Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Brown joins Rockets staff

Adam Brown - Shoot the Breeze Photography
The Kelowna Rockets have added a familiar face to it's coaching staff.

Twenty four year-old Adam Brown will be the teams 'eye in the sky' in the press box at home games this season and will help out with the goaltenders.

Brown played four seasons with the Rockets from 2008 until 2012 before eventually turning pro.

Now the Yorba Linda, California resident is back with his old junior team.

"It is a bit different seeing the game from the the other side.  You understand what the coaches were thinking a bit more than when we were playing. It is a really good opportunity. I am excited to be here and work with a high level team."

Brown played pro hockey last season in Europe before electing to retire this summer.

"The passion and love for the game wasn't as high as it used to be. When you are doing something like playing a sport, if the passion and the love isn't there you might as well move on to something that is a little more long term", Brown added.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Roster spots still up for grabs

  • My goaltending knowledge is limited, but Brodan Salmond has, in my opinion, made a positive impression at Kelowna Rockets main camp. Only in his second season, one must still qualify him as a rookie considering his lack of playing time at the WHL level. Salmond, a 10th round bantam pick in 2013, bursted onto the scene last season in an effort to back up Michael Herringer when Jackson Whistle went down with two bum hips. The Rockets really had no other option. Salmond saw action in just seven games. Salmond has come into camp looking impressive and appears to be on track to solidify the back up spot. Clearly the soft spoken goalie has made some hug strides with his game this off season. Salmond sports new pads and gloves too. What Salmond must do, now, is push Herringer to be better. Don't be satisfied with second best. Secure the backup spot but really pressure/push Herringer for the number one duties. If Salmond can do that, it benefits him, Herringer and the team. 
  • It is abundantly clear that 18 year-old forward Jake Kryski will start the season at centre. Kryski spent the majority of last season in a Kamloops Blazers uniform playing the wing.  It will be interesting to see who Kryski plays with this season. Considered a shooter by some, does he find himself with a passing winger? Is the Rockets best passing winger Nick Merkley? Ask Rourke Chartier how much success he had playing with Merkley. It would be interesting to see if those two play together and if chemistry can be formed.
  • Who is #1 wearing a blue jersey at main camp this week? Wait a second, let me look at my line-up sheet. He sure looks poised. Oh, it's 15 year-old Kaedan Korczak according to my program. I really, really like this player. Sorry for the premature hype, but this guy has game.  
  • I had to look the other day at my line-up sheet to see who was wearing #5 in blue. It turned out to be Kelvin Hair. Is the 16 year-old rookie ready to make a jump into the deep end of the pool this season? Hair is a 6th round bantam pick from two seasons ago and played at Okanagan Hockey Academy. Does he have a shot to make the team? Let's see what he does in pre-season if he indeed is around to get his feet wet. 
  • Training camp isn't only a great time for the player to get up to speed for another WHL season, but the officials can also fine tune their game. Kelowna referee Steve Papp has been working out the kinks and getting up to game speed by officiating the Rockets scrimmages. It is a nice resource for the players to have as Papp communicates with them on what will and won't be tolerated when the real season starts.  
  • I am not sure what changes have been made over the course of the summer at Prospera Place, but the speaker system really needs an upgrade. I hope it has been addressed to make the sound clearer.  Louder doesn't necessarily mean better. If it is crisp and clear, it doesn't need to rattle the China Cabinet.  
  • NHL players living in Kelowna often skate at Prospera Place before one by one, leaving for their respective teams for the upcoming season. On Monday, the likes of Brent Seabrook, Tyler Myers, Justin Schultz, Luke Schenn, Josh Gorges, Blake Comeau and Andrew Ladd were involved in a high paced workout. Jordon Tootoo was there along with goaltenders James Reimer, Leland Irving and Devan Dubnyk. 
  • Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey has admitted his team will have to score by committee this season. Is that so bad? Is it not better to have six players score 15 or more goals than two players who score 30 or more? The 2015 WHL championship Kelowna Rockets had 8 players with 15 or more goals. Only one player had 40 goals or more. Who was it? Rourke Chartier (48). 
  • I was once criticized by a listener for playing favourites. This individual thought I spoke more glowingly about one player over another. Truth is they may be right. I gravitate to players that work hard no matter what the skill set. If you put the team above yourself and play as hard when the puck is off your stick then on it, you've got me hooked. The prototypical team players look like Ryan Cuthbert, Brett Palin and Josh Gorges. Is it any wonder that all three are former captains?    

