Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Random thoughts

Nick Merkley at morning skate in Lethbridge
  •  A 9 hour bus ride is painful from Kelowna to Lethbridge. It is the honest truth. You have a sense of relief once you arrive that the travel will be much better on this three game Central Division road swing. The drive from Lethbridge to Red Deer is 3 and a half hours, which is easy street by Western Conference standards. From Red Deer to Edmonton is about an hour and a half, so again, another easy bus ride. I often wonder if players in the Eastern Conference realize how good they've got it when it comes to travel? Ok, Brandon, you are excluded from the conversation. 
  • Last fall when the Rockets made a trip out to Alberta for three games, the weather was significantly warmer. It was often sunny and in the 20's, which was balmy for this time of the year. Today in Lethbridge, different story. It is a more seasonable +4 with prairie wind. Oh, the prairie wind. Growing up in Swift Current, the wind was an every day element. Now that I've been in BC for a significant amount of time, specifically in Kelowna where a windy day is 20 kilometers an hour, the wind stands out like someone poking you in the eye. People here aren't phased though. They are a hardy bunch. When I think of the prairie wind, I think of Bryan Adams hit single, 'Cuts Like a Knife'. 
  • The gas prices in Alberta blow me away. While they vary, when a Petro-Can is displaying a price of 94.9 cents a litre, it shows how much we are being bent over the gas barrel in BC, specifically in Kelowna. No wonder I witnessed a Lethbridge driver in his large pickup truck racing from stop light to stop light. I would too if fuel was that cheap back home. It would be hammer down on every green light I encountered. 
  • The new catch phrase used to be, 'It is what it is'. The new catch phrase in my opinion now is 'That is above my pay grade.' 
  • The Rockets morning skate is always interesting to watch following a long road trip. The players have to get the kinks out after expending no energy on the bus during a long day of travel. I always look for crispness in passing and overall mental focus. While a morning skate doesn't necessarily indicate how the team will preform that evening, I rather see some positive signs of energy than a listless group. I thought the team had good energy here in Lethbridge in the brief workout.  
  • The mood is lite in the dressing room despite a 1 and 4 start to the season. And honestly, it should be. Nick Merkley is back with the team and will be a threat to score every time he is on the ice. The 19 year-old also makes players around him better. My belief is one player, if elite like Merkley is, can make a major impact in the fortunes of the team. The Arizona Coyotes first rounder makes a physical impact on the ice but also lifts the spirits of teammates which translates into a mental boost. The most impressive aspect of Merkley, in my brief conversation with him this morning, was his mindset being sent back to junior. He seems focused and ready to play.
  • Shot blockers. Do you know what they are? They are a protective piece attached to the skate of a player to protect the foot/angle from pucks while attempting to block a shot. More and more players were wearing them during the morning skate. They look somewhat ugly, but it be better to have them than a broken foot because they don't look cool. If I'm a penalty killer - hello Rodney Southam - I'm wearing them religiously. For the record, the Rockets captain sports a pair and isn't hesitant in getting into shooting lanes.
  • Speaking of Southam, it appears he is a pretty big Blue Jays fan. He was fashioning a Blue Jays jersey Tuesday on the bus and is a supporter of 'Canada's Team'. What a ball game that was last night. I was watching it like a hawk when we arrived at our Lethbridge hotel and my phone was going off following the three run home-run from friends watching across Canada. Yes, many, many people are interested in the Jays. Anyone who isn't is missing out on sports drama at its finest. 
  • This road trip allows me to get to know some of the younger players on the roster. Often scared of the radio guy by the way we look (Ok, some of us aren't that ugly), they start opening up a little more once they see that we are indeed human. Sixteen year-old Nolan Foote seems like a good dude. Foote has been sitting directly behind me during this road trip and has a pleasant demeanour about him. What nickname did the players give him? 'Little Footer'. Nolan's older brother Cal is just known as 'Footer'. 
  • My biggest surprise before the morning skate was an interview with rookie Kyle Topping for the first time. I was impressed how relaxed and well spoken he was in our first encounter.  I am not saying he was long winded and told many out of school tales, but he came across really well in my four minute conversation with him. You can hear the interview on our pre-game show at 5:30 pacific standard time. 
  • Head Coach Jason Smith better be prepared for his visit to Edmonton on Friday. While the team is basing out of Red Deer, which means no overnight stay in the City of Champions, several scribes from Edmonton newspapers will be on hand to speak with the former Oilers captain about his new role as a WHL coach.
  • I am not sure if Calvin Thurkauf will play tonight. The 19 year-old was hurt Friday in Prince George and didn't play the next night against the Cougars in the rematch. Thurkauf, who has a real outgoing personality, did skate this morning in Lethbridge and looked fine to me. 
  • Getting back to Nolan Foote, he has been cleared to play after being diagnosed with mono this summer. Foote will make his debut on this trip, likely in Edmonton if I'm a guessing man.     


g.k said...

Hi Regan just wondered if Dube is going to be playing on this road trip?? No mention of him on the scoresheet lastnight or on the Rockets stats page?? Injured or still at camp??

Regan Bartel said...

Hurt. Week to week.