Sunday, September 30, 2012

Wearing a Hawks jersey in the broadcast booth

  • It was without a doubt Jordon Cooke's best performance in three short seasons in a Kelowna Rockets uniform. The 19 year-old goaltender made 43 saves, was named the games first star, in a 4-3 win Saturday night over the Portland Winterhawks. Cooke made several sensational saves including a clutch stop against Winterhawks forward Brendan Leipsic with just over a minute left in regulation time when the score was tied at 3. That save allowed Ryan Olsen to set up line mate Zach Franko for the game winning goal with 59 seconds left on the clock. Cooke was named the first star and was the main reason why his team snapped a nine game regular season losing streak in Portland.
  • Cooke has been named the hardest working Rockets on all four of our broadcasts this season. He has been a bright spot on a team that is still finding its footing.
  • The Rockets have now played in four consecutive one goal games. These close games are tough on the ticker and we still have 68 left to be played.
  • Rookie Riley Stadel celebrated in style Saturday night with his first career WHL goal. The 16 year-old picked up a rebound on a Myles Bell shot that hit the post and made no mistake as he ripped it into the wide open net. Stadel was jumping for joy on the ice and the smile on his face was clearly visible from the broadcast booth. I like the excitement and passion he shows towards the game.
  • We witnessed some good chemistry on the weekend between Colton Sissons, Myles Bell and Dylan McKinley. Those three racked up a combined seven points in Saturdays one goal win. Bell spent the weekend as a forward but don't expect him to play up there on a regular basis. The loss of J.T Barnett is one of the reasons why the coaches believe Bell can add a little extra flare at the forward position.
  • Discipline is a concern for the Rockets heading into Wednesday's game against Vancouver. This team is taking too many penalties for my liking and it needs to stop quickly. Taking a hooking or tripping penalty when an opponent is in a good scoring position is one thing, but not controlling your stick or your emotions is putting yourself before the team.       
  • How much different will the Rockets look when Barnett and injured defenceman Mitchell Chapman return to the line up? Those are two 20 year-old's that would add a nice dimension at both ends of the ice. That's why an early stumble out of the gate doesn't concern me as much as it may others.  
  • It was great being back in Portland. I've stated how I love the city and the good folks with the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club always put a smile on my face. No question they are excited to be hosting a fan bus when the Winterhawks visit Kelowna February 8th and 9th.  
  • I made a bet last season with Mike Thurston (picture on right) of the Booster Club that the Kamloops Blazers would beat his Winterhawks in the Western Conference final. As we all know, the Winterhawks eliminated Kamlooops in seven games. So, I had to man up Saturday night as Thurston presented me with the Portland Buckaroos jersey, which I wore reluctantly for the entire first period.  I received many odd looks, including one from Rockets forward Filip Vasko, who was wondering why I was wearing a Winterhawks jersey. The funny part about wearing it was the Rockets had a 2-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes. Who would have thought it brought good luck to the visiting team?
  • Ty Rattie was a Kelowna Rockets killer last season. He had 10 goals in an opening round playoff series. In the first two games of the seasonal series he was pretty much a non factor. It seemed strange not to see Rattie dominating play and being a threat to score every time he had the puck. You have to ask the question on how much he indeed misses line mate Sven Bartschi and how much of a factor Barschi was to Rattie's success last season? No question he was a factor, but is Rattie half the player he was last season without the now 20 year-old? To me, Rattie's slow start, in part, is a testament to how good Barschi was last season.
  • I sure like Winterhawks forward Brendan Leipsic. Always have. He was great Saturday night and dominated play pretty much when ever he had the puck. Leipsic won't get the headlines that Rattie, Seth Jones and overage Troy Rutkowski receive, but the 6th round pick of the Winterhawks in the 2009 draft impresses me with his speed and play making ability.     
  • I finally had a chance to meet Colton Sissons mom and dad.  Doug and Debbie Sissons took in Saturday's game in Portland and were chatting with their son after the game when I ran into them coming off the elevator. Debbie was as charming in person as she was when I first spoke with her as my first guest on my 'Pride of a Hockey Parent' series. We are airing the feature during the second intermission on Rockets road radio broadcasts this season.