Friday, August 26, 2016

Questions to be answered as main camp opens

  • With rookie camp in the rear view mirror, it is time for Kelowna Rockets fans to get excited about the new faces that will battle for a spot on this years roster and the veteran players that return a year older and likely a year smarter. It amazes me season-to-season how a player improves his personal stats from a year ago. This is often the result of being placed in more crucial situation to create offense, whether it be in a top six forward role or simply more power play time. Every player believes they should see playing time on the power play, but if I am a betting man, new head coach Jason Smith won't hand it out like you would candy at a parade. Players need to earn it. 
  • The Kelowna Rockets lose two significant scorers in Tyson Baillie and Rourke Chartier.  Baillie will play at the U of A this fall and Chartier will play pro as a signed player in the San Jose Sharks system. So, where does the offense come from? Sure, the team loses two former 40 goal scorers (Chartier had 48 goals in 2014-2015) but isn't there enough players returning to dominate the puck? Dillon Dube had an inconsistent season last year, so you would think he would be in for a breakout year?  Jake Kryski, acquired from Kamloops in the Joe Gatenby trade has to be better than his 12 goals from last season showed. No pressure Jake, but can't the 18 year-old find the back of the net 20 times this season? Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf combined for 38 goals a year ago. Surely 40 goals between those two can be easily attained.  Don't forget sophomore forward Kole Lind either. This guy has great finish despite struggles in the final two months of the regular season where he didn't score in his final 30 regular season games.
  • Tomas Soustal won the 5k run during fitness testing on Friday at the Apple Bowl. Rourke Chartier has owned this event over the years. While it isn't the only event that shows who trained hard this summer and who didn't, I think the run is the best indicator of cardio performance and the dedication and determination of the individual to get better.         
  • Six goaltenders are in main camp including 20 year-old Michael Herringer and second year netminder Brodan Salmond. Salmond has the inside track for the back up spot. I will be interested to see how he has come along in his efforts to solidify that position, or does 16 year-old James Porter make a strong push at main camp? The Rockets like Porter, who was a 7th round pick in the 2015 draft. Porter is an American, who lives in Idaho but played hockey at prep-school (Edge) near Calgary. The back up spot may be interesting to watch.
  • I am interested in seeing Jake Kryski in Kelowna Rockets colours. After not being drafted this summer, his motivation level, you would think, would be sky high. Was Kryski put into ideal situations in Kamloops to succeed last season? The Blazers would say yes. Kryski, under his breath, will likely say no. While it is increasingly difficult to score at the WHL level as opposed to bantam, you don't just lose your scoring touch after scoring 59 times with the Burnaby Winter Club do you? My belief is Kryski really wants to play in Kelowna, so having a better mindset should only help him in his effort to find the back of the net more often this season. How hard will he play against Don Hay and the Blazers this season? As hard as Joe Gatenby will play against the Rockets in his 19 year-old season.  
  • How will Kaedan Korczak perform against the veterans? The 15 year-old first rounder was a stud in rookie camp and stood out more than any first rounder since Shane McColgan owned the ice a few years ago with his yellow helmet on his head. Korczak will play on Team  Blue and will likely be paired at times with d-man Jonathan Smart or Devante Stephens.
  • Speaking of Stephens, this is a big training camp for the 19 year-old rearguard. Ya, 19. When you are in that age group of players born in 1997, you have to make an impact. You can't play behind younger players. You need to be a 'go-to-guy'. At forward, Tate Coughlin also has to step up or younger players will pass him.
  • Last season at this time, Jonathan Smart was battling mono. How nice must it be to head into training camp healthy and playing with a boat load of confidence after playing for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka? 
  • Are the Rockets content with their three 20 year-old's? Riley Stadel and Rodney Southam are the forwards with Michael Herringer a lock as the starting goaltender. If Justin Kirkland under performs with the Nashville Predators AHL affiliate and returns to Kelowna, the waters get muddy awfully quick. 
  • Watch for Ryan Topping at main camp. A 16 year-old rookie who plays centre. An 11th round bantam pick, lets see what he can do in his first crack of making the team. 
  • Workouts this weekend start at 9 am Saturday and Sunday, but it is the game action that is most interesting for the fans. Games are played after every practice session at 10:45 am and 5:45 pm. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rookie d-man is the real deal

