July. After a few years in Europe, McLean is ecstatic to be back playing hockey on North American soil. "I made the decision mid-season in Switzerland to come back here and get the contract done with the Hawks. Now I am looking forward to September." McLean played with the Hawks during the 2003-2004 season. "They know what I can bring to the team. It's my responsibility now to show them that right from the start of training camp so hopefully I can make their decision easy to keep me right from the start of the season." I asked McLean if he felt he would get lost in the shuffle when he left the NHL two years ago to try his hand in Europe. "Ya, definitely. I was conscious of that decision when I decided to go to Switzerland. When I did decide to come back their was definitely a fear that I was off the radar so-to-speak, so I was pleased that teams were still interested and things were able to work themselves out".

  • Speaking of heading overseas, Carson Germyn is off to Germany after spending last season in Switzerland. "Over there everything is paid for and tax free...but hopefully I have a good year and I can come back and play here (North America). I feel fortunate to still be playing at my age. I makes it tougher as you get older and their are so many hockey players out there that are good so I feel fortunate I think".

  • New York Islanders forward Blake Comeau had a smile on his face after I ran into him at the golf range. Comeau got married earlier this month. And yes, the wedding was in Kelowna, his off season home.

  • A familar face from the 2009 WHL Championship team took in the alumni activities. I was pleased to run into Tysen Dowzak, who has cut ties with the New York Rangers and is now looking for a new contract. "It feels like I never left. It feels like I have been gone for a week. It's a true testament to know that you have made a lot of good friends with so many people. It is so good to be back in the Okanagan. I love this place...its a second home to me".

  • And a former Rockets defenceman has elected to retire. I will tell you who he is later this week.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rockets alumni tournament never gets old

The Kelowna Rockets alumni weekend swung into high gear Thursday afternoon with the teams 11th annual golf tournament. Players like Josh Gorges and Carson Germyn (above) joined the likes of Shea Weber and Luke Schenn along with close to 30 former and current players for a Texas Scramble golf tournament at the Harvest Golf and Country Club.

I had the pleasure of golfing with current Rockets assistant coach Dan Lambert and public relations coordinator Kevin Parnell. Astral sales guru Peter Angle completed our foursome.

The part I enjoy most about the alumni golf tournament is rubbing shoulders with former Rockets players. In this case, Toronto Maple Leafs d-man Luke Schenn and his younger brother Brayden pose with me for a pic.

One of my personal highlites was watching former Rockets d-man Nolan Yonkman provide some comic relief while playing the role of auctioneer at the banquet afterwards.

More thoughts from the tournament later.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Things that make me go hmm...

  • No word yet on how well Adam Brown preformed at the LA Kings development camp this week, but the fact that the 19 year-old goaltender was given a chance to show his stuff at the pro level was well deserved. Brown may have established himself this season as an elite goaltender at the WHL level, but his size will leave doubt in the minds of many scouts in the pro ranks. Those doubts may have been extinguished with a solid camp with the Kings.

  • You would think Rockets goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh played a role in getting Brown a free agent invite to Kings camp. Dillabaugh knows Brown's game inside-out and it doesn't hurt that 'Dilly' is a goaltending coach with the Kings either.

  • Has a goaltender ever been named a captain of a WHL team? The Roberto Luongo experiment didn't go over so well with the Vancouver Canucks, but Brown would be as good a candidate as any to wear the 'C' on his jersey if the organization ever went in that bold direction. It won't happen, but Brown is a tremendous leader with solid communication skills. He isn't the quirky type that most goaltenders exhibit in their personalities as they stand in front of pucks whistling at their head at 100 miles an hour. Not easily rattled, the soon to be 20 year-old will be a tremendous influence in that Rockets dressing room this season regardless of whether he has a letter on his jersey.

  • Ok, enough about Brown. Teammate Geordie Wudrick is getting a final crack at playing pro. A prospects camp with the Buffalo Sabres allowed him one last chance to show that he belongs. If not, Wudrick has already committed to a Canadian university this fall if his pro aspirations fall through.

  • I found it interesting to read that Buffalo Sabres pbp man Rick Jeanerette will be calling 57 of the Sabres 82 games this NHL season. Jeanerette is entering his 40th season at the helm. That my friends is an amazing run with one team.

  • It is a busy couple of weeks for Rockets' related golf tournaments in Kelowna. The Rockets alumni tourney is coming up July 21st followed by the Rockets-Astral-Prospera Place golf tourney on July 28th. Both events are fun to attend. It is great getting together with former players and finding out what they are up too. The most interesting stories are often times the players that have found different career paths outside of hockey. Don't get me wrong, it is still pretty cool to be body checked in the buffet line by Shea Weber or Luke Schenn, but seeing players venturing successfully in different directions in their life is as impressive as the fortunate few that are earning an NHL paycheck.

  • If their are two arena's I am looking forward to traveling to this season it is Victoria and Moose Jaw. Moose Jaw? When has that ever slipped out of my mouth? Never! But now that the new arena is complete in the 'Jaw', the Rockets will have a chance to skate on the new ice in early December. The trek to Victoria for the first time is in early October.

  • The loss of the Chilliwack Bruins to Victoria puts a wrench into our broadcast travel plans this season. Colour Analyst Gord McGarva would often join me for the quick trip to Chilliwack for mid-week and weekend games, but not any more. Now that Victoria is back in the league, my trusty side kick won't be in the booth for games there, nor as many games in Vancouver either. The Rockets schedule often has the team playing on back-to-back night's in Victoria (often Friday and Saturday) and then playing a game against the Giants on the way home. Leaving a day earlier for a game in Victoria to catch a ferry means I will be doing more road games solo this season.