Friday, January 9, 2015

Notes, quotes and anecdotes

An old pic I took from 2009 with Tyler Myers and gold medal
  • It should be a special night when defencemen Madison Bowey and Josh Morrissey are welcomed back to Kelowna in front of the Prospera Place faithful. It will be especially sweet Saturday night because both players and GM Bruce Hamilton will have gold medals around their necks. The last time that happened was in 2009 when Jamie Benn and Tyler Myers were honored for winning gold with a pre-game ceremony. Don't miss it. Be in your seats by 7:15. The game against the high powered Medicine Hat won't be bad either.
  • It is hard to believe but when Morrissey and Draisaitl take to the ice Saturday night it will mark only the second time in Kelowna Rockets franchise history that the team has had two-first round picks on its roster. While Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn were both picked in the opening round in 2008, those two unfortunately didn't play together the following season. The Leafs elected to keep Schenn while Myers was returned to Kelowna by the Buffalo Sabres to help the team win a WHL title. The only other time the Rockets had two-1st round picks on the team was when Mikael Backlund joined the squad after the World Junior Hockey Championships after competing for Sweden. Backlund was a first rounder of the Calgary Flames and joined Myers on the team that season as first round selections.        
  • What is it like the first game back for a player after winning a gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships? In 2009, Jamie Benn had just one assist in his first game back. Benn scored only once in his first five games upon his return. Defenceman Tyler Myers didn't have a point in his first game back after winning gold. The playoff MVP that season had just two assists in his first five games after playing for Team Canada. A world junior hockey hangover is typical.         
  • I’d be surprised if the Rockets acquire another goaltender before Saturday’s trade deadline. Management is comfortable with Jackson Whistle as a starter but the backup spot, among several WHL observers, is a question mark. It appears the Rockets will keep three goalies with Jake Morrissey and Michael Herringer sitting on the bench as an insurance policy if Whistle falters. It sure will be interesting to see who backs up Whistle when the playoffs start. It will be a clear indication on which of the two the coaching staff have the most faith in.       
  • January 10th is the WHL trade deadline. What I always remember is that it is also Mark Guggenberger’s birthday. Guggenberger was in goal when the Rockets won the 2009 WHL championships. He too, like Whistle, was a bit of an unknown commodity who had great success in his 19 year-old season.   
  • The best interview over the past 7 days goes to Prince George Cougars GM Todd Harkins. I had a real nice chat with him before a game last week. I asked him as a first year general manager if he was going to make a splash in his first WHL trade deadline. “I will listen. I don’t want to be taken advantage of and I won’t take advantage of anyone. Harkins says the worst part about the trade deadline is the social media speculation on which players may or may not be traded. "What people don’t realize in social media is these are kids. They are not pros. They play like pros and I think that is the misunderstanding. They love the game at this age and they just want to play and they are doing their best. We have to be careful how we treat them in those social media rings as fans”.     
  • I liked Harkins philosophy when acquiring players. In the past Cougars management stayed away from some players that didn’t want to commit to playing in the WHL’s most northern outpost. “Our philosophy has changed. We are creating an experience for the players. We want these kids to develop as a person and as a player to get them to the National Hockey League. We go after players that want to play in our league and want to become pros. We are not dodging kids. We are picking the best players that we think are capable of being Prince George Cougars and wanting to become pros”, Harkins added.       
  • Is an NHL team going to draft Prince George Cougars forward Chase Witala? The 19 year-old is the best player I saw last week. His 22 goals are impressive and he has played especially good against the Kelowna Rockets with 4+6=10 points in the seasonal series.
  • Vancouver Giants head coach Claude Noel says it’s good that Leon Draisaitl is back in the Western Hockey League. The personable coach says if Draisaitl was 20, the perfect spot to put him would be  the AHL. “I’m a big proponent of the American Hockey League. I know it is a bad word for some prospects. It allows you to mature. It is not an easy league. It is a good place to learn. If you look at successful teams in the National League; Detroit, Chicago and LA, they all go through the American Hockey League. There is no entitled players that stay up with the big team. That is the route they go.”  
  • All the hype heading into this WHL season revolved around 16 year-old Vancouver Giants rookie Tyler Benson. Rightfully so. Benson was the first player taken in the WHL bantam draft after putting up huge numbers two seasons prior in bantam. But is 16 year-old Spokane Chiefs rookie Kailer Yamamoto stealing some of Benson’s thunder? Yamamoto, like Tampa Bay Lighting forward Tyler Johnson, was born in Spokane and has been terrific with 16 goals and 36 points in 35 games.  Not bad for a 5th round bantam pick. In the Eastern Conference, all the talk is about Regina Pats forward Sam Steel. Yamamoto has more points than both players. 
  • As impressive as Leon Draisaitl’s debut with the Rockets was Wednesday night with a goal and an assist, the most impressive debut in my 15 years behind the mic of the Kelowna Rockets came from Chuck Kobasew in the fall of 2001. It was October 3, 2001 when Kobasew scored three goals in 7-5 loss in Portland. The way Kobasew scored his three goals was amazing. The then 19 year-old scored at 1:46 of the second period, then at 3:59 and then again at 4:24. His first three career WHL goals came in a span of 2 minutes and 38 seconds. It was a welcome to the Western Hockey League moment I will never forget.      
  • I asked Claude Noel about some of the challenges the Rockets could face with a player like Leon Draisaitl in the line up. "Sometimes when a good player comes into your team via trade or reassignment, some of your guys stand around and watch him and they don’t work the way they normally work and are frozen a little bit. I think the environment here should be a positive for him”.   
  • What does Noel think of Winnipeg Jets prospect Josh Morrissey?  “He is a great player. He will help you from the back end because he can get the puck to the forwards. With the forwards the Rockets have, that will be a huge asset. He was great for the Jets farm team last year in the playoffs. You can’t lose with him”.
  • The best quote in the last seven days comes from Cougars GM Todd Harkins. Harkins was drafted by the NHL's Calgary Flames in the second round in 1988. Now his son Jansen could be taken in the first round on this summers draft. "I just hope he is drafted 41 or lower so he has bragging rights on me", Harkins said with a chuckle.
  • I was looking at the Rockets opening season line up against the Kamloops Blazers from September 20th. Seven players are no longer a part of the team including Cole Lind, who was brought in as an affiliated player with several veterans still away at NHL training camps.

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