Friday, April 26, 2013

Things that make me go hmm....

  • The Portland Winterhawks are one win away from advancing to the Western Hockey League final. With a three games to one lead on the Kamloops Blazers, the Hawks can advance to the league final for a third consecutive year with a win in game five. How many teams can brag about that? Unfortunately people don’t remember who advances to the league final, only the team that hoists the Ed Chynoweth Cup over their head.
  • It has been interesting to hear the comments coming from the Blazers coaches in their Western Conference final series with Portland. It sounds so familiar to what the Kelowna Rockets were saying in round two. The Blazers need to be more disciplined and their best players need to be their best players. It is a phrase used far too often, but it is so true. If your elite players fail to hit the score sheet your team is in a heap of trouble.
  • How has the officiating been in the Western Conference final? The Blazers can’t be happy with a non call/non suspension after forward Brendan Ranford was hit late in the third period in game four by Winterhawks forward Keegan Iverson. Ranford was hurt on the play but there was no call from either of the two referees. I didn’t see the hit, so can’t comment on if it was dirty or not. Regardless, the number of power plays granted to each team has been relatively close, something we failed to see in round two when the Blazers met the Kelowna Rockets.      
  • The Interior Savings Centre in Kamloops is getting a new score clock in time for next season. The new clock includes new high definition video boards which were desperately needed. The score clock at ISC is nine years old.
  • Madison Bowey goes for gold for Canada at the Under 18’s in Russia. It is another great experience for the Kelowna Rockets defenceman to play with the elite in his age group. You have to wonder if that increases his stock heading into the NHL draft. Can’t hurt it, can it?
  • The WHL Bantam Draft goes Thursday of next week and the Rockets pick second last. Good position to be in considering it is an indication you had a successful regular season. The last time the Rockets picked this late was in 2004. Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey picked Saskatoon born defenceman Luke Schenn 20th overall.
  • Good for Don Hay. The Vancouver Giants head coach still has it. Maybe some junior fans thought the veteran coach lost it after his team ended up dead last in the WHL this season. Hay has guided the Under 18 team to the gold medal game and has again shown he is one of the best at his craft.
  • The Giants will undoubtedly select Edmonton’s Tyler Benson with the first pick in Thursday's bantam draft. Good on them for picking up an exceptional player. Not since Brendan Gallagher and Gilbert Brule have the Giants had a forward that puts the fear into the eyes of the opposition. Benson is going to be fun to watch whether you are cheering for the Giants or against them.             
  • I sure feel for the Edmonton Oil Kings after losing captain Griffin Reinhart for the remainder of the playoffs after undergoing foot surgery. That is a huge loss for the defending champions and comes at a terrible time. It falls in line with the Rockets loss of captain Colton Sissons in the second to final game of the regular season. It is a huge blow to any line up. The only advantage the Oil Kings have over the Rockets is they are defending league champions and have incredible veteran depth.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jung headed to CHL finals

A former goaltender with the Kelowna Rockets finds himself four wins away from a pro hockey championship.
Torrie Jung, who wore a Kelowna Rockets uniform for two seasons from 2006 to 2008 before being traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings, is now playing for the Central Hockey League's Wichita Thunder.
The Thunder, with Jung as the starter, is 8 and 0 in the CHL playoffs heading into the league final Friday against either the Allan Americans or the Missouri Mavericks.
Game seven in the Americans/Mavericks series goes Tuesday night.
Jung's team advanced to the league finals after a series sweep of the Fort Worth Brahmas. The Brahmas starting goaltender was Kristofer Westblom.
Westblom played four seasons with the Kelowna Rockets from 2004 to 2008.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spurgeon has European title to go along with Memorial Cup

Tyler Spurgeon is a winner.

The 27 year-old won a Memorial Cup championship with the Kelowna Rockets in 2004 and now has added a pro championship to his trophy case.

Spurgeon helped his team - Klagenfurt - win the Austrian Elite League championship with a four game sweep over Vienna.

"It was their 30th championship that we ended up winning there. It was pretty exciting time for everyone in the city. They had been waiting, the past couple of years considering we had made it to the finals and we didn't win so everyone was pushing that we would get that thirtieth one".

Spurgeon has played three season in Klagenfurt and admits it does resemble Kelowna in a lot of ways.

"One thing that is similar between the two was the fan support we had. It is funny because the two cities are on huge lakes and summer towns with mountains. I really feel at home there in Austria."    

