That record after 15 regular season games is the best start in Kelowna Rockets franchise history.
Not every game has gone as planned, nor has the team played their best hockey over the first five weeks of the Western Hockey League schedule, but the team is finding ways to win. On many nights we have seen overage goaltender Jordon Cooke be the best player on the ice and literally win a game on his own. We have witnessed rookies emerge with goals coming from sixteen year-old Nick Merkley and European forward Kris Schmidli. The wins have come in various forms. From regulation wins to shootout victories, the Rockets find themselves in the mix in the highly competitive Western Conference. On the weekend the team earned an additional four points with back-to-back wins in Prince George. Here are some of my observations.
- Jordon Cooke was not at his best Friday night in a 7-6 shootout win. The WHL/Vaughn Goaltender of the Month looked anything like himself in the one goal win. But let's give the 20 year-old a mulligan considering he has been the teams best player. Without Cooke, the Rockets record would likely include in the neighborhood of three more losses. Two weeks ago, Cooke was dynamite against Victoria and likely stole a game against the visiting Portland Winterhawks.
- Madison Bowey was named captain on Friday and promptly racked up three assists that evening and then scored the game winner on a high light reel goal on Saturday. The 18 year-old proved in back-to-back weekend games that he is going to lead by example while being vocal in the dressing room.
- I felt good for Jackson Whistle following a rare start Saturday night. I thought Whistle was solid in a 4-1 win. The 18 year-old looked calm and sure of himself in the saves he made. An impressive performance after back-to-back losses for him.
- Kris Schmidl scored goals in back-to-back games and continues to improve with more ice time. The 17 year-old European forward scored a big goal Saturday giving the Rockets a 3-1 cushion when the Cougars appeared to be on their way in tying the game at two. Fellow European forward Henrik Nyberg also had a strong game Saturday but was denied his first goal of the season when he was sent in all alone in a shorthanded breakaway.
- Carter Rigby wasn't supposed to play this weekend but was forced into action after Tyrell Goulbourne went down with injury. Rigby earned an assist on the teams opening goal Saturday night. Rigby's conditioning needs to improve to be a real threat. Once that aspect of his game improves, the sky is the limit for a player that harnesses so much potential.
- The Rockets success in Prince George is impressive. In the last ten games at CN Centre, the Rockets are 9-1-0-0. That is an impressive feat considering you can often be lulled to sleep playing in Prince George. The trip is lengthy and the atmosphere in the building is nothing to write home about. The opposing team really has to manufacture its own energy. The coaches and the players need to be given props for being mentally engaged to come out of the northern most outpost with four points.
- I will be honest with you; the atmosphere was a lot better in the building than what I've witnessed over the years. While 14 hundred fans showed up Friday night, over 16 hundred took in Saturday night's tilt. Sure, there were a lot of empty seats in the 59 hundred seat arena, but it wasn't a library in there.
- What a crappy schedule. The Cougars enjoyed a six game home stand but had to play those six games in nine nights. That isn't good for the team on so many fronts. Not only is it too many games over a short period of time but it is tough to sell tickets when so many games are on the menu in a span of less than a week and a half.
- Friday's game took 2 hours and 46 minutes to play. It indeed was a marathon by regular season standards.
- The Rockets d-core deserves credit for what they are able to do in the offensive zone, but the plus/minus numbers suggest they can play at both ends of the rink. Madison Bowey and Damon Severson are a career best +58. Defensive defenceman Cole Martin is +51 and Jesse Lees, who is sidelined with an injury, is +43 over his career. Those four d-man are a combined +210.
- The best player for the Cougars in the two games was Troy Bourke. A tireless worker, the 19 year-old has a solid skill set and can skate. While Chase Witala is getting much of the credit for his great start offensively, Bourke is the player teams have to key on.