Cooke's game saver and Franko's game winner

Here is the audio of Jordon Cooke's save followed by Zach Franko's game winner in Portland Saturday night. Rockets win 4-3.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Getting shut out on the road sucks

  • Losing sucks. Losing and being shut out is even more painful. Despite a solid effort in Portland Friday night, the Kelowna Rockets fell victim to a hot goaltender and a cold power play. It all added up to a 1-0 loss to the Portland Winerhawks and a 0-2-0-1 start to the season.
  • The Rockets went 0 for 6 on the power play and have just one goal with the extra man in the first three games of the season. Despite significant pressure in the third period, Winterhawks goaltender Cam Lanigan made some terrific saves for his first career WHL shutout. It marked the first time the Rockets were shut out on the road since 2010-2011 when Ty Rimmer helped the Prince George Cougars to a 3-0 victory.
  • The Rockets 0-2-0-1 start isn't nothing new. In 2010-2011, the team went 0-4-0-0 in their first four games before finally winning in their fifth game of the season. Last year the Rockets won their first three games before suffering a loss in game four.
  • When you can't find the back of the net you look at your leading scorers from last season or answers. Colton Sissons, who had 26 goals last season and Carter Rigby, who had 21 goals as a rookie, have failed to score a goal this season. Sissons was the hottest player one season ago when he scored seven goals in his first 10 regular season games.
  • Only Kelowna, Red Deer and Vancouver have yet to taste the thrill of victory this season.
  • A crowd of 62 hundred took in Friday's game in Portland.While some suggested that was a disappointing number, I think that is pretty decent considering the warm weather here in Oregon and the fact we haven't even hit October yet. 
  • NHL scouts were likely watching Kelowna's Madison Bowey and Portland's Seth Jones closely last night. Jones had several miscues and showed that he has areas to improve on in his game. Bowey looked more composed and attempted to keep the game simple by not putting himself or his team in danger. Jones is a great prospect, no question, and with more playing time to help him adjust to the junior game, the 6'4 defenceman is going to be loads of fun to watch. He already is.
  • It isn't often you can say Ty Rattie had a tough night, but the 19 year-old really did. You wonder how the NHL lockout has affected him and where his heart is entering his fourth season of junior hockey? In the back of his mind, Rattie must be thinking about the lockout and a possible call from the Blues to get back to St. Louis for the start of training camp when it ends.
  • The 'Rose Buds' made their presents known in the first and second intermission. Best dance team in the league.      
  • We are on the air at 6:30 pm following Inside Sports with Eric Stansfield.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Playoff foes meet again

  • Here we are in Portland for the first of what is expected to be two exciting early season games in the Western Hockey League. How can games three and four of the regular season be exciting over the long haul of 72 games? Well, the Rockets are meeting a familiar playoff opponent tonight in the Portland Winterhawks. Nothing better to establish a rivalry than back-to-back seasons where the two teams have met in the playoffs. In fact, the Rockets season came to an end March 29th when they fell victim to the Hawks in game four of that opening round playoff series. The two teams looks vastly different this season, but my belief is the intensity will be there.   
  • The first of the two games at the Rose Garden will feature defenceman that have NHL scouts salivating. Portland's Seth Jones is expected to be a first round pick and Kelowna's Madison Bowey could go in the first round or maybe early in round two. Jones is the real deal. The 17 year-old rookie moves the puck well and has a 6'4 frame to match. Bowey is no slouch either. Mature for his age, it will be interesting to see how the Winnipeg resident matches up to the highly touted Jones. Scouts better watch closely tonight though. Jones won't play tomorrow as he attends an evaluation camp in Buffalo, New York.           
  • The Rockets are fortunate to be playing the Winterhawks early in the season. The Memorial Coliseum is undergoing a face-lift, which means the ice has been ripped out and a new floor has been installed. The new floor will also allow the ice surface to become regulation size when the Winterhawks return to the building in mid October. 
  • Hockey fans in Portland won't see the usually suspects as the Rockets come to town. No, McColgan. No, Bulmer. No, Brown. All three players are no longer with the team. While the Rockets have ten new faces in their line up, the Winterhawks have a new look as well. Portland has 11 new faces on their  roster but their returning players still carry the mail. 
  • Would Ty Rattie have made the St. Louis Blues this season? He sure doesn't have much to prove in the WHL this season. In saying that, the WHL is far better off having such a tremendous talent back in their league for another year. Rattie had ten goals in last years opening round playoff series against the Rockets. Dynamic player would be an understatement.
  • This road trip has allowed me to get a better feel about how the young Rockets rookies fit in with the veterans. If my brief time with them is accurate, I like the chemistry that has developed between the two groups. I don't see a huge divide between the two and the rookies are really blending in well. I especially like Rourke Chartier and Austin Glover, who know their place in the pack but aren't resembling a field mouse that won't make a peep with their older teammates.      
  • If you follow me on Twitter you will have noticed that the Rose Garden has some of the safety measures that other WHL arena's are required to adhere too. The seamless glass is the most impressive. By pushing on it with one hand, the glass literally shakes back and forth. That is a huge safety feature for a player who gets blasted into the glass. Now it has some give. At Prospera Place, as an example, the glass is harder than a rock and shoulders and heads hitting it can cause serious injury. I am not saying no one will get hurt along the boards in the Rose Garden, but I sure like the players chances of survival if they get pasted by an opposing player. 
  • We have a good show for you tonight, outside of the game itself. On the pre-game show we will hear from Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Luke Schenn who was practicing with the team earlier this week. The mother of Kelowna Rockets captain Colton Sissons will join us in the second intermission during our Pride of a Hockey Parent series. 
  • I love preparing for games on the road. I like to find a Starbucks (free plug) near the hotel, have my laptop in hand and do my research while sipping a latte. I am not sure NHL broadcasters follow a similar path. In fact, my bet is the research is done on a chartered jet at 38 thousand feet with their tie lightly loosened on their dress shirt. My method sounds more relaxing.    
  • The pre-game show is on AM 1150 at 6:30 and the play-by-play is at 7.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What went right and wrong on weekend

