Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thoughts on what was considered final day of main camp

  • It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the skill level took a significant jump on the final day of two a day scrimmages at Kelowna Rockets main camp. The majority of the goals that were scored in the morning sessions - the one I attended - were much nicer than the greasy ones we saw during the early portions of training camp. One thing that I took away from the morning sessions was the same question I had in my head before camp even began. Which goaltender would step up as Jordon Cooke's back up? I'm as confused as ever with none of the goaltenders separating themselves from the pack. I guess that's what pre-season is for.
  • The three players that stood out for me in the morning scrimmage were veterans Carter Rigby, Tyson Baillie and rookie Rourke Chartier. Baillie has found his groove with some offensive success and scored a beauty on a in-tight chip shot that went inside the far post. Rigby used his hard shot to blow one by Team Orange goalie Thomas Spence and also opened up the scoring on a nice close in opportunity. Rigby, the Rockets co-winner for rookie of the year, should have another solid season in the attacking zone.  
  • Rourke Chartier has clearly done everything right at main camp. The 16 year-old blew away everyone in physical testing and is scoring goals in the scrimmages I've witnessed. Honestly, I had low expectations for him heading into training camp because of his age, but he obviously made some huge strides last winter with the Saskatoon Contacts. It will be interesting to see how he matches up in pre-season action.
  • Speaking of Baillie, I ran into his dad before the morning scrimmage. Tyson looks so much like his father Shaun. a good way mind you.
  • Rookie 16 year-old Christopher Gerrie has impressed me. While not overly big, Gerrie finds himself creating good scoring chances and is always around the puck. I know little about him but he is turning my head at main camp.
  • I sure liked the play of Tanner Moar in the morning session. The lanky forward had some good chances to score and even got into a scrap.  Moar and Austin Ferguson are two players that have to 'bring it' in pre-season with so many good young players taking notice. Just my opinion here, but I think Colton Heffley would also fall into that category.     
  • Not much else to add outside of the Rockets preparing for a home and home series with the Vancouver Giants. Friday's game is in Ladner before the two teams hook up again Saturday night at Prospera Place.

Good day for the goal scorers, not the goalies

  • It was a tough scrimmage for the goaltenders and a great morning for the shooters in day two of Kelowna Rockets main camp. No goaltender stood out, outside of a no quit effort from goaltender Jake Morrissey with the paddle of his stick before Austin Ferguson scored on a secondary chance. Ryan Olsen scored three times for Team Green and Tyson Baillie wasn't outdone with three of his own for Team Blue. Olsen has been very good in the scrimmages with GM Bruce Hamilton saying he looks "extremely good". It doesn't matter if he impresses me. If you are catching the eye of Hamilton, job accomplished.  
  • It was nice to see Baillie score and score often. The about to turn 17 year-old has a good release and can definitely cause headaches for opposition goaltenders. Scoring is all about confidence and Baillie likely lost some of that after leading the team in pre-season scoring. Now a year older and a season under his belt, let's hope Baillie finds the score sheet more often this season. 
  • The Rockets sent the majority if not all of their 15 year-old drafted players back to their respective teams for this season. That includes first round pick Nick Merkley, who is headed back to Calgary. Merkley will undoubtedly get a chance to wear Rockets colours sometime during this season as the club makes a trip through Alberta.
  • So with Merkley and Morrissey headed back home, the numbers drop significantly at training camp. Workable numbers for the team heading into their first pre-season game this weekend is likely between 25 and 27 players. I think the team would like to keep a large number of players around in case four to five members do indeed attend NHL training camps. Damon Severson, Colton Sissons, Ryan Olsen and possibly Myles Bell would be headed out of town to impress at the pro level.
  • If you are wondering where 20 year-old d-man Mitchell Chapman has been this week, he's been out of action with a sprained ankle suffered in practice. 
  • How many 16 year-olds will the team keep this season? It looks like Rourke Chartier and Riley Stadel have done enough so far to earn a spot, but that could change if they falter in pre-season. If Wednesday's workout was any indication, Austin Glover could make a pitch to join that group. The 16 year-old showed good skating ability in the morning session.    
  • Maybe a new look physically translates into a new approach on the ice for Zach Franko. The hair is a little fact a lot longer than in the past and the determination to prove he is better than his streaky performance last season appears to be on his mind. Now 19, Franko looks like a new man. 
  • The Rockets could carry as high as eight d-man to start the season. Bowey, Severson, Bell, Chapman, Martin, Johnston, Lees and Stadel would make up that group.
  • In the comments section I was asked about Myles Bell and Tyrell Goulbourne. First off, we are speaking about two players I really like off the ice. Bell and I get along real well and I think the d-man has some of the most God given hockey ability of anyone on the Rockets roster. Bell can do so many incredible things that many of us just haven't yet seen. Bell's shot is obviously pro like...we've witnessed that. Now he needs to ramp up on the intensity side of his game. That will happen this season. Mark my words. Goulbourne is a favourite for mine for many reasons. Sure, he will defend a teammate and has plenty of success when he scraps, but he loves playing the game and is a good character guy to have in the dressing room. My hope is 'Goulby' doesn't get too caught up in fighting and rounds out his game this season. Don't get me wrong, I want him to stand up and be noticed by the opposition, but he can do some real good things with his gloves on.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Quick thoughts on day one

