Sunday, September 21, 2014

Short staffed but Rockets don't stumble

'A banner night' - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Jackson Whistle has likely heard the critics. Many WHL observers question if he can be a full time starting goaltender. Saturday night, the West Kelowna resident proved the Kelowna Rockets are in good hands with a first star performance from the 19 year-old veteran. Whistle made 32 saves in a 6-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers in a game that featured the home team minus four key players that are attending NHL training camps and another who was at camp but came back with bumps and bruises and was unable to play.
  • Whistle made several solid stops after little work in the first period. The veteran goaltenders best saves came against Blazers forward Cole Ully. Whistle stopped the visitors best shooter with two nice glove hand stops, one in the second period and another in the third. Whistle also robbed Blazers forward Jesse Shynkaruk late in the third when the game was out of reach.
  • Kris Schmidli and Tyson Baillie had success playing on a line with Colton Heffley. The three combined for eight points with Baillie and Schmidli each putting up a goal and two assists. Heffley, who is fighting for an overage spot, had a goal and an assist.    
  • It was nice to see Austin Glover and Riley Stadel score. Both players had early offensive success last season but unfortunately it came crashing to a halt. Glover broke his leg and Stadel couldn't find the back of the net after scoring nine goals in the first 13 games of the 2013-2014 campaign. My belief is Stadel may have gone to a pro camp had he not cooled off so dramatically in the offensive zone. He had just one goal in the final 50 games of the regular season. My greatest concern is with Glover, who needs to bring more to the table as a 18 year-old. If he doesn't, younger players are nipping at his heels and will push him down the depth chart if he doesn't 'bring it' consistently. It was a nice start for one of the most personable players on the team. I am hoping for the best for him this season. Plus, Glover is one of my favourites because he is from Saskatchewan.
  • I thought Cole Martin had a strong game. He is a keeper. The 20 year-old has to be a lock on the blue line. Teams trade for this type of player that can shutdown the oppositions most lethal players. Martin didn't score a goal all of last season but came close last night when he hit the crossbar in the first period. 
  • Martin was wearing an 'A' on his jersey last night and it looked good on him. I don't know what the leadership group of this team will look like this season, but can he be excluded from being one of the team leaders? I can't see it. You win with a player of Cole Martin's ilk. Unselfish, a team player and a compete level that doesn't fluctuate no matter if his team is up by three goals or down by three, Martin is a valuable commodity. If he doesn't wear a letter this season it doesn't mean he can't lead. But for my money, he deserves it. It is an honour and a privilege to wear a letter. Some take it fore-granted. I know Martin's character enough to know that wouldn't be the case with this fourth year player.  
  • I am all about heart and soul players in the leadership group. Tyson Baillie also falls into that category. Everyone wants to win, but some players want it more than others. Baillie is as competitive as they come. The 'A' on his jersey looks right to me. 
  • Let's give some props to assistant coach Kris Mallette for running the d-core. I thought Mallette did a good job of bench management with the teams younger d-men. Rookie Lucas Johansen didn't miss a beat in his WHL debut and newcomer Devante Stephens, who is a little rough around the edges, found more ice time in the third period when the game was out of reach.
  • I liked Tate Coughlin last night. The rookie was involved physically and possesses a quick release when the puck is on his stick. He sure reminds me of  a young Brett Bulmer. I can see why the coaches are intrigued by him. I thought he struggled in the final pre-season game and looked like he might be on his way back home but the coaches kept him around. After what I saw last night, Coughlin is worth a closer look. 
  • The Rockets were ripe for the picking last night. As I mentioned, four veteran were at NHL training camps. Without captain Madison Bowey, Tyrell Goulbourne, Mitch Wheaton and Justin Kirkland, the Blazers had a tremendous chance to steal a game on the road. The credit goes to the veteran players for not allowing that to happen.  
  • The Rockets now have 16 championship banners raised high into the rafters at Prospera Place.While they wished all of them were white in colour, emblematic of Memorial Cup success, the red banners are still a sign of on ice success.

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