Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pre-season starts with a shutout

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • It was only a pre-season game, but for veteran Jackson Whistle that didn't matter. The 19 year-old made 24 saves in a 5-0 shutout win Saturday night over the visiting Kamloops Blazers. Whistle, like any first year starter, will have pressure on his shoulders as he proves to those that doubt him that he can take over from Jordon Cooke and be more than an adequate replacement. In this game, Whistle went the distance with 16 year-old Jake Morrissey as his back up.
  • It is now a three horse race in the Kelowna Rockets crease. Whistle is the guaranteed starter but it is a battle between Christopher Tia and Morrissey for the back up spot. While Morrissey was Whistle's back up last night, don't count out Tia. The 19 year-old has had a solid camp and the Delta BC product will get every opportunity to make the team. Whistle will be heading to the Young-Stars tournament in Penticton which means management will get an even better look at who is better, Tai or Morrissey. 
  • In Saturday's win, three of the five goals were scored by defenceman. It was nice to see Dalton Yorke and Joe Gatenby find the back of the net. The two combined for 0 goals in 83 regular season games last season. Yorke was the most physical defenceman for the home team. It will be interesting to see where he is penciled in the depth chart this season. Is he a top six defenceman or does he see sporadic duty?
  • Lucas Johansen. The 16 year-old (turns 17 in November) d-man is the real deal. Johansen is calm with the puck and I like his decision making. Johansen also has the ability to make nice passes. Nothing is guaranteed, but from what I saw from him in his first ever game wearing a Rockets uniform, I think he deserves to make the team. Again, my opinion doesn't count. Be thankful it doesn't.
  • The Rockets dressed two 20 year-old's last night. Those two were Carter Rigby and Colton Heffley. Tyrell Goulbourne and Cole Martin sat in the stands. In my opinion it is a two horse race for the one overage spot and Rigby and Heffley are the two fighting for it. Rigby didn't receive a shift in the third period when the score got out of hand at 5-0.
  • I thought 1997 born d-man Devante Stephens had a solid outing. Jordan Borstmayer scored a goal and played well for a raw rookie. 
  • The best Blazer? I thought goaltender Cole Kehler did a great job in a relief appearance of starter Connor Ingram. The best forward for Kamloops may have been Jermaine Loewen.  Loewen has good size (6'3 and 201) and was robbed by Whistle in the third period. I also liked Blazers forward Spencer Bast. Bast is a smooth skater. 
  • To be fair, the Blazers - as a group - looked tired after playing the night before. They were badly outplayed in the second period when they were out-shot 18-3.    
  • It was nice to see Austin Glover and Kris Schmidli see the score sheet. Both picked up two assists. Now 18, these two in particular need to contribute more this season.
  •  The Rockets face the Giants tonight in the second of six games during the pre-season. It will likely mark the debut of Euro Tomas Soustal.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fists fly as veterans raise level of play at main camp

Rookie Jake Morrissey tending net.
  • Even a happy family has a disagreement every once in a while. Case in point, Kelowna Rockets captain Madison Bowey dropping the gloves with 20 year-old Colton Heffley on the third day of main camp. You could see this one coming a couple of shifts earlier when Bowey was agitated by Heffley after the two were fighting for the puck in the corner. For those that didn't witness it, this wasn't a wrestling match. These two teammates threw some good punches. At one point, enforcer Tyrell Goulbourne attempted to step in and he too had to avoid the punches that were flying both ways. It was the first and likely last fight at main camp, but it sent a clear message to the younger players and a few of the veterans that main camp isn't a time to be wasted away. After the tilt both Heffley and Bowey were all smiles. No harm, no foul.
  • Jackson Whistle and rookie Jake Morrissey were the tandem for Team Red in the morning scrimmage. Whistle did not allow a goal in a relief appearance of the 16 year-old netminder. Morrissey will undoubtedly see some pre-season action as he attempts to prove, despite his age, he is a worthy back up. I often wonder if a young goalie like Morrissey would be better served by having a starting roll at a lower level where he can continue to develop his game? The danger in being a back up on a good team is he could potentially regress like Josh Lepp did. I would hate to see that same mistake happen twice. I am glad I have no say on the decision being made at that position.
  • Speaking of Morrissey, if he indeed sticks with the team this season, Joe Gatenby may have a challenger for Scholastic Player of the Year. Morrissey is as good in the classroom as he is on the ice and is taking only the top classes in high school. If you are enrolled in Chemistry 12, which Morrissey indeed is, you get a high five from me.    
  • I hate mentioning a players name for a second time on this blog because often it looks like favoritism. That said, I can take a punch, so I will again state how much I like rookie d-man Lucas Johansen. Again, I have not seen every workout, but the 6th round pick doesn't panic with the puck and looks steady out there. I hope Johansen plays in the pre-season to see if I am blind or if he indeed shows strong in a 'real' game. Again, I liked Cal Foote in the Thursday sessions considering his age. I think he could play here right now.  But does he also need to be rushed? The answer is no. Justin Kirkland did not play at 16. Look what came of him! 
  • Dillon Dube is having a strong camp. The 16 year-old creates some good things in the o-zone. It was interesting watching him play with veteran Rourke Chartier.
  • Myles Bell was on the ice with the pro players following the morning session. Bell won't attend NJ Devils camp until September 13th but was wearing a 'Devils' helmet when he took to the ice this morning. "I guess this camp will decide where I am going to end up playing this year. Obviously I have expectations of myself but I am going to go there and play as well as I can and try not to worry about things that I can't control". 
  • Former Kelowna Rockets overager JT Barnett was skating with the pro's today in Kelowna.
  • Cody Sylvester, who's mother Kim works in the Rockets office, has received a tryout with the Boston Bruins AHL team in Providence.