  • The opening day of main camp didn't disappoint. The opening scrimmage saw Ryan Olsen score twice in Team Green's one goal win over Team Orange. Olsen comes as advertised. A nose for the net, you can see why he is so highly touted. Olsen finds himself in good positions to score...a good sign for a player who appears to have good finish. Olsen doesn't need a lot of chances to score, but when he gets a chance he makes you pay. I don't want to pump his tires too much considering it's just a scrimmage, but I liked what I saw from the 18 year-old forward. 
  • Rookie Nick Merkley was on the losing end as a member of Team Orange, but he is clearly a special player. The 15 year-old reminds me a little bit of a young Colin Long. Merkley has soft hands, is a little under sized right now (he is playing against older competition obviously) but the one thing Merkley possesses that Long didn't was his determination to get the puck on his stick when someone else has it. The lazy player waits for it to come to him. The determined player will scratch your eye out to get it away from you and back on his stick.   
  • In the morning session, both Jordon Cooke and rookie Jake Morrissey didn't allow a goal for Team Green. Morrissey surprised me at how big he looked. The 15 year-old covers a lot of net. Cooke is just steady. If Morrissey was a year older, I could see those two being teammates this season with Cooke as the starter and Morrissey as his understudy. 
  • I think the Rockets scouting staff deserve a tip of the cap for drafting three quality goaltenders in the last five drafts. Cooke (2008), Thomas Spence (2011) and Morrissey (2012) all look like solid choices. It hasn't always been that way though. The last drafted goaltender to play regular minutes was Kristofer Westblom, who was taken in the 4th round in 2002. Brown, Guggenberger, Bendera, Guard, Swanson and Jung were either listed players or netminders acquired through trade. There is nothing wrong with dealing for a goalie, but it sure is nice to pick a quality one in the draft. 
  • Cole Martin and Damon Severson both looked composed in the opening scrimmage. Martin has to be playing with confidence after his tryout with the Dallas Stars prospects this summer. That's what makes those experiences so valuable. You play against tougher competition and you learn from it. Martin went to class this summer with the Stars and came out a better student. That's why it will be a shame if several Rockets are unable to attend an NHL camp because of a lockout. 
  • I thought I interviewed a different Damon Severson Tuesday afternoon. A more focused player than a year ago, Severson, I believe, finally knows what commitment is needed to get to the next level. It finally clicked in for Tyler Myers at 19, which means Severson is ahead of the game. It doesn't hurt when you've been surrounded by pro's like Curtis Leschyshyn and Jarome Iginla for a good portion of the summer.
  • The opening scrimmage saw a scrap between Severson and captain Colton Sissons. This is how Severson explained the fisticuffs to me afterwards. "It was one of those things in the heat of the game. Maybe he (Sissons) thought I checked him a little funny there, but it was good and no hard feelings between us and it was good to get the boys going and open the eyes for the younger guys".  
  • It was nice to see Spencer Main out on the ice Tuesday. To think, he is now the only player from the Rockets draft class of 2007 that remains with the team. Colton Jobke and Antoine Corbin were traded away while Max Adolph's career was cut short by a concussion. Brett Bulmer's WHL days are over as the now 20 year-old turns pro this season.   

Meet Henrik Nyberg

What did you think when the Kelowna Rockets selected you in the CHL Import Draft?  

