Thursday, July 9, 2015

Who is the next HC of the Kelowna Rockets?

  • How odd does that image to the right look? That is Dan Lambert wearing a track suit with the Buffalo Sabres logo on it. Nope, it isn't a dream. Lambert isn't a guest coach at Sabres prospects camp. Lambert is now an assistant with the NHL team. I am still trying to come to grips with it. I didn't want to see a coaching change on so many levels. 
  • Close to 50 resumes have come across the desk of GM Bruce Hamilton over the last two days after Lambert's shocking announcement. That can't be a surprise. Kelowna, and specifically the Rockets organization, has to be one of most highly coveted coaching gigs in all of major junior hockey. If you are a family man, the lifestyle alone is a massive attraction and the successful track record would have any coaching wanting to throw his resume into the ring for consideration.
  • So who is the new coach? Bruce Hamilton has made it clear it won't be assistants Kris Mallette or Travis Crickard. Without knowing who has and who hasn't applied, is Ryan McGill not the first name that comes to mind? It was suggested McGill was up for the Vancouver Giants job, which Lorne Molleken ultimately won. While Kelly McCrimmon was being courted by the Toronto Maple Leafs as early as last month, McGill's name resurfaced again as a possible successor to McCrimmon with the Brandon Wheat Kings. McGill is familiar to both Hamilton and Rockets director of player personnel Lorne Frey. The 46 year-old's father Bob was a scout for the Rockets for several years and Ryan is a former player with the Swift Current Broncos, the team Frey was an assistant coach with during the 1986-87 season.
  • Lambert appeared on CJOB Winnipeg's 'Sports Show' with Jim Toth this week. Lambert admits he spoke with Sabres HC Dan Bylsma at the NHL draft and five days later he was offered an assistant coaching job with the Sabres. 
  • It is nice to see Jackson Whistle participating at Vancouver Canucks prospects camp this week. Isn't it interesting that the Canucks have shown a real interested in the West Kelowna resident when the Vancouver Giants didn't? Ok, that's not exactly fair considering it was the Giants that drafted Whistle in the fourth round of the WHL draft in 2010. The Giants traded Whistle on September of 2012 to the Rockets for a third round bantam pick. The Canucks invited Whistle to Penticton last fall for the Young Stars tournament and elected to invite him back for development camp this week. It will be interesting to see if Whistle impresses to the point that he indeed finds himself wearing Canucks colours again at the Young Stars in September.
  • Ironic to see defenceman Mitch Wheaton traded on the same day as Dan Lambert's announcement to leave the team. It was Lambert who was a major factor in recruiting Wheaton. The big defenceman was on the fence about coming to the WHL after being a 10th round pick of the team back in the 2010 bantam draft. Lambert was a trustworthy voice in persuading the St. Albert product to leave the Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL) and join the Rockets for the start of the 2012-2013 campaign.
  • Either Tyson Baillie has come into Calgary Flames prospects camp this week in wicked shape or it's a misprint. My guess is a misprint. Baillie is listed as 5'10 and 165 at Flames prospects camp. Baillie was listed at 5'10 and 195 pounds with the Rockets this season. If it were the case that the 19 year-old weighed just 165, Baillie would be the lightest forward on the Flames prospect camp roster.
  • Josh Morrissey is attending Winnipeg Jets prospect camp this week. He told the Winnipeg media that he took three weeks off from skating after the Memorial Cup, the longest he has ever spent away from the rink in recent memory. Here is the link to a story on Morrissey from Ken Wiebe, a Winnipeg Sun sports writer I had the privilege of meeting in Brandon during the WHL finals in April.
  • NHL Central Scouting released it's 'futures watch' for the 2016 NHL draft. Kelowna Rockets Lucas Johansen and Dillon Dube are on it. Johansen doesn't turn 18 until November. Dube doesn't turn 17 until July 20th.
  • What does colour analyst Gord McGarva do during the summer off-season? Gord is in Scotland, where he spends the majority of the next three months golfing and caddying. Since joining me in the broadcast booth for the start of the 2009 season, it has been common place to see him head overseas for some r and r. As hard as I try to scare him away, McGarva routinely shows up in September for the start of another Kelowna Rockets season.
  • Congratulations to Justin Bernhardt and his marriage last weekend. 'Bernie' played just 53 games with the Kelowna Rockets between 2006-2008 before being dealt to the Prince Albert Raiders. Bernhardt will always go down as one of six players involved in a massive trade between the Rockets and Regina Pats on December 7, 2006.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The winds of change blow again!

Dan Lambert - great communicator
I can't take this!
I know, I know, its sports where change is inevitable.
The Kelowna Rockets lost another great head coach when it was revealed Monday that Dan Lambert is stepping aside. It came as a shock to many. How can it not? Lambert spent one short season at the helm of the team as head coach and took them all the way to within one goal of winning the 2015 Memorial Cup.
Lambert's stint wasn't supposed to be this short was it?
With connections in pro hockey, you knew his time would be limited in Kelowna, but I would have never expected him to set sail after just one season.
While wet behind his ears as a WHL head coach, the 45 year-old originally joined the franchise for the start of a the 2009-2010 campaign as an assistant to Ryan Huska.
Clearly he grew leaps and bounds under Huska's tutelage.
What are the Kelowna Rockets losing? Lambert had passion for the game, wore his heart on his sleeve and was a player's coach through and through. He wanted to win, not for his own resume, but for his players to experience what he did as a 19 year-old defenceman with the Swift Current Broncos in 1989. Lambert is a Memorial Cup champion and MVP.
The Western Conference nominee for coach of the year in 2015 had immense pressure to bring a team together last season after it was torn apart, from a chemistry standpoint, with trades involving Carter Rigby, Colton Heffley, Jesse Lees, Austin Glover, Kris Schmidli and Dalton Yorke. Many tears were shed when the existing six players were traded away. It was a massive shake up within that Rockets locker room. It created a lot of turnover in a short period of time and resulted in very strong personalities invading the dressing room in Josh Morrissey and Leon Draisaitl. Acquiring new faces with high end talent often backfires. Just ask the 2011 Saskatoon Blades.
Lambert, with the help of assistants Kris Mallette, Travis Crickard and athletic therapist Scott Hoyer deserve ALL, not some of the credit, for getting the players to buy in while putting their personal agenda's to the side in order to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Mission accomplished.
Lambert, like his predecessor Ryan Huska, will go down as one, if not the most, media friendly head coach I have had to deal with,. Huska was a delight. Lambert was off the charts fantastic. I knew as the broadcaster of the team that I had something special going on between head coach and radio guy and never once took it for granted.
Lambert showed his true colours at the Memorial Cup in Quebec City when he met with the media daily. 'Lambo' was calm, cool and almost giddy at the fact his team was one of four playing in the late stages of May. He was smelling the roses as he saw his team advance to the Memorial Cup final by enjoying every minute. Maybe even then Lambert knew it was his final appearance as a coach on the major junior hockey stage? Whatever it was over those 10 days in Quebec City, Lambert was a rock star with the media and won over a lot of hockey people in that short week in province de Quebec.
For the first time ever, the Kelowna Rockets franchise will have three different head coaches in three consecutive seasons. Ryan Huska was at the helm in 2013-2014. Lambert guided the ship in 2014-2015 and the new hire _________ will patrol the bench for the start of the 2015-2016 campaign.
It is hard to imagine that the next bench boss will have the same 'people skills' and 'media savy' that Lambert exhibited. In fact, I can guarantee he won't.
I for one will deeply miss not only a quality coach, but in this case a friend.
Best of luck Lambo in the new adventure that awaits you and your family.
You will be, as the French say, spectaculaire!