Madison Bowey video

A video conversation I had this morning with Kelowna Rockets captain Madison Bowey.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Three fresh faces stand out on day one

Veteran Justin  Kirkland attempting to win a draw.
  • An impressive first day of main camp scrimmages for the Kelowna Rockets. I attended the morning session which featured two goaltenders that could arguably make up the tandem this season. Veteran Jackson Whistle started at one end with 16 year-old Jake Morrissey at the other. Whistle is sporting new white Vaughn pads with teal and red trim. As an added touch, 'Whis' was etched on the side of both pads and gloves. The number one goaltending duties are for Whistle to lose. The back up spot is WIDE open.
  • I am no expert, but the best goaltender in the morning session was 1998 born Brodan Salmond. I thought Salmond was forced to make some nice saves for Team Orange. Salmond, from Calgary, was the Rockets 10th round pick in 2013.
  • Dillon Dube is just 16 but looks like a veteran out there. Small but skilled, the Rockets first round pick in 2013 is the real deal. You can't have a enough high end skill on your team.
  • I thought rookie Cal Foote had a real good debut in his first on-ice session at main camp. Still 15, Foote played a simple game and did absolutely nothing to get his team in trouble in the d-zone. Foote isn't flashy but makes smart plays with the puck. I sure like his size. When you are 6'2 and 180 pounds and you don't turn 16 until December, Foote has a lot going for him. Again, one ice session does not make a solid WHL career, but what I saw from the Denver Colorado resident tells me he could definitely play at the WHL level this season if he indeed chooses major junior hockey.
  • Defenceman Lucas Johansen also showed some good things in the opening session. The brother of Columbus Blue Jackets Ryan Johansen, Lucas was smart with the puck and was often seen in good areas attempting to generate offense. I thought the 6'2, 170 pound d-man had a good start to camp by not doing to much and playing a relatively simple game.
  • Veteran Ryan Olsen is in camp with the Rockets. The 20 year-old is signed by Winnipeg but is still participating in all aspects of main camp. The only player that isn't at camp that technically could be is Damon Severson. Severson could play as an overager this season but is signed by New Jersey and will likely play either in the NHL or AHL this season.
  • It is only main camp, but it looks like Carter Rigby is showing he wants to be one of three 20 year-old's on the roster this season. As one of the oldest players on the ice he should dominate, which he did physically on day one. Rigby was hitting people and winning board battles. The Penticton resident looks like he is in better shape too. It is a clear sign to the management and his teammates that he isn't going down without a fight.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Foote wants to follow in fathers footsteps

Cal Foote
A 15 year-old rookie defenceman attending Kelowna Rockets main camp this week has a parent who knows something about the game. Denver, Colorado's Cal Foote has a father named Adam Foote. Ever hear of him? Yep, Adam Foote, who played over 11 hundred games in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets.
"Since he stopped playing and retired he has been on the bench most games. He has coached me for two years and he has helped out assistant coach this last year", the younger Foote told me this morning after the first on-ice scrimmage of Kelowna Rockets main camp.
Much like his dad, Cal Foote is a stay at home defenceman with some impressive size for a player that doesn't turn 16 until mid December.
"I like to have his tough gritty game but I like to see myself more as a two way guy. I see myself more on the offensive side than he was".
Well spoken for one of the youngest players at main camp, Foote is impressed by what he has seen both on and off the ice.
"It kind of blew my mind how awesome it is here. Just the town and how great it is....its nice. The rink here is amazing and the facility is just great too".
A second round pick of the Rockets two draft ago, Cal Foote was unable to attend rookie camp last season because of any injury.
If you watch real close this week, the number on his helmet at training camp is 52, the same digits his father Adam donned in a hockey career which will likely see him in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the not so distant future.           

