Monday, October 24, 2016

Rockets finding mojo

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Feeling a little bit better about the Kelowna Rockets now? The team is riding a three game winning streak after earning two points over the Everett Silvertips, Tri City Americans and Seattle Thunderbirds. They are making life a lot easier on themselves by opening up the scoring and are leading the game heading into the third period. Funny how that lessens the pressure on a team that scored only 16 goals in the first 8 games. That was an average of 2 goals per game. In the last five games, the team has scored 16 goals or 3.2 goals per game. 
  • One NHL scout who watches the Rockets extensively says you really need to ignore the first two weeks of the regular season. It isn't a true indication of how good or how bad a team is. If that is indeed the case, then we should erase from our memory the slow start the team had in the first seven games where they went 3 and 4.  
  • The most significant improvement I've noticed in the teams turnaround is the commitment to 'sell out' for one another. That means blocking shots, getting into shooting lanes and committing to defending. Lucas Johansen is blocking shots. Devante Stephens is having his stick snapped in two by getting a piece of a slap shot from an opponents stick. Rodney Southam is sacrificing his body. No one is exempt from shying away from a puck coming at them with velocity. It is impressive to watch. The team had no where near that commitment level one season ago. Makes you wonder how much head coach Jason Smith plays into that? He probable demands it. 
  • You win with your older players. It is a known fact at the NHL level and the WHL is no different. That said, it is nice to see rookies make an impression on the ice and with their new teammates. Kyle Topping's three goal effort in only his 11th WHL game is an early season highlite. It is such a rare feat for a rookie, yet alone a 16 year-old, to score three goals in one game. Topping, who is regarded as a 17 year-old in hockey years (turns 17 November 18th) scored his first career goal on a nice feed from 15 year-old Nolan Foote. How integral will those two players be in years to come as two of the teams offensive spark plugs? When rookies can chip in offensively, it sure makes the job of winning games so much easier for a Rockets team that doesn't have the offensive depth they did one season ago.     
  • Jack Cowell did what he needed to do. After dressing in the first six games of the season, the 17 year-old was a healthy scratch in five of the next six games. When he was inserted in the lineup Saturday in Seattle, Cowell scored his first career WHL goal and looked a lot more composed with the puck. Players don't like to admit it, but learning the game by watching from above in the stands is beneficial, specifically for rookie players. It gives them a better sense/understanding of how much time they have with or without the puck at this level. Cowell obviously absorbed what he was watching while being a health scratch and made the most of his return to the line-up with a solid effort.      
  • The biggest change from a season ago is the way the d-core is being used to join the attack. It is absolutely awesome. A defenceman is routinely joining the rush in some capacity. It looks eerily similar to the Portland Winterhawks from last season, who seemed to active the d-men under head coach Jamie Kompon. It simply provides another layer of offensive, and when used properly, it can really put pressure on the opposition. The Rockets have the personnel to activate the d-core with everyone returning from a season ago. What was a sign of weakness last season should now be an area of strength.  
  • Another aspect of the teams play that has improved is its discipline. A work in progress, fewer lazy penalties are being taken and the team isn't expending excessive energy on the penalty kill. The hooking, holding and tripping penalties are always the back breakers. Control your stick and make an extra stride to get better body positioning on an opponent. It takes a little extra work but goes a long way between winning and losing.
  • While Kyle Topping scored three goals Saturday night in Seattle, for my money, the most consistent rookie this season has been Nolan Foote. The 15 year-old (turns 16 November 29th) is always around the puck and likes to shoot it. I love that mentality. That said, Foote isn't a greedy player and will make smart plays to distribute it when he recognizes a teammate in a better scoring area. What I like most about Foote is his battle level. I think his compete and willingness to get involved in loose battles for pucks is exceedingly good. I don't see 'lazy' in his game at all.  It would be interesting to see the number of shots Nolan Foote takes per game. For a first year player, those numbers have to be fairly high.         
  • The team has won three straight games and still hasn't seen veteran forward Nick Merkley break out....yet. With no goals in his first 8 games, it is only a matter of time before he becomes a constant threat when he is out there. Playing with Jake Kryski and Calvin Thurkauf, those three are bound to make some noise in the offensive zone. It is interesting that Thurkauf has moved into the middle with Merkley and Kryski now on the wings. 
  • To think the team has yet to play with Dillon Dube in the line up. That is 13 games and counting without the point a game player. In the 2014-2015 season, then as a 16 year-old rookie, Dube played only three regular season games in the first two months of the season because of injury. After scoring 17 goals as a rookie and 26 in his second season, you would think in the range of 30 to 40 goals would be possible in his 18 year-old season?
  • The Kelowna Rockets are now 7-0-0-0 against the Tri City Americans on home ice dating back 5 seasons. That is the most success they have had of any team in the U.S Division over that time frame. Everett is next on that list, having failed to beat the Rockets in regulation time in 7 straight appearances (at Prospera Place). The Rockets are 5-0-2-0 in those seven games against the Tips. 
  • A trip across the U.S border crossing often provides for a unique experience. The team routinely reports the number of players on board the bus to the border guard and breaks down those numbers by nationality. With Calvin Thurkauf holding dual citizenship, the Swiss born forward has with him his Canadian passport. Thurkauf's father is Canadian. The Foote brothers, Cal and Nolan, also have dual citizenship and carry Canadian passports with them as well.  
  • Good luck to Nolan Foote and assistant coach Travis Crickard at the Under 17's in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The two won't be with the team for possibly the next six games.
  • Michael Herringer is the WHL Goaltender of the Week. The 20 year-old went 3-0-0-0 with a goals against average of 1.99.  

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