Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Two to tend the twine

Liam Kindree - Shoot the Breeze photography 
  • My belief is three rookies on the Kelowna Rockets roster this season will make an immediate impact. Seventeen year-old Liam Kindree will have a real good year. Sent back to midget last year rather than keep him around in his 16 year-old season, Kindree showed determination, avoided sulking and ended up leading the BCMMHL in scoring. Fellow 17 year-old Czech Republic born defenceman Libor Zabransky will need to adjust to the North American game, but once he gets used to the speed and smaller ice surface, I can't see why the smooth skating defender can't impress in his first season in the WHL. The other rookie to make an impact will be 16 year-old Kaedan Korczak. He too will get better and better as the season goes along.  Korczak has excelled at every level he's played and I don't see things changing. Oh ya, it will take some time before he is completely comfortable, but Rockets fans have three solid rookies that will look anything but when April rolls around.             
  • Brodan Salmond was the returning player I really wanted to watch closely during the WHL pre-season. How would he preform with the opportunity to start the season as the #1 goalie? Salmond finished the exhibition schedule with a goals against average of 0.67 and a save percentage of .982. That's right, the about to turn 19 year-old stopped 56 of the 57 shots taken his way. Again, it is a small sample size when teams don't dress elite players, but Salmond in no way laid an egg in the three games he played. That is why Salmond is the teams starter. He beat out a challenge from free agent Cody Porter, who was a year younger. Management clearly wants to use a 20 year-old spot at forward, which in my opinion is the best move.   
  • I haven't quite been able to figure out Salmond's style. He isn't acrobatic. He glides horizontally side-to-side well, but rarely goes to the butterfly when a shot is taken. A stand up goalie, his style is reminiscent of what we witnessed when Shane Bendera wore Kelowna Rockets colours in the 2001-2002 season? Acquired from the Red Deer Rebels for Carsen Germyn and goalie Jason Stone, Bendera let pucks hit him, not the other way around. Bendera was almost motionless in the net and would never over commit. The stance that Salmond exhibits is almost a carbon copy of Bendera.  At 5'11, Bendera was the playoff MVP when he led the Red Deer Rebels to a WHL title in 2000-2001 and had the lowest against average in the WHL that season . Bendera was named the Rockets MVP a season later.      
  • Rookie goaltender Roman Basran will play this season with the Okanagan Rockets in the BC Major Midget Hockey League. That is a great spot for the 16 year-old to develop. You do not have to rush Basran's development.   
  • Kyle Topping led the Kelowna Rockets in pre-season scoring with 2+4=6 in four games. The second year forward was followed closely by sophomore forward Leif Mattson, who scored a team high three goals and collected 5 points. Mattson, who I think could have a great year if given the chance, also led the team with a +4 rating.
  • The Kelowna Rockets aren't sure what type of players they've picked in June's CHL Import draft. Neither 17 year-old defenceman Libor Zabransky nor 18 year-old forward Marek Skvrne have played a game yet for their new team. Zabransky missed all four pre-season games after being injured at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament while Skvrne returned to the Czech Republic to finish high school exams.  General Manager Bruce Hamilton says it will be a steep learning curve for Zabransky, not because of the smaller North American ice surface, but the number of games/travel that can take its toll on a first year player. Both Zabransky and Skvrne are expected to be ready to play when the Rockets open the regular season next Friday against the Kamloops Blazers.
  • How badly will WHL visiting public address announcers butcher Skvrne's name this season? Reading it cold will be funny. Some will take a pregnant pause before either saying it quickly in frustration while  some will grind it out and stumble and bumble in an effort to get it right. Skvrne's last name is pronounced (Skrin-ya).
  • The Kelowna Rockets played only four pre-season games. The team went 3-0-0-1. Is that enough games to prepare for the regular season? Does it give young, aspiring rookies a chance to show they can play at this level? While the lack of game action may have them shaking off the rink rust on opening night,  the lack of games can't but reduce the risk of injury. While the Rockets are playing a WHL low four exhibition games the Tri City Americans are on the ice an astonishing eight times. 

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