"I heard it was a nice city. I talked to Mikael Backlund, who plays for Calgary (Flames) now, and he just told me good things about the city. The big difference here compared to back home is the spectators. In Sweden we only have like 200".

Why is the WHL a good fit for you?

"I played in Sweden in the under 17, which is like a junior league. It was kinda good actually. I think Kelowna is better."  

You are not drafted by an NHL team. Why do you think you were overlooked?

"I think it is a lot of scouts can see you here than they can in Sweden.....maybe one scout at every game. You can show what you can do more here".

What can you bring to this team?

"I think I am a power forward but I am a skilled player too. I like to shoot a lot. I think I can bring some goals to this team", Nyberg said with a chuckle.

And you like to hit?

"Ya, I like it. My old team I was a power forward so I was a guy that hit guys and gave energy to the team".

What's it like to be so far away from home?

"My parents maybe are kinda scared. I think they miss me when I am here but I call them every day so it not a problem for me".

Note: Nyberg's dad is a banker. He has three brothers, two which are older.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chartier serves notice and Main is now an old man

  • He won't be the most talented player at Kelowna Rockets main camp this week, but he could be considered one of the most committed. Sixteen year-old Rourke Chartier, the Rockets first pick in the WHL Bantam draft two years ago, was the top performer in the teams physical testing in the 5 K run. That is no small feat for a young player who is trying to earn a spot on the team and therefore bypassing another year of midget hockey with the Saskatoon Contacts. Does Chartier's impressive showing send a message to the coaching staff that he did everything in his power to make sure he was in top physical shape heading into training camp? No question. He won't earn a spot because of his impressive showing on the track, but any time one of the youngest players leads the pack you have to be impressed.
  • Who's that picture of the young guy holding that Medicine Hat Tigers puck? That is a blurry-eyed Spencer Main the day after scoring his first career WHL goal at the 'Arena' in Medicine Hat. Now 20, time has flown by for Main, who is one of just two overagers on the Rockets roster. With the graduation of Brett Lyon, Cody Chikie and Adam Brown, The pride of North Vancouver is joined by Mitchell Chapman as the two elder statesmen on this years team. Will the Rockets add a third? Unless you are in a huge rebuilding phase, having three 20 year-old's is always the best option.
  • Close to 60 players make up three teams at main camp. 
  • After what seemed to be forever at the Capital News Centre, everyone is back at Prospera Place. The most relieved has to be athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn. It must have been a huge pain to bring all of the teams gear to an alternate location for rookie camp.
  • My guess is the Rockets will have close to eight goalies at main camp, including veteran Jordon Cooke. The back up battle could be the most interesting. Now that James Fisk is out of the picture and is trying out with Canmore of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, 16 year-old  Thomas Spence will be the one to watch. Why Spence? He was the Rockets 5th round pick in 2011. Clearly Spence and 15 year-old Jacob Morrissey are the franchises goalies of the future.      
  • If the Rockets elect to keep three 16 year-old's this season, Riley Stadel and Austin Glover have a good shot of being in the mix. I really liked Stadel's composure when he dressed with the team last season in Vancouver. Stadel was the Rockets third round pick in 2011 behind Austin Glover (2nd overall) and Chartier (1st overall).  I haven't seen Rourke Chartier in game action, so for the moment Stadel is the most WHL ready. Glover may have turned the corner though, after a decent year with the Saskatoon Contacts. 
  • Tuesday mornings scrimmage will give me a chance to see two new players that could bring a lot to the table this season. Ryan Olsen, acquired in the Shane McColgan deal this summer, should add some much needed size down the middle. I will also be watching Swedish forward Henrik Nyberg with interest in the opening scrimmage. Will he be an impact player or an innocent bystander? The last Swedish born player to make an impact on the Rockets was Alex Edler. 'Eddie' didn't say much, but the dude could play.
  • With the chance of a NHL lockout looming large, you have to feel for Colton Sissons, Ryan Olsen and Damon Severson. All three were drafted in June, yet all three may be staying in Kelowna rather than attending their first ever NHL training camps. 

