Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer arrives/Hockey talk is endless

Leif Mattson - Shoot the Breeze Photo 
  • Hello first day of Summer! Man, you look good. I love this time of the year. The weather is terrific and while quiet in arena's across the Western Hockey League, it is anything but dormant when it comes to hockey talk. The majority of the focus is on Dallas, Texas where this year’s NHL Draft will be held. The Kelowna Rockets have essentially four players that could hear their names called on Saturday. Kyle Topping is a sure bet to be selected, considering he was rated throughout the season by NHL Central Scouting as a mid to late round selection. Libor Zabransky and Leif Mattson also have a chance to hear their name called. I think Libor will get a good look despite what many scouts believe was an underwhelming rookie season in the WHL. 
  • The most intriguing Rockets player to watch for is Leif Mattson. Never ranked by NHL Central Scouting in either the season opening or midterm rankings, the 18 year-old intrigued enough people with a strong showing in his sophomore season to make NHLCS's third and final rankings in April. Mattson scored a career high 25 goals this past season and earned 60 points in 63 games. A project no doubt, but a 46 point improvement from his rookie campaign says something about his tremendous upside.
  • I spoke to Mattson, via phone, on Wednesday. Typical Leif Mattson. Always engaging. I just like the personality of the player. He comes across so well in any dialogue I have had with him. Whether it's an interview or just shooting the @*&%, he carries himself very well for a teenager. Trust me, I know. I deal with twin 15 year-old boys who are often tight lipped and don't show much of a pulse. It is an awkward stage in life where confidence is an issue. Dillon Dube and Kole Lind are two recent players that had zeal for life and knew how to carry themselves well. Leif Mattson, in my encounters, comes off the same way. Is it taught? Is it learned? Some of it is genetic. Some players are shy, reserved and isolate themselves from others. Sadly, my belief is more junior players are that way, but now we are getting into the psychology side of the discussion, so let's move on. While Mattson failed to make the opening two NHLCS draft lists, I rather appear on the final one in April than be left off it. 
  • Another player that potentially could get re-drafted is about to be 20 year-old Brayden Chizen. The big man failed to sign a contract with the NHL's Minnesota Wild on July 1st, becoming a free agent. The Wild selected 'Chiz' with the 8th to last pick in the 2016 draft. 
  • The Rockets organization has had 68 players taken in the NHL draft. Of those 68, 8 have been first round picks. Of those 8, six have been defenceman. Can you name the two forwards? The answer can be found at the end of the 'Rant'.
  • Assistant Coach Kris Mallette is down in Dallas, Texas for the NHL Draft. One of Mallette's primary goals is to attend a coaches conference where upwards of 30 NHL coaches will attend the one day session. I think it is a great experience for Mallette to be down there rubbing  shoulders with other coaches while adding more tools for his coaching tool box. Mallette is the only Rockets representative at the draft. Head Coach Jason Smith is on vacation. Who can blame him!! Assistant coach Travis Crickard is overseas helping coach in New Zealand of all places.
  • I have had a chance to correspond with both Mallette and Crickard over the summer via text. 'Cricks' tells me he ran into former Kelowna Rockets defenceman Nolan Yonkman in New Zealand. Now 37, Yonkman isn't about to retire yet, having played this past season in Finland. Yonkman has the bragging rights of scoring the first goal - ever - at Prospera Place. When he lit the lamp, the arena was known as Skyreach Place.
  • The Rockets have had 68 players selected in the NHL draft since the franchise was birthed in 1992. 
  • Bruce Hamilton has been re-elected for another two year term as the Chairman of the Board of Governors for the WHL. Let me clearly state here.....he is voted in by his PEERS and in no way pushes himself into this position. Many fans from outside Kelowna believe Hamilton has clout in the league considering he holds that portfolio. Indeed he does. He is chairman of the board for heaven’s sake. Does a CEO or manager have clout in the business word? Do they have to make unpopular decisions at times? Umm, ya. But if it was a problem and somehow gave the Rockets an unfair advantage, as some fans mistakenly suggest, why wouldn't other executives across the league step up and pursue the thankless job themselves? They don't. Why? All 21 other league representatives vote for Bruce because he knows what he is doing for the betterment of the league. Again, Hamilton is voted in by his peers and is now the longest standing chairman of the board in the history of the league.
  • I was asked the other day, in an on-air interview, to explain what I most admire about Hamilton. The first thing that comes to mind is loyalty. When I look back at all of the players that have come through the organization, Bruce is loyal to a fault with his players. He could have traded away Tyson Barrie. He could have dealt Brett Bulmer to Portland. Hamilton could have sent Cole Linaker packing in his 20 year-old season but traded Gage Quinney instead. Why? All of the players I've suggested had a start in the organization and Bruce wanted them to begin and end their junior careers wearing Kelowna Rockets colours. There are exceptions to the rule, sure. Shane McColgan was traded after beginning his career in the Okanagan at 16, but that was a mutual decision by both player and management. Heck, Hamilton could have traded Dube, Lind and Cal Foote at the trade deadline for a significant upgrade to a young talent. He didn't. Why? Loyalty to the players for sure, but also to a fan base that deserves to witness a certain high end product season after season.
  • I was stopped on the street the other day and found myself engaged in Rockets talk with a season ticket holder. Unafraid to express their feelings on the 2018-2019 edition of the hockey club, I retorted back that the greatest thing I want to see from this season’s roster is more importance to a better team game. Despite recent success (4 trips to the Western Conference finals in 5 years), those wins have often come as a result of superior individual skill. I love skilled players, don't get me wrong, but younger players this season will play a massive role in winning or losing. The coaching staff will have to work hard to make this happen and will earn every paycheck they receive.  
  • Before I head into holidays, I am excited about the prospects of co-hosting the Gorges/Comeau Homebase Celebrity slow-pitch game Friday June 29th at Kings Stadium. The KGH Foundation has asked me and Sun FM's Ari Daniel to co-host this event, where Josh Gorges will captain one team while Blake Comeau will captain the other. Several NHL players that reside in the Okanagan will participate in the fundraiser for JoeAnna's House (a home away from home for families of patients travelling to Kelowna General Hospital for advanced medical care). The list of players participating including Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber, Ryan Johansen and Tyson Jost. It should be a great evening. A slow-pitch tournament Saturday June 30th will then feature in the neighbourhood of 20 teams competing in the inaugural event. Hope to see you out there. 
  • Nick Merkley was taken in the opening round of the Arizona Coyotes in 2015 while Scott Parker was selected by the Colorado Avalanche in 1998.  

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