Monday, October 20, 2014

News, quotes and anecdotes

Nick Merkley - Shoot the Breeze
  • NHL scouts are watching. NHL scouts are comparing. Do you blame them? They are watching  closely the every move of Kelowna Rockets Nick Merkley and Seattle Thunderbirds second year forward Mathew Barzal. Barzal is rated as the top WHL eligible player for next June's NHL draft and Merkley isn't far behind. I spoke to Winnipeg Jets director of player personnel Marcel Comeau about what he likes about Nick Merkley's game. "He is a hard working guy and comes to play. He has a lot of touches. He gets the puck a lot. If someone doesn't get it for him he goes and gets it himself. He seems to play both ends of the rink pretty well. You have to like the way he plays the game. He is a hard working guy", Comeau added. Merkley is one of the leading point producers in the WHL yet has gone six games without finding the back of the net.
  • I spoke to Kamloops Blazers head coach Don Hay the other day about his teams terrific start. It was suggested after 10 seasons behind the Vancouver Giants, Hay's message was falling on deaf ears."I hope I am not washed up. I hope I have a few more miles left on the old body. I feel pretty good physically and health wise. I think I can still coach in this league."  
  • Many have suggested Hay was brought back to Kamloops with the hope that he could re-create the glory years of the mid 90's when the Blazers enjoyed several trips to the Memorial Cup and won it three times. "I don't feel that pressure at all. It isn't 1995 with Ryan Huska and Jarome Iginla on this team. As far as the savior stuff, I don't buy into that. I just want to have success with this group and I am a detailed kind of guy and I think I can help the players to get better", Hay added. I can't argue with that. Hay still has lots of 'game' in him.
  • This is a bit of a concern especially if a European born player isn't producing offensively. Kris Schmidli has gone 8 games without a goal and has just two assists in his last 6 games. It is a concern because the 18 year-old started the season with two goals in his first three games. For this team to have success, it's import players need to be key contributors and not fall off the map offensively. What is encouraging is Euro Tomas Soustal is coming along nicely and the coaching staff have praised his recent play.    
  • Rourke Chartier is off to a terrific start. The 18 year-old has points in 9 of his first 11 games. At the same point last season, Chartier had 3 goals and one assist after 11 games.
  •  Cole Martin was a -2 in Saturday's 5-2 loss in Tri City. I wondered when the last time Martin, who was a WHL best +61 last season saw his plus/minus rating dip to -2 in one game. The fact is, Martin was a -2 - four separate times last season. What is interesting is the 20 year-old was also +3 or better - 10 different times in 2013-2014. 
  • Speaking of plus/minus, Tyson Baillie was -3 in Saturday's loss to the Americans. I looked back at the numbers and Baillie has never been a -3 in his career, not even in his rookie season where your +/- can take a beating.
  • The Rockets two goal out-put Saturday night was the fewest goals they have scored in a game this season.
  • Best opposing player I saw this week? After games in Kamloops, Spokane and Tri City, I would say Blazers forward Cole Ully just edged out Americans sharp shooter Parker Bowles. Ully is a dynamic, honest player. Not dirty or cocky as some good players can be, Ully is fun to watch and needs little room to score. The forehand to backhand goal he scored on Wednesday night while in-tight on Jackson Whistle was impressive. Why? He made it look easy while being pressured. I like him because when he scores he makes it look like he has done it many times before. No over the top antics from this guy when he celebrates his own successes. 
  • Ully should and my prediction is he will be added to the WHL team for the Subway Super Series. 
  • The player I like to see is the one that is more excited when his teammate scores than when he finds the back of the net himself.
  • Rookie goaltender Jake Morrissey earned his first career win Friday night with a 26 save performance in Spokane. Morrissey told me he heard from several people after the game via phone/Twitter/text. One of the congratulatory messages he received was from ex-Kelowna Rockets goalie Kevin Swanson. "Me and Kevin go back quite a while now. He runs a chain of goaltending schools in Calgary and around Saskatchewan and Alberta, so I have trained with him since I was fresh out of novice. 'Swanny' has been a great asset for me coming up through the ranks and training and having that connection with the Rockets is huge".         
  • Outside of Shane McColgan, I can't remember any rookie as well spoken for interviews than Jake Morrissey. The 17 year-old seems relaxed and has well thought out answers. It is impressive for someone so young.
  • Tyrell Goulbourne got into his first fight of the season Friday night against big European defenceman Tamas Laday. Laday, from Hungry, is 6 foot 6. While Goulbourne won that fight, which he should against a less experienced scrapper, its believed that tilt turned momentum in the Chiefs favour. After that scrap the Chiefs seemed to galvanize as a team. The key is fighting the other teams toughest player and beating him. That way you can only gain momentum. If you take on a lesser opponent and he still losses but hangs in there, it often gives the other team the lift they desperately need.  
  • When you play 7 of your first 11 games on the road , it tuckers you out. A good feed of home cooking won't hurt the Rockets, who still have a tough road ahead of them with back-to-back games in Portland next Thursday and Saturday and then a visit to Vancouver next Sunday to close out the month of October.    
  • This weeks hurdle for the Rockets is focusing on beating Tri City Wednesday and not looking ahead to a marquee match up Saturday, at home , against the impressive Brandon Wheat Kings. 

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