  • My glass remains half full, not half empty after a home and home series with the Kamloops Blazers on the weekend. A 6-5 overtime loss Friday followed by a 3-2 setback at home Saturday night allowed the Rockets to earn one out of a possible four points. Let's remember the Rockets are starting the season playing against one of the best, veteran heavy line ups you can ice in the WHL. Conversely, ten new faces slipped on a Rockets uniform for the first time and simply need more time to gel.  
  • I thought Friday's overtime loss was the most impressive of the two games. Coming back three times from two goals down was a really good sign for Ryan Huska's team. Had they stayed out of the box in the season opener they likely would have left Interior Savings Centre with two points. Oddly enough, while more disciplined Saturday night, a costly roughing penalty late in the third period allowed Matt Needham to score the game winner with 33 seconds left on the clock.
  • Coach Ryan Huska has enough players on his roster to sit someone if disciple issues are a problem. Sometimes sitting a player is the best way for a coach to get the message across. In my opinion, Saturday's late penalty shouldn't force the coach to sit someone, but clearly the infraction won't happen again at that crucial time of the game.     
  • It may have been a combination of things, but I thought the Rockets played a better game Friday night than they did one night later in front of the home town crowd. While the Rockets gave up six goals and 34 shots in the 6-5 overtime loss in Kamloops, I thought they looked less fractured in their own zone. Despite giving up three goals in Saturday's 3-2 loss, the Rockets spent huge minutes inside their own zone and just didn't look like they were on the same page. The Blazers playing more of a structured game which may have had something to do with that.
  • Kamloops forward Colin Smith...terrific player. I remember watching him at 16. He was small and always lost puck battles. Three years later, Smith is a force.
  • Filip Vasko has his first career WHL goal. It took him 52 games to do it, but the 18 year-old had a huge smile on his face when he helped his team to a 2-0 lead. Vasko scored last season, but it came in a shootout win in Everett on opening night. Those shootout goals don't count in the statistics. Technically, this was Vasko's first game this season after being a healthy scratch Friday night in Kamloops.
  • The best Rockets player in the first two games? My pick is goaltender Jordon Cooke. The statistics won't be flattering, but the 19 year-old goaltender was very good. Cooke made several solid stops Friday and continued his strong play Saturday night. 
  • Zach Franko was named a game start on both nights. The 19 year-old picked up third star status Friday with two assists in Kamloops and then had a goal in Saturday's home opener, which again, earned him a star in the building. I like the fact that he is producing offensively and we are seeing his name on the score sheet. It is only two games in, but Franko leads the team in scoring. When you are 19 and a skilled player, his name should be near or at the top throughout the season.
  • The Rockets sellout streak on home ice came to an end Saturday night. The streak was 183 straight games with a sellout. Impressive. As the promotions department said, it was bound to be snapped some time. Now it's time to start a new one.
  • I thought it was a pretty good vibe in the building Saturday night. The noise makers made a huge impact and the fans appeared to really enjoy the game. The music in the building is louder and Sun FM's Ian MacKinnon is doing a great job in the stands interacting with the fans.
  • The loss of JT Barnett is a tough pill to swallow. The 20 year-old was hurt on the first shift of Friday's overtime loss in Kamloops. If you are going to get injured, it's best to fall victim early in the season rather than near or in the playoffs. I was excited to see what Barnett would add to this team. Guess I will have to wait.
  • Remember the Rockets played the first two games without Mitchell Chapman. The 20 year-old was the teams best defenceman last season and would be a physical force out there. 'Chappy' would be playing a shutdown role against the other teams top line. 
  • Most improved player? It is only two games but MacKenzie Johnston really impressed me on the weekend. A good start for a player who has to be feeling confident with a letter attached to his jersey.
  • The Rockets next opponent is the Portland Winterhawks. The Hawks might be without Ty Rattie for one of those two games down in Oregon. Rattie received a major penalty for cross checking Saturday night and may be suspended by the league.
  • The picture at the top of the page is Filip Vasko. The photo is courtesy of Marissa Baecker. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rockets game notes for Friday. Ready yet?

Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open their 22nd season in the WHL tonight with a date in Kamloops against the Blazers. The Rockets are celebrating their 18th season in Kelowna after spending four years in Tacoma, Washington. This is one of ten meetings between these two teams this season. The Rockets host the Blazers tomorrow night at Prospera Place before the two teams meet against November 1st in Kamloops. In eight meetings with the Blazers last season the Rockets were 3-4-1-0. Six of the eight games were decided by a single goal. The Rockets were out-scored 30-24 in the eight games. The start of the schedule isn’t easy for the Rockets, who play 11 of their first 16 games on the road.  

Last Year’s Facts: The Rockets finished 6th in the Western Conference last season with a record of 31-31-4-6. The Rockets won 16 games at home and 15 games on the road last season. The Rockets scored the 6th fewest goals of the 22 teams in the WHL with 217. Only Red Deer, Swift Current, Everett, Seattle and Prince George scored fewer times. For a second straight season, Shane McColgan led the team in scoring (18+46=64). Brett Bulmer led the team in goals (34) while McColgan led the team in assists (46). Bulmer was named the team’s MVP while Mitchell Chapman picked up the team’s top defenceman award.
The Rockets were eliminated in four games in the opening round by the Portland Winter Hawks.   

New Faces Emerge: The Kelowna Rockets were one of the most active teams, obtaining players before the puck dropped on the 2012-2013 season. The Rockets acquired two 20 year-old players in separate deals last Thursday. J.T Barnett was acquired from the Everett Silvertips off waivers while Dylen McKinlay was picked up from the Kootenay Ice for a 5th round bantam pick. Goaltender Jackson Whistle was acquired from Vancouver for a third round bantam pick. Ryan Olsen was picked up in the Shane McColgan/Jessey Astles deal.    

Rookie Watch: The Rockets will ice a team consisting of three 16 year olds this season. Rourke Chartier was the teams 1st round pick in the 2011 WHL bantam draft. Austin Glover was taken in the second round while defenceman Riley Stadel was a 3rd round pick. Glover and Stadel played a few games with the team last season as 15 year-olds. Eighteen year-old Swedish born forward Henrik Nyberg fills one European spot. Defenceman Mitch Wheaton joined the team after entertaining several offers from high profile U.S colleges. Wheaton, 17, was the Rockets 10th round pick in 2010.  

Leaving the Nest: Cody Chikie, Adam Brown and Brett Lyon are no longer with the team. All three were 20 year-olds last season. Chikie is attending school in Lethbridge and playing with the Pronghorns while Brown is expected to spend the season in the ECHL with the Colorado Eagles. Lyon signed a contract with the Orlando Solar Bears. Shane McColgan was traded to the Saskatoon Blades along with Jessey Astles June 2nd for 18 year-old forward Ryan Olsen. Brett Bulmer will play pro hockey this season as a 20 year-old while overage forward Spencer Main retired after suffering a series of concussions. Tanner Moar, who played in 65 games as a rookie, was traded to Vancouver on Monday.

Who’s Hot: For a second straight pre-season, Tyson Baillie led the team in scoring. Baillie had 3+3=6, which was one point better than Austin Ferguson 2+3=5. The Rockets were 2-2-0-2 in pre-season, out-scoring the opposition 20-18.   