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tai attempt to make Rockets roster

Christopher Tai
  • Recognize the player on the right? His name is Christopher Tai. The 18 year-old goaltender will be attending the Kelowna Rockets main camp next week. Tai has played with three teams over his WHL career including two seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and one game each with Brandon and Medicine Hat. The Delta, BC resident spent the majority of last season in the AJHL with the Lloydminster Bobcats. Tai will attempt to challenge for the vacant back up position to veteran Jackson Whistle.
  • Speaking of Whistle; have you seen the new signage outside the Rockets office? It says 'Welcome to Rocketland' and has a face shot of Whistle with his mask on. That is proof in itself that the West Kelowna resident is indeed the teams #1 goaltender heading into the season.
  • There is nothing worse than not having your first round bantam pick attend training camp. The Kelowna Rockets felt it in the fall of 2008 when first round pick Luke Moffatt didn't show. Moffatt never played a game with the Rockets, who selected the Arizona product second overall. This season the Everett Silvertips feel the pain as 16 year-old Tyson Jost is a no-show and will instead go to camp with the Penticton Vees this season. Jost was the Okanagan Rockets leading scorer last season and would pretty much be a guarantee to make any WHL roster as a rookie.
  • What is with all of these WHL veteran players pulling the pin on their junior careers? The Spokane Chiefs have been hit the hardest when captain Reid Gow decided he didn't want to return for his 20 year-old season. When your captain losses his heart to play the game, that sends an ugly message to his now former teammates. Since then, no less than four veterans including one more from the Chiefs and one each from the Swift Current Broncos, Moose Jaw Warriors and Red Deer Rebels have had a change of heart. Now we hear word that Macoy Erkamps of the Lethbridge Hurricanes won't report to training camp and wants to be traded. We've heard that song played before when it comes to the 'Cane Train'. While you can joke by saying that is typical for the Hurricanes at this time of the year, the WHL isn't laughing at whats happening league wide.
  • The Rockets had a similar situation last season, when in November, Swedish forward Henrik Nyberg walked into the coaches office and told them he wanted to go home. It put the team in a tough spot. I would think it is better that a player announce his intentions to walk away from the team prior to the start of training camp rather than two months into the season. With Nyberg's departure and rosters pretty much set, the Rockets were essentially short a forward for the entire season. They attempted to fill that void at the trade deadline by acquiring Marc McCoy from Regina. McCoy was a no-show.
  • If I am feeling for one WHL coach at training camp this week its John Paddock in Regina. Named the head coach earlier this month, Paddock is going to have to rely heavily on those around him to formulate his team. With no prior knowledge of what a player did or did not do with the Pats last season, the 60 year-old can only look at a stats sheet to gauge what a veteran is capable of doing.
  • How much gas in the tank does Seattle Thunderbirds Mathew Barzal have after attending and winning gold for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the Czech Republic earlier this month?  While Barzal may not be rewarded with a few days off when he arrives in Kent for main camp, fellow Team Canada and Kelowna Rockets teammate Nick Merkley will. GM Bruce Hamilton says Merkley, the WHL rookie of the year, will not participate in the early stages of main camp. The 17 year-old forward doesn't have much to prove and will sit out of few days of main camp to recharge his batteries. 
  • The veterans hate it, but it is a clear indication of who was committed to working out over the summer. Fitness testing is always an interesting component of main camp. Rourke Chartier is a rock star when it comes to conditioning. The now 18 year-old is the player to beat. We won't report on who was sucking air in fitness testing in fear of embarrassment, but I anticipate some veteran players doing much better than a year ago under the watchful eye of Athletic Therapist Scott Hoyer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Smart/Sandhu worth watching as rookie camp opens