Spurgeon even had a chance to play with Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers earlier this season when the former Rockets defenceman elected to play overseas for Klagenfurt during the NHL lockout.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

You need a little hockey luck to win a championship

Let's face it; you need a little luck or good fortune along the way to win a WHL championship. Oh sure, good goaltending, timely scoring and character players need to emerge to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, but if the 'Hockey God's' aren't looking upon you favorably you are severely hooped.
Use the Kelowna Rockets as an example. In the 2013 playoffs, the Rockets suffered far too many obstacles in order to obtain the ultimate prize. The injury to captain Colton Sissons in the second last game of the regular season was a back breaker. Many fans wondered why it had to happen late in the season and why to the teams’ heart and soul player? And why was the injury so significant? Why did Carter Rigby and Mitch Wheaton have to suffer shoulder injuries that were so serious, neither could play in the first round of the playoffs? Why did MacKenzie Johnston get knocked out of the opening round playoff series with Seattle before Jesse Lees suffered a similar fate in game four? It forced the Rocket to use just five d-men to get past the T-Birds in a series that should have never gone seven games. It ended up taxing both the forwards and d-man and left them anything put fresh for a second round date with the Kamloops Blazers.
In round two against Kamloops, why did the officiating staff stick it to the Rockets in game four? Why did the team have to compete against more than just a Blazers team who needed no help in generating quality chances even strength? No breaks from the officiating staff and the injury bug biting mercilessly translated into a quick exit from the playoffs and no championship title.
Good fortune was a factor in a WHL title in 2005 though. The Rockets found themselves in the Western Conference final against the high powered Kootenay Ice. In game six at Prospera Place, Ice goaltender Jeff Glass was putting on a clinic. With Kootenay holding a slim 1-0 lead late in the third period and game seven looking like a sure thing back in Cranbrook, the Rockets were granted a power play late in the game. Defenceman Mike Card would take the puck behind the Rockets net and skated with it up the ice. Instead of dumping the puck in the corner, Card surprised Glass by firing a long range shot from center ice that somehow beat the 19 year-old goaltender, tying the game at one. In overtime the Rockets would score the game winning goal. On to the finals they went where they captured the league title with a rather easy five game series with the Brandon Wheat Kings. But why did Mike Card's shot from centre ice beat Glass, who was indestructible through 56 minute?
Fast forward to 2009 when the Rockets faced power house Calgary in the league final. In game six, the Rockets are awarded a power play in overtime after Alex Plante takes a hooking penalty. Tyson Barrie goes on to score the game winning goal sending the Rockets to the Memorial Cup for the fourth time in franchise history. But why was a penalty called on Plante in overtime? Was it good fortune that played a factor in one official calling a penalty in O.T? Had Calgary won that game the series would have gone back to the Saddledome for a game seven where the Hitmen would have been the odds on favorite to wrap up the series.
Again, good goaltending, timely scoring and character players need to emerge in order to have a long playoff run into the month of May. But if you don't think a little luck or good fortune along the way isn't necessary in winning a league title and representing the WHL at the Memorial Cup, you are fooling yourself.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The straw that stirred the Kelowna Rockets drink

Colton Sissons is a rare breed. He can shoot, skate and score. Sissons can lead in the dressing room and will fight when provoked. That may explain why he was named the MVP of the Kelowna Rockets. He could do it all. Is he the best Rockets captain ever considering he could do so many things so well? There is no debating he was the straw that stirred the Kelowna Rockets drink.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Jordon Cooke audio from morning press conference

Here is Jordon Cooke reflecting on the ups and downs of being a #1 goaltender, not only during the regular season, but the playoffs.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rockets' open/close season with overtime loss to Blazers