Separated at birth

Separated at birth. Former Kelowna Rockets/Swift Current Broncos/Seattle Thunderbirds Kyle Verdino and Philadelphia Eagles and West Kelowna resident Danny Watkins.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Questions heading into main camp

  • Who will be backing up Jordon Cooke? Cooke finds himself in the drivers seat as a Western Hockey League starting goaltender. Spending the last two seasons playing second fiddle to Adam Brown, Cooke showed great promise in limited duty as a 17 and 18 year-old. Now 19, Cooke is ready for prime time and should make the easy transition to the starting role. But unlike Brown, Cooke doesn't have the luxury of having a reliable back up. Who will take on that role? With a raw rookie stepping forward, Cooke, the Rockets 4th round bantam pick from 2008, may see between 60 and 65 starts this season. The Rockets club record for starts by a goalie is 68, set by Kevin Swanson in 1999-2000.
  •  Can the Rockets win consistently at home? One of the concerns for the team last year was their inability to win at home. Prospera Place seemed to bring out the worst in the Rockets and the best in the opposition. The Rockets won just 16 games on home ice in 2011-2012, one more than the 15 they managed to win on the road. Half of their home dates (18) resulted in no points at the end of the night leaving fans unhappy and the coaches sour. The players didn't like it either. Home ice dominance needs to return after plaguing the team the last two seasons.
  • Who leads the team in scoring? Shane McColgan led the Rockets the last two seasons but he was traded this off-season to Saskatoon. Captain Colton Sissons should come to mind considering his 26 goals, but could the player the Rockets received from the Blades in the McColgan deal rise to the top of the scoring leader board? Ryan Olsen had 15 goals as a sophomore forward and arguably could double those totals with first line minutes and power play time. A first round bantam pick of the Blades in 2009, wouldn't it be ironic if Olsen and Sissons, who was also Blades property before being acquired in the Curt Gogol trade, were 1-2 in team scoring?
  • Euro scoring is always a concern. As hard as he tried last season, Slovakian born Filip Vasko failed to find the back of the net as a WHL rookie. The 18 year-old is back for another crack at making the squad, but will be hard pressed if the Buffalo Sabres send first round draft pick Zemgus Girgensons to major junior. If Girgensons lands in Kelowna, problem solved. If that doesn't happen, how good is Swedish forward Henrik Nyberg?  Nyberg was taken along with Girgenson in the CHL Import Draft this summer which tells you the team wants to upgrade in that department and Vasko will be hard pressed to earn a spot. The Rockets would give anything to have a European forward score in the neighbourhood of 20 goals. If Girgensons lands on the Rockets doorstep, 20 goals could be attained by the 18 year-old power forward by Christmas.  
  • Can Spencer Main contribute? After a 19 year-old season he would like to forget, can the now 20 year-old stay healthy enough and rebound from a series of concussions to lead his team in the ever  important leadership department? While Sissons is the captain, Main carries with him a lot of respect from his teammates and would be a helping hand to Sissons. A fifth year player with the organization, Main should be good for 20 goals despite his best work at the opposite end of the ice as a reliable face-off man and defender. Let's hope the hockey gods look favorably upon him this season and he stays as far away as possible from the helpful hands of athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn. 
  • The Rockets dressed one of the youngest teams in the WHL last season, which included two-16 year-old defencemen and a forward. It was a steep learning curve for Madison Bowey and Jesse Lees and rookie Tyson Baillie found a greater appreciation for WHL goaltending. Who is next in line to make the team at the tender age of 16? With a strong finish to his season with the Saskatoon Contacts, you would think Rourke Chartier has a legitimate shot at earning a roster spot. While he is a first round pick from two years ago, I don't think the Rockets want to rush him into the league prematurely. It all depends on how good he is at training camp.  If you look traditionally at how the Rockets handle first round selections, Chartier has played his last game of midget hockey.
  • What questions are on your mind heading into this season? Leave your comment below.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Mid August Musings

