Monday, August 21, 2017

Back in the saddle

Brodan Salmond - Shoot the Breeze Photo 
  • How was your summer? The summer of 2017 will go down as one of the best - ever. Our family had the privileged of spending two weekends down in Osoyoos; one at Walnut Beach Resort and another at Spirit Ridge Resort. We explored Fairmont Hot Springs, a place we prairie people simply adored when I was a kid. I had the chance to take my boys white water rafting for the first time in Golden, BC thanks to Alpine Rafting. Alpine should be your only choice for getting thrills while going down the Kicking Horse River in a safe manner. Throw in a little golf at Black Mountain GC and Shannon Lake/Two Eagles and it was one of the best on record. It wasn't all leisure. Garage doors were painted, trees were trimmed and gutters cleaned, but the grunt work was taken care of way back in June. I could have done without the forest fire smoke, but hey, our entire family felt we took full advantage of the off-time that only summer provides. 
  • Let's talk some hockey. For me, the biggest question mark heading into Kelowna Rockets training camp is goaltending. With the graduation of Michael Herringer, who will play this season at the University of Regina, the question must be asked if Brodan Salmond is able to carry the mail as the teams #1 goalie? The 18 year-old has 30 starts under his belt at the WHL level and the coaching staff have done a nice job of shielding him. The Calgary resident has been given the chance to get his feet wet at the major junior level with starts against what would be considered lower tier competition. That's the way it should be. A 10th round bantam pick in 2013, Salmond will be given a chance to show he is worthy of being a starter. I've been asked repeatedly this summer if the Rockets are looking at making a trade for a veteran goalie? This is nothing new for an organization that acquired Michael Herringer, Jackson Whistle, Mark Guggenberger, Kelly Guard and Shane Bendera via trade in order to shore up one of the most crucial positions on the ice. 
  • It will be interesting to watch 16 year-old rookie goaltender Roman Basran at main camp. Can the Delta, BC product push Salmond? Is Basran even being considered for the back up spot, or is the goalie of the future better served by playing more games at a lower level?  Let's not forget about 17 year-old James Porter either. The 7th round pick of the Rockets from 2015 spent time with the team last season during its run towards a fourth consecutive birth in the Western Conference final. While only used as a practice player, does the American born goalie make a bid for the back up position? This is why training camp is always intriguing.     
  • What can you look forward too when rookie camp opens next week at Prospera Place? How about seeing the white in the eyes of 15 year-old prospect Ethan Bowen as a start. The Rockets picked the Chilliwack resident with their first selection, in the second round, in May's WHL bantam draft. Had Bowen not scared off more teams with the suggestion he is likely going the NCAA route, the slick skating forward would have been a top three pick. Instead he slid to the Rockets, who crossed their fingers and toes, and chose him 39th overall. Ethan's father says his son will attend rookie camp with an open mind of possibly choosing the WHL over the NCAA down the road. What is clear is Bowen will play for the hometown Chilliwack Chiefs before decided where his hockey path will take him. I'm just interested to see if he indeed is the real deal. I am told he is. 
  • Outside of Bowen, the other player at rookie camp that I will be watching is 15 year-old forward Ethan Ernst. A third round bantam pick of the Rockets, Erst had 19 goals playing bantam triple 'A' with the Notre Dame Hounds last season and even saw limited duty with the Hounds midget team. Heck, Erst is from Saskatchewan (Weyburn,) so he is a winner in my eyes already. 
  • Like any new season, the team has several holes to fill. Nick Merkley, Captain Rodney Southam, MVP Calvin Thurkauf, Lucas Johansen, Devante Stephens, playoff MVP Reid Gardiner and goalie Michael Herringer are no longer around. That is seven quality players missing, but the cupboards are anything but bare. When you have Dillon Dube, Kole Lind, Cal and Nolan Foote and three quality 20 year-old's returning, the team will still enter the season with a loaded gun. And like any season, players who made small contributions are asked to give more and traditionally deliver. 
  • The 20 year-old battle when main camp opens could be very interesting with four players vying for three spots. Carsen Twarynski and Tomas Soustal are the lone forwards with Gordie Ballhorn and James Hilsendager attempting to earn a spot on the blue line. My gut feeling is Soustal will turn pro as the Rockets likely wouldn't want to use a European born player for one of only three overage spots. The last time that happened was in 2000-2001 when forward Jan Fadrny scored 32 goals and led the team in scoring. Fadry was acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings that season in the Nolan Yonkman deal. 
  • Of those four 20 year-old's potentially returning, the one that made the greatest impact, in my eyes last season, was James Hilsendager. I thought he was the most physical defender by a mile and appeared to regain any confidence that may have been lost while with the Regina Pats. As we know, Hilsendager's efforts in 2016-2017 count for little entering a new season, but it sure is nice to know he isn't a weak link as one of the elder statesmen on the team.  
  • Three forwards intrigue me coming into main camp. Those three are Kyle Topping. Connor Bruggen-Cate and Leif Mattson. What strides have all three made over the summer? Are they better conditioned heading into camp? They have to be wiser with a WHL season under their belt. Or do they rest on their laurels believing a spot will be given to them regardless of what type of camp they have? Look for Ted Brennan to come into camp with extra motivation after being cut by the team as a 16 year-old. Look for second year forward Jack Cowell to make some significant strides too in an effort to earn more ice time.  
  • Topping may be the most offensively gifted of the bunch, but let's not forger about Eric Gardiner either. While playing in the shadows of older brother Reid last season. can the soon to be 18 year-old turn his game up a notch? Foot speed remains an issue, but if that area of his game improves, Eric will score some goals. The Humboldt, Saskatchewan product has demonstrated the ability to shoot the puck when finding the open area. 
  • We finally have the privilege of watching 16 year-old d-man Kaedan Korczak full time.
    Kaedan Korczak
    The Rockets first round bantam pick from 2016 should make an impact in his rookie season in the WHL. Can he be as productive as Tyson Barrie and Madison Bowey when they earned 43 and 21 points respectively in their first season while wearing Kelowna Rockets colours? Both Barrie and Bowey would eventually become team captains, would play for Canada at the World Junior's and would win WHL championships. It wouldn't surprise me if Korczak follows a similar path - eventually. How good was Korczak last season? He was named a Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League first team all-star with 11+18=29 in 42 games with the Yorkton Maulers.
  • For the first time since the 2013-2014 season, the Rockets will have the luxury of having the same head coach. Ryan Huska was the last head coach to guide the team in back-to-back seasons. Since then, Dan Lambert was one and done as was Brad Ralph. Last season, the players had to get used to new head coach Jason Smith. The good news is Smith is back and the familiarity will surely help the team get up to speed quickly in what is anticipated to be another tight race in the BC Division.    
  • That's it for now, but we have so many more things to discuss as camp opens. See you at the rink!  

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