Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Notes, quotes and anecdotes

I like this pic because of the AM 1150 logo behind Draisaitl  
  • The recent four game in five night road trip couldn't have come at a better time for the Kelowna Rockets. Spending seven days out on the road really brought this team together. I saw so many good signs of the new players becoming a bigger part of the team and comradery off the ice will go a long way into jump starting this team on the ice. It already has. Leon Draisaitl was joking around with teammates and coaches and players gravitating to a rather comical Chance Braid is another indication that the walls that were built up when new faces enter the dressing room are slowly coming down. If you like each other off the ice the chemistry on it will undoubtedly improve. That is exactly what we saw in wins against Lethbridge and Kootenay. The longer the trip went the better the team looked.
  • Despite all the talent, don't expect them to steam roll over teams. This is a competitive league where the opposition is fighting for a good playoff run or are literally fighting for their playoff lives. Best of all, the 22 team's play with pride and passion and no game is a given without maximum effort. 
  • How good has Leon Draisaitl been? The 19 year-old hasn't skipped a beat with 7 goals and 10 assists in 11 games. In only two, a home ice loss to Seattle and a shootout loss to Edmonton, has Draisaitl been held off the score sheet. By comparison, Mikael Backlund had 5+8=13 in his first 11 games with the Rockets in 2008-2009 after coming to the team following the World Junior Hockey Championships. Backlund's transition would have been tougher considering he was getting used to the WHL and the North American ice surface. Draisaitl is familiar with both. 
  • I hate when I read that the Rockets have punched their ticket to the WHL final. That is such a farce. No team is guaranteed playoff success no matter what players make up a team's roster. Even the best team's can be eliminated if they aren't careful. In 2009, the Calgary Hitmen were the team to beat after a 59 win regular season. The 43 win Kelowna Rockets beat them in 6 games in the league final. As the country song goes, 'There are only three things in life that you can count on....death and taxes and me loving you'. 
  • Two Kelowna Rockets are not on Twitter. Joining Rourke Chartier is newly acquired Josh Morrissey. I asked Morrissey why he avoids social media? "I was on Twitter for a couple of years. You can spend a lot of time on it. I thought it became too much and I spent too much time on it. As much as there are great fans on it, there are also fans that don't like you so much (chuckle) and sometimes when you play a bad game you hear about it. I just thought it would affect me negatively.  It has been good for me. I get up earlier now and don't sit around looking at Twitter." For my money, Morrissey could be the best interview in the league. Not only is he articulate but he is a very focused athlete.
  • The top three point producers for the Kelowna Rockets in January all had the same totals. Yep, Nick Merkley, Rourke Chartier and Tyson Baillie each had 6+8=14 during the month. Leon Draisaitl had the most goals with seven in 11 games played. 
  • Last week in Lethbridge, gas was 75.8 cents a litre. Crazy!!        
  • Did I not mention back in December during a radio interview in Portland that the Winterhawks would be crazy to unload their top end players after a tough start to the season? A knee jerk reaction would have had the Winterhawks paying dearly considering they now have one of the best teams in the WHL and will again have a chance to repeat as Western Conference champions. 
  • What is going on in Prince George? They beat the Rockets twice at home in December and were flying high in the saddle. In January they couldn't keep the puck out of the net and may miss the playoffs. The Kamloops Blazers have rebounded in a big way after heading into the Christmas break feeling less that confident about their overall play. The Alberta road trip wasn't anything to write home about, but Don Hay has turned the team around and is full marks for distancing themselves from Vancouver and  Prince George.
  • After experiencing a shootout twice last week, I sure would like to see 3 on 3 in overtime. They do it in the American Hockey League where they play 4 on 4 for three minutes and then switch to 3 on 3 for the remaining two minutes of the five minute overtime. Here is hoping the NHL adopts it next season. The fewer shootouts the better.   
  • The biggest surprise for me in the Rockets/Raiders blockbuster deal is the recent play of Kris Schmidli. The 18 year-old must have come back from the World Junior Hockey Championships a different player? Schmidli has been very good under head coach Marc Habscheid. The Swiss native is likely getting lots of ice time playing in crucial situations, but he was afforded the same luxury here and never embraced it. Schmidli has 5+9=14 in 11 games, which is awfully impressive. He was nowhere near the player when he was wearing Kelowna colours. Maybe he was playing on too good of a team where he felt he couldn't make a contribution and always felt like a second tier player? Last season, Schmidli had only 9 goals in 68 games.    
  • The best interview this week goes to Kelowna Rockets second year defenceman Joe Gatenby. The 17 year-old is mature beyond his years and is as focused on the ice as he is in front of the microphone. I asked him about the NHL draft, where NHL Central Scouting has him penciled in as a late pick at best. "It's exciting and an honour to be on that list. It really doesn't matter if I get drafted or if I am on that list again. Even if you are a first rounder, you are a long way from making it to the NHL. I just wanted to get better in practice and in games and I want to help the team win and show up to the rink everyday". Gatenby is rooming with Josh Morrissey. It seems to make sense considering both are focused on the ice and off it. Morrissey is a former WHL Scholastic Player of the Year while Gatenby is a Kelowna Rockets nominee.     
  • I think it is safe to say we left the Central Division behind us at just the right time. Mild temperatures greeted the Rockets over the week and the snow didn't start falling until we essentially left Lethbridge Friday night. Even in Cranbrook the temperatures were abnormally warm for late January. Not only did the team avoid old man winter in two separate trips to Alberta/Cranbrook but they earned points in 7 of the 8 games they played out there.
  • The team had to pick up its gear from the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer before Wednesday's short trip to Edmonton for evening game. It was interesting to see assistant coach Jeff Truitt running the practice while head coach Brent Sutter was seen watching from high above in one of the luxury suites. 
  • I sure like the way Madison Bowey is playing these days. While he isn't seeing his name on the score-sheet that often (no assists in 7 games), the 19 year-old is sticking to solid defense. I like his physical play and imposing his will on oncoming forwards. Right now Bowey is playing winning hockey. Bowey was a +10 in January.  
  • Who did I randomly run into in Cranbrook? Former Kelowna Rockets forward Seth Leonard came walking by the broadcast booth during a commercial break and we had a quick chance to say hello to one another. Leonard scored just 28 goals in 133 games with the Rockets before being traded to the Prince Albert Raiders for Jesse Schultz. Leonard would score 50 goals in 2003-2004 while Schultz would find the back of the net 53 times during the 2002-2003 campaign on his way to helping the Rockets earn their first WHL championship. Clearly the trade benefited both players and both team's.        
  • I spoke to NHL Central Scouting Alberta based scout Rick Jackson about the play of Rockets forward Nick Merkley. "I really like him. I think he has a great compete level.  He has a good shot and a good release and a good hockey IQ. The game has changed. There is room for guys of his size that have a high compete level and he is one of those guys". 
  • The Rockets are looking at setting a new milestone with their next win. It will mark the 11th time in franchise history the team has reached the 40 win mark. The team is sitting at 39 victories this season.  

No comments: