Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Notes, quotes and anecdotes

Brad Ralph celebrating 35th birthday in PG.
  • Last Thursday, WHL teams were required to get down to three 20 year-old's. The Medicine Hat Tigers made the most obvious move by picking up overage goaltender Austin Lotz. The Tigers essentially grabbed Lotz for free after the Everett Silvertips were unable to trade him. Good deal for the Tigers and Lotz, but a bad deal for number one goaltender Nick Schneider. Schneider was signed by the NHL's Calgary Flames this summer. Schneider inked the deal in September as a free agent after falling through the cracks in the NHL draft.
  • Two interesting overage players to watch now that they've switched teams is Swift Current Broncos Jon Martin and Kamloops Blazers forward Gage Quinney. The reason? Both are off to solid starts with their respective teams. Martin is the reigning WHL Player of the Week and is tied for the league lead in scoring with 19 points. Martin, obtained from the Kootenay Ice for a 4th round pick, has 8+7=15 in six games with the Broncos. Quinney, who was acquired from the Kelowna Rockets for a 3rd round pick last week, has 4 points in two games with the Blazers and was named the first star in a win Saturday in Spokane. While it is a small body of work, the two GM's that dealt both players away likely squirm just a little bit every time they take a look at the score-sheet and see them making an impact.
  • Celebrating birthdays on the road. It happens regularly over the hockey season. I celebrated by 40th in Kamloops calling a game between the Rockets and the Blazers. New head coach Brad Ralph celebrated his 35th birthday Saturday night in Prince George. A nice touch by assistant coach Kris Mallette to offer ice cream treats to both Ralph (picture right) and forward Kole Lind, who celebrated his 17th birthday on Friday. Both ice cream treats came with a sparkler on top and team-mates singing 'Happy Birthday' in unison. 
  • The best interview of the week came from Kelowna Rockets 20 year-old Cole Linaker. I spoke to him about the Kelowna Rockets finalizing their overage situation which saw him remain in Kelowna with goaltender Jackson Whistle and forward Tyson Baillie. "In the trade market, I definitely probably wouldn't hold the trade value like Quinney because he is a scorer. I am more of a depth player on a team.  I would like to consider myself part of the teams successful culture and I hopefully will continue to be a part of it", Linaker added. Mature response from the 20 year-old who is 8 games shy of 200 for his WHL career - all in a Rockets uniform. 
  • Kelowna Rockets forward Nick Merkley isn't the only marquee forward who has returned from an NHL training camp and has struggled in the early going. The Kelowna Rockets forward has 1 goal in 8 games and has gone pointless in five of those eight games. Let's cut Merkley some slack though, considering he missed the first three games of the season after sustaining an injury at Coyotes camp. Red Deer Rebels forward Connor Bleackley, a first round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, has just 1 goal in nine games and has gone pointless in five of the nine contests. Last weekend, I had a chance to watch Prince George Cougars forward Jansen Harkins, an early second round pick of the Winnipeg Jets. Harkins, who had 79 points last season, has found the back of the net just once in seven games since returning to the WHL and wasn't the dominating player I anticipated him to be in back-to-back games last weekend. All three are too good not to make an impact this season, but even top end players go through peaks and valleys during a hockey season.
  • Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier will represent the WHL at the Subway Super Series next month. Games against the Russian Selects will be played November 9th and 10th in Kelowna and Kamloops. Victoria Royals head coach Dave Lowry will be coaching Canada's entry at the World Junior Hockey Championships and says those two games are important for both players. "It used to be a formality that you had to go through. Not anymore. We look at Lawson Crouse and Joe Hicketts, the impact that those two made at the Subway games. They both found a way to get invited to the selection camp and then eventually made our team", Lowry told me earlier this month. Lowry was an assistant coach on Canada's gold medal winning team a year ago. 
  • Prince Albert Raiders Head Coach Marc Habscheid rarely cracks a smile on the bench, but the 52 year-old has to be smiling behind closed doors with his teams play. The Raiders have points in nine of 11 games and lead the overall WHL standings with 17 points. Isn't Brandon the top team out East? I would suggest they still are but the Raiders have benefited from two trades made with the Kelowna Rockets last season. Austin Glover (13 points in 11 games) is delivering the mail and 20 year-old Jesse Lees (10 points in 11 games) has made an impact. Mark November 15th on the calender. That is the night the Raiders face the Wheat Kings in Brandon in a clash of possibly the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. I would love to be in the building to see that one.
  • Good on the Raiders from benefiting from that trade with the Rockets. I am sincere with that comment. While Bruno Campese was roasted at the time for dealing Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey to the eventual WHL champions, it looks like former Raiders general manager made a wiser decision than the so called 'experts' had thought. The trade appears to be working for both sides, and isn't that the way it is supposed to work?
  • Does any player smile more than Dillon Dube? The backhand beauty that he scored Saturday night in Prince George should get a good look on the WHL plays of the week.
  • A quick stop in Prince George this weekend has me cheering for the ownership group there. They are doing so many things right. They are offering the players the best experience possible, and while wanting to make a profit, President Greg Pocock and his group isn't scared to spend money to make them a model franchise. Word is the Cougars are looking at buying a new bus. The price tag would be in the neighbourhood of north of 800 grand.
  • Tanner Wishnowski is out four to six weeks with an upper body injury. The Kelowna Rockets forward was hurt Friday in a 3-0 loss to the Prince George Cougars. I won't get into the specific injury, but you can relax. It is not a concussion that essentially sidelined him for the majority of last season.

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