Rockets scout Bob Fawcett
  • Fifteen year-old defenceman Kaedan Korczak is the real deal. I saw it for myself this morning during day two of on-ice sessions as rookie camp continues at Prospera Place. A first round bantam pick in May's draft, the Yorkton resident clearly stands out from the rest of the 80 hopefuls. Korczak is big, but what really stands out is his poise with the puck. Korczak, when pressured, is able to buy time with his skating ability before finding an open forward. Korczak, who is expected to get in no less than one WHL pre-season game, especially stood out when the two teams on the ice were playing three-on-three. Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey has openly suggested that Korczak could make the team now as an underage player. I will wait judgment until I see him participate with the veterans at main camp, but I'm betting that Frey is right on the money when assessing Korczak's development.
  • I had a chance to speak for the first time with 15 year-old goaltender Roman Basran. A third round bantam pick in 2016, Basran is a big goaltender that could be 'guardian of the goal' for years to come. While soft spoken, the Delta, BC resident is driven when asked about his aspirations of playing in the WHL in the future. Basran told me he wants to make the team as a 16 year-old next season. I love that response. Wearing Kelowna Rockets colours as a 16 year-old goaltender is something we haven't seen in these parts since Josh Lepp was a back up to Jason Stone in 2001. Stone would eventually be traded to the Red Deer Rebels in the Carson Germyn deal for netminder Shane Bendera.   
  • The difference in size between one player and the next at rookie camp is always amazing. The smallest player is Kieran Thiessen at 5'6, 112 pounds followed by Brett Rylance at 5'5 and 120 pounds. The biggest is Cayde Augustine at 5'11, 212. Augustine is only 14. 
  •  Junior hockey scouts definitely don't chose their profession for the money. They do it simply for the love of the game. Bob Fawcett is a good example in his 17th year as a scout with the Kelowna Rockets. The Saskatoon resident has high praise for Lorne Frey, who has been the teams director of player personnel since its inception in 1991. Fawcett calls Frey, 'The best in the business'. Fawcett is spending the week in Kelowna, attending Rockets rookie camp.
  • Where do I watch rookie camp? Typically on the other side of the arena away from the parents. I just find it much easier to concentrate. 
  • In the morning ice session, veteran defencemen Gordie Ballhorn and Lucas Johansen were the officials on the ice. 
  • Several nice hits in the early morning session as the players become more comfortable and the intensity and animosity increased.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rockets/Blazers make second trade in 10 months

Jake Kryski - Shoot the Breeze Photography
When Gage Quinney was traded to the Kamloops Blazers last October by the Kelowna Rockets for a third round bantam pick, it marked the first time in recent memory that these two arch WHL rivals were able to agree on a player swap.

No bickering? No hatred? No turmoil? Nope.

Fast forward just shy of 10 months later and the two sides are at it again.

The Rockets have acquired 18 year-old Jake Kryski from the Blazers for 19 year-old defenceman Joe Gatenby and his younger brother Danny. Gatenby was named the Rockets top defenceman last season and had a team best +31.

Kryski is entering his third season in the WHL after scoring 12 goals and collecting 39 points in 67 games last season. Originally a first round WHL bantam pick of the Prince Albert Raiders, Kryski was traded to the Blazers in a July 10/2013 deal that saw goaltender Cole Cheveldave and a 4th round bantam pick go to the Raiders.

Before playing in the WHL, Kryski played midget hockey with the Okanagan Rockets.
Highly touted in bantam, the 1998 born Kryski scored 59 goals in bantam hockey with the Burnaby Winter Club.