This and That: The Rockets were involved in a whopping 37-one goal games last season…The Rockets were 2-2-0-2 in six pre-season games, scoring 18 goals and surrendering 18 goals…Tyson Baillie led the team in pre-season scoring for a second straight season….J.T Barnett attended the New Jersey Devils development camp along with Damon Severson in July…Ryan Huska is entering his 6th season as head coach of the Kelowna Rockets. He becomes the longest serving coach in franchise history, surpassing the five seasons that Marcel Comeau was behind the bench of the Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets from 1991-1992 until 1995…Last season the Rockets opened on the road with a 5-4 shootout win in Everett….Eight of the Rockets first 11 games to start the season are against teams in the BC Division…Goaltender Jordon Cooke has appeared in three games in Kamloops over his two year career. All three have been in a relief appearance for Adam Brown. Cooke has stopped 39 of 40 shots he’s faced…Defencemen Madison Bowey and Mitch Wheaton have been identified by NHL Central Scouting. In a preliminary rating system, Bowey is rated as a ‘B’ prospect (2nd to 4th round) while Wheaton is rated as a ‘C’ prospect (4th to 7th round).      

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mail bag. Ask me a question.

1) Why are you such a homer? Answer: Ya, I am. Kelowna is my home. It has been my home for 12 years. I love this place. My kids were born at the Kelowna General Hospital. My wife and I make our living in the Kelowna area. I work at a Kelowna radio station that has primarily Kelowna listeners and Kelowna based businesses that sponsor our broadcasts. Without them I am pumping gas. I have very good relationships with the Rockets coaches. I enjoy my arms length relationships with the players too. And frankly, I take great pride in the Rockets organization representing my city when they are on the road. So when you listen to one of my broadcasts it will be Kelowna focused. For that I make no apology.
2) Do you publish every comment you get on your blog? Answer: No. I routinely receive comments from fans that take pot shots at Rockets players and I refuse to publish them. These are cheap shot comments from fans that really have no theory to why criticism should be directed towards a particular player. It pisses me off.! It especially irritates me when these so called fans couldn't even skate on the same ice surface as these elite athletes, yet it sure is easy to throw daggers at them from the keyboard of a computer. Give me a logical explanation on why a player should be criticised and I will publish it. On occasion, I too will shed some negativity but with a basis behind my argument.
3) You and Gord McGarva sure have fun on the radio. Do you really like each other? Answer: Yes. Gord has been very faithful to me over the years. McGarva isn't a broadcaster by design. What he is, is a fan who loves to use the radio platform to express his fondness for the team and the game. Gord has made many a road trip with me and would help me out at a moments notice. He isn't the most analytical colour man in the game but he sure loves being there.
4) Why do you interview some Rockets players more than others? Answer: Admittedly I do. The reason? Simply put, some players are just more comfortable behind the mic than others. Some have the gift to gab while others really struggle. I won't tell you who struggles, but clearly the best interviews on the team are Madison Bowey, Cole Martin, Colton Sissons, Mitchell Chapman, Zach Franko and Carter Rigby. And to be honest, a good talker/speaker makes my job easier and it simply flows better to the listening public.

If you have a question for me this season that you would like answered, leave me a comment and I will gladly try to answer it. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Five reasons for optimism

1) Coaching. Ryan Huska is now the longest serving head coach in Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets franchise history. Huska is entering his 6th season at the helm, surpassing Marcel Comeau's five seasons with the organization from 1991-1992 until the 1995-1996 season. Huska has 186 career Western Hockey League regular season wins, which makes him the winningest coach in franchise history.
2) Scoring goals for the Rockets didn't come easy last season. In fact, the Rockets scored the 17th most goals of the 22 teams in the WHL. That will need to change, especially considering they played in 37-one goal games in 2011-2012. In tight games the inability to score will come back and bite you every time. Colton Sissons (26) and Carter Rigby (21) are the top two returning scorers from last season when it comes to turning the red light on. Zach Franko needs to score more often this season and newcomer Ryan Olsen should improve significantly on the 15 he potted as a 17 year-old sophomore. If J.T Barnett and overager Dylen McKinlay can be +20 goal scorers, this team could be knocking on the door of a 40 win season.
3) You can't win without solid goaltending. Jordon Cooke is tired of playing second fiddle to Adam Brown and now gets his chance in the spotlight. Cooke is the first drafted goaltender since Kristofer Westblom that has shown significant promise. The workload the 19 year-old is about to face is immense, but he has the backing of management and the coaches that he can get the job done. More important than that, his teammates believe in him. Make no mistake, Cooke will have some rough patches along the way, but the Leduc Alberta produce will show, much like Cole Cheveldave of the Kamloops Blazers did last season, that he can be a starter and elite goaltender at the WHL level.
4) Bringing it from the blue line. This group may be the best skating defensive core this organization has seen in a long time. Manufacturing offense should take significant pressure off the forwards in 2012-2013. Last season the d-core accounted for 41 goals, with Myles Bell leading the way with 15 of them. Now in his 19 year-old season, is it out the realm of possibility that Bell could score 20 goals? Tyson Barrie scored 19 as a 18 year-old d-man during the 2009-2010 campaign so it is doable. The real concern with the d-core, which is now a year wiser but still a season away from being dynamite, is their ability to clean things up in their own zone. That is where the value of Mitchell Chapman, MacKenzie Johnston and rookie Mitch Wheaton come into play. Those three won't put many points up on the board, but need to focus on limiting the oppositions scoring chances by keeping the other teams top players from having a field day in the offensive zone.
5) Restoring home ice advantage. Regardless of how you play on the road, all good teams win at home. The defending league champion Edmonton Oil Kings won 29 times on home ice last season. Portland was the most dominant with 31 victories and Moose Jaw looked good in their new arena with a 30 win season. Even BC Division champion Kamloops had 25 home ice wins, which meant they lost only 11 times at the ISC. When was the last time the Rockets lost fewer than 11 games on home ice? It was 2008-2009, when the Rockets suffered just seven setbacks at Prospera Place and won the league title that year. 