  • The Kelowna Rockets season started with an overtime loss in Kamloops. Ironically, the teams magically season would end the exact same way. Kale Kessey scored less than four minutes intro extra time in a 4-3 win, eliminating their BC Division brethren in four games. The only thing keeping this game from getting out of reach was a strong penalty killing unit and the play of goaltender Jordon Cooke. After being pulled in game three, Cooke rebounded with a worthy performance in what I would consider a statement game. Cooke had to be sharp as the Blazers were granted 10 power plays, including four in the first period. Playing shorthanded, the Rockets fell behind 3-1 only to fight back with two-third period goals to send the game into overtime for a second straight night.
  • The Rockets showed great resilience despite playing their sixth game in nine days. They were gassed killing off penalty after penalty yet found a way to claw back. It was interesting to see the officiating crew wanting to show the TV audience that they indeed were in full control. In an elimination game, leading scorer Myles Bell is assessed a ten minute misconduct for something he said to one of the officials. With Bell in the box, J.T Barnett and Cole Linaker would score in a 4 and a half minute span and it was a brand new game.
  • While Blazers forward Brendan Ranford was by far the best forward in the series, goaltender Cole Cheveldave was really the story in games three and four. Had Cheveldave been even average in those two games, the chances of playing a game five in Kelowna would have been extremely great. The 19 year-old made countless tremendous stops, including a few late in the game to send the contest into overtime.
  • The goals by Cole Linaker and J.T Barnett were the first-third period goals the Rockets scored in the series. The biggest goal came off the stick of Tyson Baillie though. Back in the line up after being suspended for two games, Baillie got the ball rolling in the second period with a quick shot that tied the game at one. Baillie proved again he is a heart and soul player. Those are the individuals you win with when the going gets tough. Baillie really sparkled in the playoffs and emerged as a clear go-to-guy.
  • J.T Barnett's presence in game three and four were immense. The 20 year-old, who unfortunately had his junior career end in overtime, added much needed offense on a team that saw their top two point producers during the regular season go quiet. Barnett played with desperation and was a true leader in every sense of the word. 
  • Cody Fowlie was another 20 year-old that gave so much to his team in game four. Fowlie was blocking shots and was doing everything he could in order to help his team. Fowlie's shot block on Blazers d-man Joel Edmundson in the third period was undoubtedly painful but inspiring for his teammates.
  • Eight of the ten Rockets goals in the series were even strength. The only power play goal the team scored was Myles Bell's blast in game three. Ryan Olsen had a shorthanded goal in game three. The Blazers scored 18 goals in the four games, with 12 of them coming even strength.
  •  The crowd in Kamloops over the last two night's was tremendous. While not a sell out in either game three or four, they made significant noise and provided the building with an amazing atmosphere.  
  • The Rockets may hang their heads today, but the picture will become clearer in the days ahead of just how special they were. It was just that - a team. I don't think I've witnessed a group of players come together and play so well with no one individual outshining the next. With the losses of Barnett, Fowlie and Dylen McKinlay to graduation, the only other player that won't return next season is captain Colton Sissons. That's it. Of the 24 players on the roster, 20 return to defend their BC Division regular season title next season. That is an impressive number.
  • It was fun calling games on the radio for a team that won 56 times (regular season/playoffs) . I have so many great memories to take away. How about tying a franchise record for wins on home ice? How about chasing down the Blazers for first place and winning the BC Division regular season banner? And don't forget the thrill of coming back from being down three games to none in their opening round playoff series to Seattle to become only the second team in WHL history to win a playoff series.
  • Thanks for listening to our broadcasts on AM 1150. I appreciate the dedication and support colour analyst Gord McGarva gave me again this season. While not a broadcaster by design, Gord has made huge strides over the years by learning by doing. We often discuss how we both can be better. It is that type of open friendship that makes it work. I am indeed grateful to have Gord alongside in the broadcast booth. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Playoff success in Kamloops is well documented

  • The Rockets head into tonight's game riding a five game playoff winning streak in Kamloops. For what it's worth, the team won back-to-back games in 2009 and again in 2002. The audio of the Rockets last playoff appearance at the ISC can be heard above. The Rockets also won game five of a 1999 series in Kamloops between the two teams.
  • The Rockets were a 3-2 winner in Kamloops in late March. Interesting to note is Jordon Cooke was named the first star. Cooke doesn't need to be the best player on the ice tonight, but he has to be in the top three.
  • Tyson Baillie won't play after receiving a two game suspension for his hit on Colin Smith in game one. Baillie leads the Rockets in playoff scoring while Smith was the Blazers leading scorer during the season.
  • As much as the Rockets may want to hang their heads with all of their injuries, the Blazers aren't exactly the healthiest either. If you are missing Smith and Tim Bozon, the Blazers aren't exactly flexing all of their offensive muscles. The fact of the matter is others are stepping up. Who wants to step up for the Rockets in game three?
  • If you would have told me Blazers forward Aaron Macklin would have more goals than Rockets Ryan Olsen in the playoffs, I would have slammed 100 bucks on the table without hesitation saying your nuts! Macklin, who scored once this season has two goals in this series. Olsen, who scored 32 times hasn't found the back of the net in 9 playoff games.
  • Eliminate the turnovers. Of the five goals the Rockets surrendered in game two, three were the result of turning over the puck in their own zone. The Blazers do not need any help creating chances. The Rockets MUST make the Blazers earn every chance they get.
  • The Rockets need a better third period. Out-scored 5-0, they need to find the back of the net at the most crucial time of the game.
  • Despite the 5-1 score in game two, my belief is the team played better than they did in game one. Had they had any puck luck in the offensive zone, who knows where that game would have gone? The Rockets haven't been robbed of any puck luck in this series though. The Blazers have missed several great chances of their own, either hitting goal posts or missing wide open nets. 
  • I anticipate a great crowd tonight in Kamloops. A loaded fan bus from Kelowna is coming down and the first five thousand fans will receive a white waving towel. It should be a lot of fun tonight.         
  • A little something special in the 2nd intermission tonight. Dave 'Tiger' Williams will join us. Now 59, Williams is still the NHL leader in penalty minutes. We will dig deep into the audio vault for that interview.  Talk to you on the radio at 6:30.   