  • I can't believe Kelowna Rockets training camp is visible in my rear view mirror.  Rookie camp opens late next week with close to 160 new faces trying to impress the scouting staff at the Capital News Centre. It will be interesting to see Nick Merkley at camp and watch how he measures up. Merkley was the Rockets first round pick from this summers WHL Bantam Draft and could see a game or two with the big club. The Rockets make two stops in Calgary this season, Merkley's hometown, so the underage 15 year-old may be able to put on that Rockets sweater for a brief period of time. The majority of his year will be spent playing midget hockey.
  • All the talk these days is about the NHL lockout.  Some suggest the entire season could be lost while others believe the two sides will come to an agreement before the September 15th deadline. Right now I am siding with the players, who appear to be bending over in order for the season to start on time. If the NHL season does get delayed it will be no skin off my teeth. Once the WHL season starts, I am in my own bubble where the Rockets are my focal point and my energy goes towards following the team and putting my blinders on to what is happening elsewhere. Sure, I will watch a highlite or two but the reality is I won't sit down and watch an entire NHL game during the week when the Rockets aren't in action. I don't know if it's because I am not much of a fan or my family deserves my attention when I am not calling 72 games a season? I rather invest in my two boys while they want to spend time with their dad, not my favourite NHL team.
  • If we see a delay in the start of the NHL season, this is great news in the Rockets bid to land Zemgus Girgensons.  Girgensons was the Buffalo Sabres first round pick, but he was also selected by the Rockets in the CHL Import Draft.  Girgensons can either play with the Sabres or the teams American Hockey League affiliate. If the NHL doesn't play, Sabre players that have two way contracts will suit up for the AHL team which means Girgensons may have no other choice but to play in the Western Hockey League. How good would he make those around him? Like European forward Timmy Bozon in Kamloops, Girgensons would be an impact player.
  • I thought it was neat this week that Kelowna Rockets head coach Ryan Huska was at the Okanagan Sun's football practice. Huska met with Sun head coach Gavin Lake as the two shared ideas. Hockey and football are distinctly different games but communicating with younger players remains the same. It is nice to see the two organizations have a good working relationship and both can benefit and learn from one other.       
  • I had a chance this week to watch the Prospera Place work crews put the ice in. You really don't appreciate the care and technique that goes into it until you see it first hand. From a concrete floor to a nice white sheet of ice with logo's takes just three days. If you are unsure of how the entire process works, check out the Prospera Place website where video was taken on what it takes to get the job done. Amazing.          
  • An NHL lockout would leave many broadcasters twiddling their thumbs wondering what to do. Many end up staying at their off-season summer homes watching major junior hockey. A type 'A' personality, which most media guys are considered, won't be sitting around and lounging in their homes. They are like crazed, caged animals. They want to be apart of the action. I am glad to know that when the season starts, the puck will officially drop September 21st. I can't imagine a delay in the WHL season. If that happened it would mean more time in the AM 1150 news room. No one, my co-workers included, would want to see that happen. I am sure six months of having me on a regular basis in the office is enough for my colleagues to handle.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cutter. What a captain...what a coach.

Goodbye Cutter!

So long for now, but I know we will talk again.
Kelowna Rockets assistant coach Ryan Cuthbert surprised many, me included, this week when he announced he is leaving the team for personal reasons.
Cuthbert spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the WHL franchise after his pro hockey career ended prematurely by a series of concussions.
My connection to Cuthbert goes back to our days growing up in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. We were born in the same city and it was neat to see him make the Kelowna Rockets roster at the tender age of 16 while I was in the broadcast booth calling games for the hometown Swift Current Broncos. I remember interviewing Cuthbert and fellow southwest, Saskatchewan resident Vaughn Watson who happened to be a goaltender with the Rockets at the time Cuthbert was cutting his teeth as a raw rookie. We did a quick interview prior to the game at what was then the Civic Centre. Watson was like a prairie mouse and wouldn't say but three words for every question he was asked while Cuthbert was a reporters delight as his long, thought out answers made the interview flow with ease.
Cuthbert was well spoken off the ice and it translated into tenacious play on it. Never overly big, Cuthbert's heart and determination caught the eye of all who watched him play and he slowly became a fan favourite for a franchise that would eventually make him captain.
I have tremendous memories of his red beard and almost blood-shot eyes raising the WHL championship trophy over his head when the Rockets won the league title in Red Deer back in 2003. That mental picture of Cuthbert can now be found in a painted mural outside of the Rockets dressing room. That great moment will never be erased.
I also remember the tears he shed when I interviewed him outside the dressing room at the Memorial Cup in Quebec City when he, Kiel McLeod and Jesse Schultz realized that their playing days in Kelowna were over. I felt his pain that day and had a hard time asking him questions following his last game wearing Kelowna colours. All I really wanted to do was give him a hug to somehow ease the pain.
This time as Cuthbert leaves the Rockets organization, unlike 2003, his head is held high as he is excited about what the future holds. Am I sad to see him leave the Rockets organization like I did when he was a player back in 2003? No question. But this time a hug isn't required. A good old fashioned, solid southwest Saskatchewan handshake will do the trick for an individual who is as great a person as he was a player.