(All photos used on this entry are courtesy of Marissa Baecker)  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Schenn may participate in Rockets practice

Luke Schenn should be down in Philadelphia preparing for the start of Flyers main camp.
Instead, because of the NHL lockout, the defenceman is spending some extra time in Kelowna skating at Prospera Place.
Schenn isn't ruling out the possibility of heading to Europe if their is a prolonged work stoppage.
"For right now I have no real plans. I will skate around here (Kelowna) and workout. I think their will be quite a few NHL guys around here during the lockout so I will stay here. As time goes on and the months go on, Europe is an option I have to consider".
Don't be surprised to see Schenn practicing with the Kelowna Rockets over the next few weeks or as long as the lockout lasts.
Here, Schenn is pictured with former teammate Blake Comeau of the Calgary Flames. The two were out mountain biking in the Okanagan sunshine.          

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Things that make me go hmm....

  • We are in the final week before the start of the 2012-2013 Western Hockey League season. After six pre-season games and numerous player moves, the Kelowna Rockets appear to be ready to open things up Friday night against Kamloops. The Rockets begin the season against the defending BC Division champions and are my bet to win the Western Conference title this season. How do they match up against the suggested top team in the West? We are about to find out in a home and home series with the Blazers this weekend.
  • It will be odd watching the Blazers lift a BC Division banner to the rafters Friday night. The Rockets have never been at the ISC to watch a banner raising ceremony of any kind. Let's hope it inspires the visitors to play hard and spoil the party.  
  • Talk about making a strong first impression. Twenty year-old J.T Barnett scored three times in a 8-1 win over the Tri City Americans Saturday night. It was only a pre-season game, but the 20 year-old looked enthused playing in his first game with his new team. Barnett can play, he really can, but like so many skilled players, the question must be asked about where his desire to compete level is at? If it's high, like it was Saturday night, Barnett may be a steal in a trade with Everett on Thursday. Rockets head coach Ryan Huska will reward the Arizona product with first line minutes if he plays hard and competes. In his final season of junior, isn't that the only thing he would want to prove to himself, and others, that he's still got it?
  • General Manager Bruce Hamilton is usually quiet at the trade deadline but this has to be the busiest the Rockets have been before the puck even drops on a new season. Hamilton has essentially made four player moves in a week! It all started when goaltender Jackson Whistle was acquired from Vancouver and included deals for 20 year-old's J.T Barnett and Dylen McKinlay. The other player move was convincing d-man Mitch Wheaton to join the team. Throw in this summers trade with Saskatoon for Ryan Olsen and the Rockets are vastly different from one season ago. 
  • With two player moves last week to acquire Barnett and McKinlay, the Rockets now have the depth at forward they were lacking. Those two should log big minutes in crucial situations while taking the heat off the 17 and 18 year-old age group. The Tyson Baillie's of this world can now play against the other teams second or third d-pairing, not the top unit. 
  • Speaking of Baillie, the about to turn 17 year-old led the team in pre-season scoring for a second straight year. Baillie had 3+3=6 while Austin Ferguson had 2+3=5 in six games.       
  • Do you notice something different about 20 year-old Dylen McKinlay? McKinlay has the tongue of his skates out, something few if any of his teammates do. It may be old school, but I like it. When I think of the tongue out of the skates look, I think of one player. Joe Sakic.   
  • Who scored the first goal for the Rockets on opening night in Everett last season? Tyson Baillie opened the scoring just five minutes into the first period. 
  • In the last 10 seasons openers, the Rockets are a dismal 2-5-2-0 with one tie. 
  • In the last six seasons, this season included, the Rockets have used 18 overage players to fill the allotted three 20 year-old spots. Of those 18 players, 12 have been acquired via trade. The six players that were original Rockets property are: Mitchell Chapman, Adam Brown, Evan Bloodoff, Lucas Bloodoff, Tyson Dowzak and Kristofer Westblom.  
  • Barnett, McKinlay, Cody Chikie, Brett Lyon, Zak Stebner, Geordie Wudrick, Dallas Jackson, Mark Guggenberger, Riley Grantham, Ian Duval, James McEwan and Brady Leavold were all acquired in trade and played as 20 year-old's.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rockets reduce roster