15 year-old Jordan Sandhu is small but skilled
  • Eight of the ten players the Kelowna Rockets selected in the WHL bantam draft in May are attending rookie camp. Among those on the ice Thursday morning will be 15 year-old defenceman Jonathan Smart. Smart was taken 22nd overall by Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey. The only two drafted players that won't be attending rookie camp are Americans Cooper Haar from Huntington Beach, California and Colby Bukes from Littleton, Colorado. 
  • The camp isn't about who's not here but who is. No ones eligibility is hurt by attending rookie camp and its a nice way for these young players to dip their feet into the WHL waters so to speak. I hope all of them consider participating in the rookie camp as an honour. These players are getting a look-see from one of the most successful major junior franchises in Canada. When I was 15, I would have given my left leg to have a chance of setting my skates on Prospera Place ice. For the 100 or so attending rookie camp, the next four days should be nothing short of a thrill.
  • Of the eight Canadian born players the Rockets drafted in May, all eight are from BC. Fifteen year-old Kyle Topping is from Ganges, BC. Where the heck is that, I asked  myself? Hello Google Maps. Ganges, BC is on Salt Spring Island which is near Duncan ...Kim Dillabaugh's hometown. Still confused? Ganges is known for Salt Spring Coffee which is sold on BC Ferries. What more do you need to know? Topping was an 11th round bantam pick.
  • I have never seen Jonathan Smart play. I will get that chance at rookie camp and I anticipate the Kelowna resident will also see time with the 'big boys' at main camp next week. What I want to see is how dominant he can be in his age group. It is a massive step for a 15 year-old player when he challenges himself against older players that are 16 to 20. Smart should be one of the best players on the ice at rookie camp.
  • One player of interest for me at rookie camp will be 15 year-old Richmond forward Jordan Sandhu. Sandhu is the younger brother of a terrific player with the Everett Silvertips - Tyler Sandhu. Tyler scored 19 goals in his second season in Everett. I anticipate the younger Jordan to have the same skill set as his older brother. Both are small but obviously crafty. My belief is Jordan has a greater chance of showing off his offensive talents in Kelowna, where down the road Tyler Sandhu likely wouldn't receive the same freedom in the offensive zone under coach Kevin Constantine.
  • Tyler Mosienko and Ryan Cuthbert are just two undrafted rookies that attending Rockets camp and eventually made the team. Those were two terrific players that will go down in franchise history as having played over 300 games in the WHL.
  • Can an undrafted, unlisted player at rookie camp make an impact and catch the eye of the scouts? Just ask current Rockets d-man Dalton Yorke. Yorke came to camp and was eventually listed. The 17 year-old made an impact last season playing in 40 WHL games and getting into 10 fights.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Things that make me go hmm....

  • Can you believe it? The Kelowna Rockets rookie camp is just around the corner and the summer of 2014 is almost at an end. The time away from the rink is refreshing for all involved as the franchise officially celebrates its 20th season in the Okanagan in 2014-2015. The regular season starts in just over a month.
  • Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey will be participating in his 24th Kelowna Rockets rookie camp this week. That is mind boggling. Funny thing is he loves every minute of it. 
  • Rookie camp is always interesting. It gives the Rockets brass a chance to see all ten players they selected in the 2014 WHL bantam draft on the same ice surface. It will be my first look at 1st round pick Jonathan Smart. Two other prospects to watch out for are Cooper Haar and Jordan Sandhu. Haar is the younger brother of former Portland Winterhawks d-man Garrett Haar and Sandu's older Tyler plays with the Everett Silvertips. 
  • Rookie camp will look at lot different this time around. No Ryan Huska. No Kim Dillabaugh. Both move on making way for new assistant coaches Kris Mallette and goaltending coach Travis Crickard. 
  • I have heard some negative vibe over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Many have suggested it is a waste of time and no real strides are made in bringing awareness or funding towards the deadly disease. I have participated after a challenge from  Ryan Huska and believe strongly in the movement. Ross Ruttle, the Kelowna Rockets anthem singer at home games for years, was inflicted with ALS and I saw him struggling in a Kelowna hospice. It wasn't pretty. It was painful to watch as a man with such a strong singing voice was gasping for air and could only whisper when he spoke. That brings home the message of  the importance of getting the word out about ALS and the terrible way it takes so many peoples lives.     
  • Over the next few weeks we will break down the rookies that are impressing at camp and the veterans that are fighting for spots on this years team. But for now, its good to reflecting back to last season where the team won a league high and franchise record 57 games. With 118 points, a Western Hockey League regular season title will be raised to the Prospera Place rafters before the puck drops on September 20th.  The team was an incredible 57-11-0-4 last season. But as good as they were during the regular season, most fans I spoke to this summer remember the Winterhawks eliminating the Rockets in five games in the Western Conference final.
  • No Bell. No Cooke. No Severson. No Olson. The Rockets top three point producers from one season ago and are no longer with the team and that includes their starting goaltender. Myles Bell, Ryan Olsen and Damon Severson were 1,2,3 in team scoring last season. All three are moving on to pro hockey. Jordon Cooke, a WHL first team all-star and CHL Goaltender of the Year, will play with the U of S Huskies this fall. The loss of Bell, Olson and Severson is taking a combined 202 points out of the line up.  
  • The Rockets scored 310 goals last season. That was the second most of any team in the WHL. Last years squad was as good on defense too. The Rockets allowed 182 goals against - second best in the 22 team circuit.  
  • Plenty of offense returns for 2014-2015 thought. Madison Bowey had 60 points and a franchise record 21 goals from the blue line. WHL rookie of the year Nick Merkley had 58 points, including 25 goals and Rourke Chartier had 58 points with a career high 24 pucks finding the back of the net.    
  • Many forget the team managed an incredible 29 road wins last season. That was not only a franchise record but tied a WHL record too. At home the Rockets won 28 times. 
  • The Rockets penalty killing unit was the best in the league (86.2%) while the power play was a respectable 5th with 68 goals scored with the extra man.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

