|Michael Herringer hitting the ice in Med Hat|
- The road isn't an easy place to be for a Western Hockey League team. It requires long hours on the bus, going from hotel to hotel and often getting into bed in the wee hours of the morning. What makes it tolerable is the joy that comes from winning and embracing the small things in life as you pull up stakes and travel from city to city. The Kelowna Rockets enjoyed a rare Monday off in Medicine Hat after a brutal three game in three night Alberta road trip. It featured games in Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. The trip isn't easy on anyone. Road trips take a toll on the body and the mind and with a young d-core it can be overwhelming. Monday was a reprieve from the hectic schedule which allowed the players to enjoy the beautiful prairie sunshine and the rental mountain bikes that the hotel offered for free. Following Tuesday night's game in Medicine Hat, it will conclude a stretch of six consecutive games on opposition ice.
- The day off in Medicine Hat consisted of a quick skate at the new home of the Medicine Hat Tigers - the Canalta Centre. It was followed by a Chinese food buffet at a local establishment, much to the delight of the players. Kris Mallette, who handles not only the duties of assistant coach but also as travel coordinator for the team, received many a fist pump from the players who walked by with a plate overflowing with all of the goodness that a Chinese buffet offers. Mallette does a bang up job with the meals. Sometimes I wonder if the players take it for granted. I for one, do not.
- The Canalta Centre is nothing short of spectacular. It is hard to imagine that it is located in Medicine Hat, considering the city of 61 thousand has had its junior hockey team play out of the antiquated, yet historically filled Medicine Hat Arena since 1970. The Canalta Centre, located on the Western outskirts of the city is massive. Seating 61 hundred fans, the 75 million dollar building is state of the art. The video score-clock alone is worth 2.5 million dollars. It is essentially 50% larger than the Medicine Hat Arena with massive 52 foot ceilings that make you look up in amazement. The Tigers home dressing room is not complete, so they are using the visitors dressing room for this season. The visiting team, which is the Rockets in this case, use an expandable dressing room which is opposite of where the benches on the ice are located. The first event in the new building was a concert features the Canadian Tenors on September 23rd. The Tigers held their home opener in the new building three days later.
- Note worthy performances on this trip include a fight 19 year-old Rodney Southam had with Red Deer Rebels forward Evan Polei Saturday night. It wasn't the fact that Southam dominated the fight, which he didn't, but he had the will to get his nose dirty and drop the gloves with arguably one of the toughest players in the Eastern Conference. Polei is in the heavy weight category. Southam is not. Polei's fight card included two tilts with Keegan Kanzig last season and tussles with Taylor Crunk and Mason Geertsen. Southam is a warrior and is a tremendous teammate. He appears to be respected and liked by all of his team-mates. When you see him answer the bell, is it plausible that he should be considering as the captain this season? He is a very inspiring player to watch because he exudes 'team player'.
- Jeff Truitt is looking forward to May when the Red Deer Rebels host the 2016 Master Card Memorial Cup. Truitt was an assistant coach with the Kelowna Rockets when they hosted the 2004 Memorial Cup in Kelowna. "We told the players that we are not going to talk about it. We want to go through the front door and progress. We want to win the division, the conference and the league. We have to stay focused and the older group we do have, they handle it very well", Truitt told me Saturday night. Truitt, an associate coach with the Rebels, says the key is providing a formidable host when the puck drops in late May. "This is a once in a life time thing to host. You don't want to be an embarrassment when you are out of the playoffs early or go 0 and 4 at the tournament. We like the group we have now and we will see where it goes".
- You will want to watch the WHL plays of the week for a massive save goaltender Michael Herringer made Saturday night against Red Deer. Out of position and essentially down and out, Herringer dove across the net and took away a sure goal from Rebels forward Presten Kopeck with a tremendous glove hand grab. Kopeck couldn't believe it, nor the 55 hundred fans in attendance. I hope it makes the plays of the week. It deserves that form of recognition.
- With a 4-2-0-0 record, let's remember the Rockets didn't play with it's entire line-up until Sunday in Lethbridge. Jackson Whistle came back from a three game injury. Dillon Dube was back from a two game suspension. Nick Merkey, who missed the first three games of the season with an injury suffered in Coyotes camp, was out when Whistle and Dube were healthy. Now that new head coach Brad Ralph has every weapon to work with, let's see what the defending WHL champions can do.
- Peter Anholt is a former head coach of the Kelowna Rockets. Anholt, now the GM of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, spent some time with me Sunday to reflect on his two year stint with the Rockets organization in the mid 90's. Anholt remembers coaching a young 17 year-old defenceman by the name of Kris Mallette. "He was one of the crew of tough guys we had. He was a hard worker and he made our team because he was a hard worker and a good team guy. We matched Kris and Karel Betik head to head against the Hossa line in Portland and both did a real good job against a good team. I know Portland didn't want to play us at all in the playoffs. I was told later that they threw their last game so they didn't have to play us. You always have certain players that bring a smile to your face when their name is mentioned and Kris is one of those players".
- I liked a conversation I had Monday with rookie defenceman Gordie Ballmore. Knowing little about his personality before our interview, the 18 year-old is well spoken and appears to be a great addition to the team. He too is experiencing a steep learning curve in his first season in the WHL. "It pushes you to be better when you are playing the best of the best. You have guys that could play in the NHL next season, so it pushes you to stop them and it makes you play better". Who was the last Kelowna Rockets player with the first name Gordie? No one. Geordie Wudrick played with the Rockets but no Gordie has ever worn a Rockets uniform.