- The Kamloops Blazers should have an axe to grind with the Kelowna Rockets. The Rockets have ended their BC Division rivals season not once, but twice in the last two years. In the 2016 playoffs, Tomas Soustal scored the game winning goal in overtime lifting the Rockets to a game seven series win. Then in March, the Rockets advanced to the second round with a six game series victory. Don’t be fooled by how the playoffs ended a season ago. The Blazers won 6 of 10 regular season meetings last season, spoiling Jason Smith’s head coaching debut with a 9-2 drubbing on opening night.
- While Smith had the last laugh with a playoff series win, the second year coach will want to see his team get off to a much better start than they did in 2016-2017. For those with a short memory, the team lost seven of its first 10 games before finding its footing.
- The Rockets will be without marquee forward Dillon Dube when the two teams clash Friday night at Prospera Place. Dube has played good enough to earn a third look in a pre-season game when the Calgary Flames face the Arizona Coyotes. The pride of Golden BC, who makes Cochrane Alberta his off-season home, is doing everything right in an effort to open the eyes of the Flames coaching staff. It shouldn't be a surprise that Dube is playing so well considering it is his second NHL training camp after being drafted by the Flames in the second round in 2016.
- With the loss of Calvin Thurkauf and Nick Merkley (both will play pro this season), only Kole Lind (87) and Cal Foote (57) had more points than Dube last season. Dube played only 40 regular season games last year, earning 20 goals and 55 points. That is an average of 1.38 points per game compared to Lind’s 1.24 points per game. Lind played in 70 games a season ago.
- The Rockets will play this season without MVP Calvin Thurkauf, playoff MVP Reid Gardiner and Nick Merkley. That was arguably the team’s best line during the 2017 post season. Combined, those three players racked up 170 points. That’s a massive loss of offense. The team scored 283 goals last season, the third most in the WHL with Regina and Medicine Hat leading the way. Do you remember all the talk before last season's puck drop and the questions surrounding the teams expected struggles to score? With the loss of Rourke Chartier, Justin Kirkland and Tyson Baillie the Rockets were doomed. Not so fast. Last year’s team scored 14 more goals than in 2015-2016. Other players were able to pick up the slack. I anticipate that happening again this season.
- I am really looking forward to watching rookie 17 year-old Libor Zabransky play. The Czech Republic born d-man has seen no game action after missing the four pre-season games with an injured suffered at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
- Speaking of import players, do the Rockets use overage forward Tomas Soustal on opening night? They have room for him considering fellow 20 year-old Carsen Twarynski remains at the training camp with the Philadelphia Flyers. Or does the team go with the two younger euros they have on their roster in Zabransky and fellow Czech Marek Skvrne (Skrin-ya)? Skvrne hasn't played a game either at the WHL level after going back home to finish up his high school exams before returning to the junior team that drafted him in June.
- Who wears the 'C' on opening night? It will be interesting to watch.
- Second year forward Erik Gardiner won't play in the home opener. The 18 year-old is sidelined another three weeks with what the team is calling a lower body injury.
- Before the season starts, don't get carried away with WHL officiating this season. They are an easy target, but I find it soooo weak when people use it as an excuse for the demise of the team they support. Have you paid any attention to NHL/NFL/MLB/CFL officiating over the last couple of months? Give these guys a break that get paid a pittance of what others make to call a game. They are not flawless because they too are human. Please remember that.
Thursday, September 21, 2017
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