Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Notes, quotes and anecdotes

Riley Stadel - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • The Alberta road trip before the Christmas break is officially underway. An early morning start had the team eating breakfast in Revelstoke at around 10:30 am . We were greeted by mild temperatures as the snow began to quickly melt. It created slushy walking conditions as the coaching staff and players attempted to enter the restaurant without getting our shoes and socks wet. Rubber boots would have been a good choice. A few movies later and we arrived in Canmore Alberta for lunch. Not as much snow, but the temperatures were a balmy 7 degrees. The meal was followed by an impromptu snowball fight outside of the establishment. It all started innocently as players walking outside the restaurant were sabotaged with snowball fire coming from teammates and a coach near the entrance to the team bus. I may have thrown a softball size snowball or two. When in Canmore, do what Canmorians like to do. As we made our way out of the Rockies we witnessed a skiff of snow along the foothills, which is extremely rare for this time of the year.  
  • This Alberta road trip includes a stop at the historic Medicine Hat Arena on Friday night. It will be the last time the Rockets play a game in that building, barring the playoffs, as the Tigers move into a new facility in September 2015. I have great memories in that building including my first 5 seasons as the play-by-play voice of the Swift Current Broncos. I saw many a Broncos win in that building but it was other incidents that stand out. I will never forget Broncos forward Dody Wood getting into a fight during warm up with Tigers Clayton Norris. I was also ushered out of the broadcast booth in Medicine Hat after a bomb scare involving the two teams'. The game was postponed and finished a few days later.             
  • It was great to touch base with Kelly Guard on the weekend when he made a stop in Kelowna. The MVP from the 2004 Memorial Cup was behind the bench as an assistant coach with the Prince Albert Raiders. The Raiders head coach is Marc Habscheid, Guard’s coach with the Kelowna Rockets for two seasons in 2002-2003 and again in 2003-2004. “I can honestly say, I would have never have thought of that happening. It has come full circle. I love it. He is a good mentor and a good coach and I am learning a lot from him”, Guard told me Saturday night. I asked the now 30 year-old if Habscheid has changed since he knew him as a player who was able to get the best out of his team. “As a goalie, I just stayed away and played. I wasn’t around the bench much. I was playing lots so I wasn’t on the bench to see what was going on. He is pretty calm back there. He has that confidence in him that the players feed off of”, Guarded added.
  • In speaking to 16 year-old rookie forward Dillon Dube this week, he told me he was born in Golden BC. Dube’s home town is Cochrane Alberta but he spent his early years in Golden and aspired to play for the Golden Rockets, the junior 'B' team located there. Who would have thought Dube would one day play for the Rockets, but for a WHL team of the same name located in the Okanagan.
  • It was interesting to observe the demeanor of the two coaches Friday night in the Prince George Cougars 4-3 win over the Kelowna Rockets. It was Mark Hollick's team, the Cougars, that was winning after building up a 4-2 lead, but if you looked at Lambert on the Rockets bench, he appeared to be under control despite the two goal deficit. Hollick is without question a yeller. The guy must need a losange after games end.     
  • It felt like a Kelowna Rockets reunion Saturday night at Prospera Place when the PA Raiders paid a visit. Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid was joined by assistant Kelly Guard on the bench and ex-Rockets 20 year-old Colton Heffley was in the visitors starting lineup. It is well document how Habscheid decided to leave the Rockets – on top – after leading the team to a Memorial Cup title. I asked Habscheid if, in hindsight, he should have stayed longer rather than leave the team after that triumphant victory? “I look back at it and no matter what, how can you win it for the first time at home again? Hopefully they win many more times, but you can never win at home for the first time. To repeat that and try to duplicate those feelings and the rise from where we were are memories that are etched forever. It would have been hard to come back because you always want to top that. It is impossible to top that.” Habscheid concluded.    
  • The Lethbridge Hurricanes have fired Drake Berehowsky. So who is behind the bench tomorrow night when the Rockets face the Hurricanes? Maybe I will go back in time and do a pre-game interview for former Lethbridge bench boss Brian Maxwell, who is back with the team in a secondary role this season. Maxwell and Darth Vader have a similar tone of voice. Ok, not exactly. Maxwell doesn't breathe heavily when he speaks but his voice makes any radio broadcaster envious.   
  • What I'm interested in seeing is how the Rockets respond with the loss of their top scorer and best defenceman. Who picks up the slack on the road trip for Rourke Chartier and Madison Bowey? The two players that come to mind are Tyson Baillie and veteran 20 year-old Cole Martin on the back end. Baillie has the second most goals on the team with 19 and must perform at a high level on this road trip to make up for the loss of  Chartier’s hot stick. Without Bowey on the blue line, Martin may see some time on the power play, and while the 20 year-old won’t manufacture many goals, what he can do is make smart passing plays to the awaiting hands of forwards who find themselves in good scoring areas.
  • The power play has to be better if the Kelowna Rockets want to head into the Christmas break on a high. Over the last six games, the team has scored just 5 goals on 32 opportunities for an efficiency rate of just 16 percent. That is down significantly from the teams 26.9 percent efficiency rate, which is the best in the 22 team circuit. What’s working in the Rockets favour? They have the best road record in the WHL with 13 wins – one loss and two overtime losses on opposition ice this season.  
  • The trip starts with a game in Lethbridge Wednesdday night against the second worst team in the WHL. The Hurricanes have only 6 wins this season – having lost 8 times on home ice this season. The best game of the road could come Friday night when the Rockets face the Tigers in Medicine Hat. The Tigers have lost only three times on home ice this season and only the Rockets have allowed fewer goals on home ice than the Tigers...who are a stingy bunch lead by 20 year-old goaltender Marek Langhammer. Like Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley, the Tigers possess their own dynamic duo in Trevor Cox and Cole Sanford. Both players have over 40 points this season. 
  • Gas in Calgary is 93.4 cents a litre! What??? 

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