The Kelowna Rockets reduced their roster today, sending 16 year-old forward Justin Kirkland back to Saskatchewan.
Kirkland, the Rockets 5th round pick in the 2011 draft, will likely play in Notre Dame this season.
Kirkland played in four pre-season games, collecting an assist and six minutes in penalties.
That leaves the Rockets with three - 16 year-old's. Rourke Chartier, Austin Glover and Riley Stadel remain with the team. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Audio with Dylen McKinlay

Here is a the conversation I had with 20 year-old Dylen McKinlay this afternoon before practice.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An upgrade at the overage spot

The Kelowna Rockets got a whole lot older in a hurry Thursday afternoon. General Manager Bruce Hamilton made a pair of deals by picking up 20 year-old forwards JT Barnett and Dylan McKinlay.
Barnett was claimed off waivers from Everett while McKinlay was acquired from the Kootenay Ice for a 5th round bantam pick.
The Rockets head into the last weekend before the start of the season with 29 players.
Do the moves make sense?
The Rockets desperately needed more depth at forward, but filling those needs with older players that are no better than a 17 or 18 year-old doesn't make sense. I believe the Rockets have picked up two players that can make significant contributions and are an upgrade from what was in place last season.
McKinlay won't score 50 goals, but he has proven that he indeed can score. He had 15 goals last season with Kootenay, including a hat trick against Spokane. Under Marc Habscheid in Chilliwack, McKinlay scored a career high 20 goals. The fact he is a 7th round pick of the NHL's Minnesota Wild tells you he has shown enough promise over his WHL career to catch the eye of pro scouts.
JT Barnett will be the interesting story here. A 20 year-old that was claimed off waivers tells you he had little market value for a team to make a trade with Everett. Injured for a good portion of last season with a bad knee, Barnett played in less than 30 games with the Tips after being acquired in a trade with the Kamloops Blazers. Prior to a stop in Kamloops, Barnett was with the Vancouver Giants. Under Don Hay, Barnett had his best season with 21 goals in the 2009-2010 season.  So Barnett can score, but can he stay healthy and return to his form of a couple of years ago?
I always take the approach that when a player moves to a new team, he gets a fresh start. It's a clean slate no matter what happened in the past.
Let's face it, time is running out for both players. Making a positive impression in their final season in junior hockey is paramount if they want to follow their dream of playing pro hockey next season.

Rockets pick up two 20 year-old's

The Kelowna Rockets have picked up two 20 year-old's. Forward JT Barnett was acquired off of waivers from Everett while Dylen McKinley was picked up from Kootenay for a 5th round bantam pick. Barnett and McKinley join defenceman Mitchell Chapman as the three overagers on the Rockets roster this season.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rockets land big fish

The Kelowna Rockets have landed a pretty big fish - literally.
The Rockets have announced that 17 year-old  Mitch Weaton has elected to join the Western Hockey League team after entertaining offers from several American based schools.
The 6'5, 215 pound defenceman attended Rockets main camp last month and impressed, but he was undecided if major junior was the path that he wanted to take.
The tenth round draft pick of the Rockets from 2010, will join the team immediately and could be in the line up as quickly as Thursday when the Rockets are in Spokane for their second to last pre-season game.     
The Rockets envision Wheaton being in their top six d-men this season.
The 2010 WHL Draft looks like a good one for the Rockets, who selected Jesse Lees, Madison Bowey, Tyson Baillie, Mitch Wheaton and Austin Ferguson. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Whistle while you work

The Kelowna Rockets answered the question I asked in my earlier post by acquired 17 year-old goaltender Jackson Whistle from the Vancouver Giants. The Rockets give up a 3rd rounder for the Kelowna resident, who played a backup role with the G-Men last season.
Whistle was the Giants 4th round pick in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft. Last season, Whistle appeared in 21 games and recorded his first career win in a 20 save shutout victory over the Prince George Cougars.
Whistle will make his Rockets debut tomorrow night against Victoria. Oddly enough, Whistle was the Giants starter last Saturday at Prospera Place in a 3-2 pre-season shootout win.  It marks the fifth time in franchise history the Rockets and Giants have hooked up in a trade.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Things that make me go hmm