BellStar Hotels and Resorts don't disappoint

What a terrific two night stay in the Canmore/Banff area.

My family and I returned this week to the Alberta Rockies after an absence of seven years and decided to look for accommodations near the town of just over 12 thousand. Having stayed at one of BellStar's  excellent properties in Osoyoos, Spirit Ridge, we were pleased to learn the leading developer and operator of resort properties in the region offered accommodations in the Canmore area too.

We elected to stay at Solara Resort and Spa in Canmore, which can be easily found just off the Trans Canada Highway. Solara was nothing short of spectacular. From registration to checkout, the entire process was simple. More importantly, the two bedroom suite we enjoyed exceeded our expectations. King size beds in both rooms, a full kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops was a clear signal that BellStar is committed to providing high end comfort for travelers who are able to enjoy amenities that they may not be able to experience at home. That is what made our stay at BellStar's Solara Resort and Spa  so enjoyable. It truly felt like a vacation and when it ended we didn't want to leave. 

A shower that featured three separate heads that hit you from every angle and a deep sinker tub that my wife enjoyed were some of the luxuries inside the room. Outside of the room, did I mention the fully functioning gym that had all the free weights and cardio equipment anyone needs for a good workout? Free bike rentals and even a movie theater inside the resort were some of the other activities that were offered during our stay. 

If you are ever considering accommodations in Canmore/Banff area, I highly recommend Solara Resort and Spa or any of the BellStars spectacular properties in Osoyoos, Kicking Horse, Crawford Bay, Vancouver Island or here in Canmore.

Without a shadow of a doubt, you won't be disappointed when you stay with BellStar.   

Monday, August 4, 2014

Weber worth watching in weightroom

Shea Weber is a beast in the gym according to Almond
Cody Almond never played with Shea Weber.

The two Kelowna Rockets alumni have seen each other many times in the gym during the summer though.  

"He is an absolute freak", Almond told me last week before playing at one of a number of excellent golf course in the Kelowna area.

While Almond has never worked out with the Nashville Predators defenceman, he has watched with amazement from across the room at what the Sicamous resident is able to do in the gym. 

"He doesn't look like the biggest most ripped guy in the world. He looks like an athlete and you can tell that he is strong. When you see him work out, you appreciate the level he is at and the strength that he has. I don't think I have ever seen someone at that level before. He is jump squatting what everyone else is dead-lifting. He is a machine, that guy. He is something else," Almond added.

Almond is preparing to earn a spot with the NHL's Minnesota Wild this fall.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Adolph pleased that Cooke commits to Huskies

Dave Adolph in action.
University of Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Dave Adolph didn't aggressively recruit Kelowna Rockets goaltender Jordon Cooke.

It appears that laid back approach paid off.

The U of S men's hockey program reeled in a big fish this summer from the list of graduating players from the Western Hockey League when the 21 year-old Leduc Alberta product committed for the upcoming CIS season.

Adolph says Cooke should be a good fit with his team.

"We have a guy who is going into his fifth year, Ryan Holfeld, who I think is one of the best goalies in the Canadian University league but he graduates this year. He is in the college of law.  We were looking for someone else to come in and be a one 'A' and then take over everything for the next three or four years."

Adolph says the University of Saskatchewan has a lot to offer outside of the game of hockey.

"We have a great business school. That is what he would like to do. One of his goals, he told me, was to secure four years of post secondary education if hockey didn't work out. We had a spot for him. I don't think he wanted to go to the big money and live in Atlantic Canada. That is a long, long way away."

The last Kelowna Rockets alumni to wear Huskies colours was defenceman Zach Stebner, who completed his three year business degree.