Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Notes, quotes and anecdotes

One of many beautiful Xmas trees in downtown Calgary 
  • Life without Rourke Chartier hasn't been easy. Just ask Kelowna Rockets leading point producer Nick Merkley. Merkley leads the WHL in scoring but without Chartier the points were harder to put up. The 17 year-old collected 4 assists in five games on an Alberta road trip without Chartier and failed to find the back of the net. "It is for sure different. The lines are jumbled but you have to adapt to that and have to step up. Once the world juniors are over it will be nice to have everyone back and see what we are made of", Merkley added.     
  • It could have been worse. Rourke Chartier missed five games while attending Team Canada's training camp and returns to the line up December 27th only four points back of Merkley for the WHL scoring lead. Chartier still leads the league in goals with 32. Chartier is now fourth in league scoring.
  • "Unbelievable times (x) 50". That comment from Prince Albert Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid when I asked him about the pressure Canada faces hosting the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships on home soil. Habscheid coached Canada in 2003 when the tournament was held in Halifax. "We hadn't won in a couple of years, so there was pressure on the team much like it is now. The difference is two things; Montreal and Toronto. You get into centers that big, it is going to create that much more of an atmosphere and that much more pressure, Habscheid added. "There are so many distractions. You have to keep your focus." Would Habscheid consider coaching Canada again at the World Junior? "I might", Habscheid said bluntly. "Right now I am not looking at it. I really enjoy where I am now but never say never. Whether its fair or not fair, there are expectations to win. It is Canada's game and we expect gold." 
  • How can you not be impressed with the evolution of Tyler Johnson's game. Now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the former Spokane Chiefs captain is excelling at the NHL level after failing to catch the eye of pro scouts while playing junior hockey. I asked Chiefs GM Tim Speltz about the 24 year-old's progression as a player. "Tyler is so special to us because he was local. We just don't have very many local guys. Tyler was such a big part of our teams' that overachieved. There was always the he's too small....but. He is too small but he is fast. He is too small but he is smart.", Speltz added. "For me, players, as long as they stay committed and keep improving, you can make your way into the NHL even if you are 20 and undrafted. If you look at the 22 teams, with three 20-year-old's on each team, that is 66 guys playing with 10 to 15 percent of them signing. Too me, that's pretty good odds".  
  • I had a nice chance to reflect with Red Deer Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt on his coaching career with the Kelowna Rockets. After several years as an assist in Kelowna, Truitt guided the team to a WHL title in 2004-2005 before eventually leaving and giving way to Ryan Huska. "I spent 7 years in Kelowna. We enjoyed it there (Kelowna) and we still love coming back there. We have relatives there. Was it time for me to go? I thought there was enough interest with the Edmonton Oilers for me to be an assistant coach in Springfield. Is the pro game something I would like to take another stab at? Absolutely, because I'm a better coach because of it", Truitt added. 
  • Truitt gets another stab at a Memorial Cup in 2016 with the Red Deer Rebels. Truitt, who was an assistant coach to Marc Habscheid at the 2004 event in Kelowna, is looking forward to being the host team again. "At the time of coming here (to Red Deer), I didn't know that was in the works. It will be my fourth as a coach and to have that experience here now, would be tremendous", Truitt added.
  • We all have regrets in life. I asked Lethbridge Hurricanes assistant coach Bryan Maxwell if he had any regrets after he was drafted in the first round of the NHL draft in 1975 by the Minnesota North Stars. "I probably would have listened to my dad more," Maxwell said surprisingly. "He (father) told me the drive-in was for sale here in Lethbridge and I should buy it. I didn't. It is now one of the nicest residential areas in the city. I am sure we all have stories of things we should have done", Maxwell said with a chuckle. Maxwell was selected fourth overall after a successful career with the Medicine Hat Tigers.   
  • The last time the Rockets had two players on Canada's entry at the World Junior's was 2009 when Tyler Myers and Jamie Benn were members of the team. This year Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey represent. 
  • It honestly feels odd to call Josh Morrissey a member of the Rockets when he hasn't even played a game with his new team. The 19 year-old will wear #27 when he makes his Kelowna debut in early January.  
  • Best media tidbit in a teams game notes package was found in Red Deer where the Rebels informed me that that franchise has had a player drafted into the NHL in all 22 years of its existence. That is impressive. The Rebels have had 13 players taken in the first round alone. A great piece of info and I am blaming Cam Moon for that delicious nugget of information.  
  • Best player I saw last week? Connor Bleackley of the Red Deer Rebels is awfully impressive when he gets going. The dude can shoot the puck. Ask Jackson Whistle. He was beat twice by seeing eye wrist shots that beat him blocker side.
  • I think the Rebels are going to be a great host of the 2016 Memorial Cup. Can you imagine if the weather they are experiencing today would hold up for May of 2016? Little to no snow would make for a marvelous tournament. The arena is solid (seats 6,706). While it is smaller than the 13 thousand seat Saskatoon (what are they calling it these days?) facility that hosted the 2013 event, the atmosphere will be so much better in Red Deer. On top of that, you know the Rebels will ice a solid team that won't required a massive overhaul the season leading into the 10 day event. 
  • Good luck to the Okanagan Midget Rockets who are headed off to the Mac's Midget Hockey tournament in Calgary Christmas Day. The Okanagan Rockets open the event Boxing Day against the Calgary Buffaloes. Last year's team made it to the semi finals. Expectations may be a little lower this year considering the 2013-2014 squad was one for the ages. The Ok Rockets will tell you the only limitations are the ones the team puts on itself. That is hockey talk 101 for ya.
  • Chiefs GM Tim Speltz had some interesting thoughts on player burnout in major junior hockey. "It starts before the players come to us. It comes long before they ever get here. Do we see the end of the burn out factor? Yes! If we want to get our guys to pro, it is necessary with what we do. At the younger level, it is 12 months a year which is too much. If these guys would shut it down at the end of hockey season for at least 60 days, 90 days or two months, they would look forward to it. Not only do we lose a lot of athletes, the athletes that we have can burn out", Speltz added.
  • Merry Christmas to all those that spend a little portion of your day reading this blog. Enjoy the time with family and we will see you for the exciting second half of the season on December 27th.

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