  • With two exhibition games under their belt, it remains unclear who will backup goaltender Jordon Cooke this season. Cooke has played every minute of the first two games, a one goal win in Ladner and a shootout loss to the Giants at Prospera Place. Cam Barnes has been Cooke's backup on both night's but hasn't seen any game action.
  • The announcement this week that Spencer Main's hockey career is over shouldn't come as a surprise. When he failed to suit up for either of the first two pre-season games it raised a red flag. When you've missed as much playing time as Main has over the last year, if healthy, the 20 year-old would be injecting into the line up to work off the rink rust. 
  • I have a positive feel about this team heading into a new season. While I haven't spent a lot of time around the players, my general impression is they like one another and have come together quickly as a group. I think they realize that without a group effort they won't have much success this season.
  • This season is the 22nd in the history of the Rockets organization. This is the franchises 18th in the Okanagan.
  • Damon Severson signed an NHL contract with the New Jersey Devils. While it was made official this week, it actually happened about a week prior to the Devils releasing it to the general public. One of the tough aspects of my job is keeping my mouth shut and letting other media outlets release the details. Once it's released 'officially' by the team, then I don't mind commenting on it. 
  • My hope is the new contract spurs Severson to even greater things. For many junior players, awaiting a contract can be a huge distraction while other NHL teams believe holding the carrot out there, dangling before a prospects eyes, encourages them to grow as a player.    
  • I wish for the sake of the Rockets players, Ryan Huska and Dan Lambert could transform back into the players they were at the prime of their junior hockey careers. I think everyone would get a better appreciation of how skilled and hard working these two coaches were as players. The cheesy mustache's they also fashioned back then would also provide a chuckle for the players.
  • Where will the Rockets finish this season? I can't say they will win the BC Division because the Kamloops Blazers are just too loaded with talent. The Blazers are going to be as good or better than a year ago. I can see them winning 50 games this season. The only difference this season compared to last is the expectations will be far greater then they were at the start of the 2011-2012 campaign.     
  • Two players in the Western Conference that will have big years will be Blazers forward Brendan Ranford and Portland's Ty Rattie. That won't surprise anyone after the terrific seasons they had as 19 and 18 year-old's respectively. I could see both of those players putting up between 115 and 130 points each. 
  • The Rockets open the regular season on the road in Kamloops. It will be the first time since the team re-located to the Okanagan that they have opened the season by visiting their nearest rival. Weird. Last season the Rockets opened the season in Everett with a 5-4 shootout win. Who scored the game winner? Filip Vasko.
  • In the last 16 seasons, the Rockets have played their first game on home ice.
  • In 10 of the last 16 seasons, the Rockets have opened the regular season against an American based team.
  • AM 1150 is proud to announce a new sports program hitting the airwaves this weekend. Eric Stansfield will be hosting 'Inside Sports', a 90 minute local program that will feature interviews and discussion on hockey, football and other local and provincial sports. Inside Sports can be heard every Saturday afternoon from 5 pm until 6:30 pm and is a nice precursor to our Rockets broadcasts this season.
  • Six weeks of holidays are in the books. No, I didn't take them all at once but I am ready to get back to work. The regular season starts two weeks from tonight (Friday) and I think everybody is chomping at the bit to get going.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Smart decision by intelligent player

For the second time in less than four months, a player with the Kelowna Rockets has had to walk away from hockey because of recurring symptoms due to a concussion. Twenty year-old Spencer Main is retiring after playing just 12 regular season games last season. Back in May, teammate Max Adolph also announced he was leaving the game on the advise of doctors. Adolph played 36 games in 2010-2011, but was in and out of the line up that season with no less than four concussions.
Main thought he was on the road to recovery after spending a good portion of the summer in Kelowna under the watchful eye of athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn. Strenuous workouts both on and off the ice went well, but when you throw in the variable of contact, Main's body just couldn't take it. But unlike some who do everything in their power to ignore the obvious, Main listened to his body and made the right decision. 
A WHL championship in 2009 and a nomination as Western Conference Scholastic Player of the Year in 2010, Main can walk away knowing his future is as bright in the business world as it was in hockey when the Rockets made him a second round pick in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft.

Spencer, all the best!