Sunday, September 20, 2015

Things that make me go hmm...

Kole Lind - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • In less than a week the Kelowna Rockets open the 2015-2016 Western Hockey League regular season. The franchise celebrates its 25th season and the Western Hockey League rings in its 50th anniversary as the Rockets raise a league banner up into the rafters at Prospera Place. Banner raising ceremonies never get old, and honestly doing it in front of the Kamloops Blazers makes it extra special. The Blazers, despite recent struggles, are still the model franchise with six; count them six WHL titles, the most of any team in the 22 league circuit. By comparison, the Rockets have four (2003-2005-2009-2015). The Blazers also have the bragging rights of being the last team to win back-to-back WHL titles in 1994 and again in 1995.
  • The Rockets closed out the pre-season schedule Saturday night with a 3-0 shutout win over the visiting Vancouver Giants. Jackson Whistle and Michael Herringer combined for the goose egg. It was interesting to see those two veterans dressed for the final exhibition game. Whistle has nothing to prove. Herringer and Jake Morrissey do. Morrissey had his chance to solidify the back up spot Friday in a loss in Vancouver. 
  • The Rockets were 3-2-0-0 in five pre-season games. Alarming? No. The team played mostly with a rookie line up and never iced a team with it's three deadliest weapons; Tyson Baillie, Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier. 
  • Austin Glover won the team scoring title in pre-season last year. Tyson Baillie was atop the leader board in his 16, 17 and 18 year-old seasons. That honour this year goes to Dillon Dube and Cole Lind. Dube had 3+3=6 while Lind had 1+5=6 in five pre-season games. 
  • Riley Stadel was used as a forward late last season and proved be an effective player at that position. But while his muck and grinding style is fun to watch, as he caused havoc inside the offensive zone, don't be surprised if the team uses him in his natural position as a defenceman when the puck drops on Friday. 
  • I've conducted many interviews with European players over the years, and not one until now has said he will block shots. I had a great conversation with 18 year-old Calvin Thurkauf last week and he spoke about doing whatever it takes to help the team win....shot blocking if necessary. Thurkauf is very mature for 18. I like him. From my experience, European players are typically shy and reserved and take some time to warm up to their North American teammates. I don't see Thurkauf having that problem.  
  • I am often asked at this time of the year who I think will finish first in the Western Conference. I am a realist, not an optimist, which tends to be the line of thinking at this time of the year. Do I think the team can repeat as conference champions? You bet I do, even with the loss of Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey, Cole Martin, Leon Draisaitl, Chance Braid and Tyrell Goulbourne. Throw in a solid coach in Dan Lambert and those are seven significant losses. That said, the returning forwards should be among the best in the WHL this season. While I believe the Rockets will finish first, massive challenges are coming courtesy of Prince George, who should be fighting for first place in the BC Division.
  • Three games in three night's is nothing new for the Kelowna Rockets. What is new is three games in three night's to start the season. In my 16 years in the Okanagan, the team has never opened the regular season with such a heavy schedule on the opening weekend.      
  • Now that Jackson Whistle has returned for his final season in the WHL, it will be interesting to see how the goaltending unfolds with Michael Herringer and Jake Morrissey also in the crowded crease. Something has to give. I will go on record as saying that Jackson Whistle is an untouchable 20 year-old. Ok, untouchable is an overstatement, but I see him locked as an overager on a team that is very young on defense. With a d-core that doesn't have one player over 18, I anticipate significant play inside the d-zone as that group finds its footing. A veteran goalie is valuable to help those young guys develop in front of him. The other untouchable in an overage spot is Tyson Baillie, should he return from the Calgary Flames. Do you trade a possible 40 goal scorer? The answer is no. 
  • While all eyes are on new head coach Brad Ralph to see how he guides this years team, the biggest assignment may fall on the shoulders of assistant coach Kris Mallette. The sophomore assistant coach, who is in charge of the d-core, will need to show patience with a young group that will make mistakes, but will learn from them. Mallette had the luxury last season of having Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey and Cole Martin as regulars he could send out on the ice against the other teams top forwards. Without question, Mallette will earn his keep this season. 
  • While the Rockets open their 25th season Friday with a bang, we will do the same on AM 1150. We will have a 60 minute pre-game show starting at 6 pm with myself and new colour analyst Kent Simpson. 


Greg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

Hey Regan do you think Kelowna will be looking to add an older defenceman, or develop what they have now?