Monday, April 8, 2013

Goalies come up large (audio)

How crazy was last night's game? Within 30 seconds we witnessed two breakaways, one for each team. Blazers forward Brendan Ranford was stoned at one end and Rockets forward  Zach Franko was denied at the other.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Down but not out

  • Boy, does this feel familiar! The Kelowna Rockets are down two games to nothing in their second round playoff series with the Kamloops Blazers. It was over a week ago that the team was in the same spot after dropping two overtime games in an opening round playoff series with the Seattle Thunderbirds. The first two games against the Blazers are different though, considering both (4-2 and 5-1) were decided in regulation time. That and the Blazers are a much better team than the T-Birds and capitalize on a good portion of the mistakes you make. It all adds up to two huge games in Kamloops Tuesday and Wednesday. The Rockets need a win in order to host another playoff game Friday night at Prospera Place.
  • The key story in game two was the Rockets inability to find the back of the net. They (Rockets) had ample chances to score but had problems beating Blazers goaltender Cole Cheveldave. I thought it was Cheveldave's brilliance in the second half of the game when the Blazers were carrying a 2-1 lead that allowed them to earn a 5-1 win. The 19 year-old made some terrific saves to keep it a one goal game before Chase Souto scored a stoppable shot five minutes into the third period to give the visitors a 3-1 advantage. Again the Rockets pressed, but couldn't solve Cheveldave in an effort to draw to within a single goal.  
  • The third goal by Suoto was the back breaker. The fourth and fifth goals to make the score look lopsided are irrelevant. They came late in the game when bouncing back from a two goal deficit just wasn't going to happen against a strong Blazers team that can play solid defense with the best of them. For the Rockets to have any chance in this series they need to be in a position to be either ahead or behind by a single goal late in the game. With a depleted line up, the Hail Mary pass won't work. Using the football analogy, they need to be in field goal range to have a chance at winning.      
  • Who scores the Blazers first two goals Sunday night? Both come off the stick of 20 year-old players. Brendan Ranford, who looks like Hannibal Lecter (Ok, not quite) with that cage he is wearing, has been playing with the desperation and pure desire the Rockets forwards have to mimic in order to have success. To this point they haven't matched Ranford's effort, which may be a good reason why only three goals have been manufactured in the first two games. The game winner in game two is scored by 20 year-old Dylen Willick. The older players step up and win games for you at this time of the year. Plain and simple.
  • Things went so well for the Blazers in the first two games that even rookie Aaron Macklin looks like a goal scorer. Macklin has two goals in this series. The High River, Alberta product had just one goal in 62 games during the regular season. He's a grinder and does his best work in the corners but is providing his team with offense. 
  • Can the Rockets beat the Blazers in Kamloops in games three and four? Sure they can, but Jordon Cooke has to be better than Cheveldave. It is a cold hard fact that Cooke must be a game changer. The 19 year-old was exactly that in game one. Sure, he surrendered a bad fourth goal in a 4-2 loss, but how many great saves did he make in that game? He clearly faced more quality shots than his counterpart and saved his team from embarrassment after a horrendous start. A night later, in game two, Cheveldave was simply the better goalie.     
  • Both teams played without two of their top players. The Rockets leading playoff point getter Tyson Baillie was serving a suspension for a hit in game one on Blazers forward Colin Smith. Smith also didn't play in game two as he recovers from that hit. After watching it over and over, Baillie deserves a one game suspension, but nothing more. Smith is shooting the puck by cutting into the slot where traffic is often prevalent. As a player, he should take some responsibility for expecting to be hit in that area as he cuts across the slot. Did Baillie lay into a player that opened himself up to be clobbered? You bet he did. But Baillie did not leave his feet nor did he hit Smith in the head. The fact remains, my opinion doesn't count. The WHL head office will make the decision on the length of the suspension.
  • It was nice to see both Carter Rigby and Mitch Wheaton back in the line up on the weekend. Wheaton surprised many when he was inserted into the line up for game one and then Rigby didn't look out of place when he came back in game two. Both received clearance to play after suffering shoulder injuries in January. After receiving medical clearance that no long term damage could happen, both decided to suit up and give it a try. Both players have been welcome additions on a team that is still forced to dress two 16 year-old's and a 15 year-old forward in Nick Merkley.