The opinions of a Western Hockey League radio broadcaster
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Things that make me go hmm
Shea Weber at 2004 Memorial Cup
Here we are in early June. The Stanley Cup has been handed out to the Washington Capitals and so much is going on in the Western Hockey League. Before we get to that, congratulations to former Kelowna Rockets captain Madison Bowey. The 23 year-old will have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. If you weren't paying attention, Bowey played 51 regular season games with the Capitals this season but was a healthy scratch in the Caps run towards hockey's Holy Grail. NHL rules stipulate that any player who participates in 41 regular season games with the championship team or one playoff game will have his name etched on the Stanley Cup. Bowey is the fifth Rockets player to do so. Scott Parker (2001-Colorado), Travis Moen (2007-Anaheim), Kyle Cumiskey (2015-Chicago) and Duncan Keith (2010-20-13-2015-Chicago) have all raised the Stanley Cup over their head.
I thought it was classy to see the Capitals dressing the 'healthy scratches' for the presentation of the Stanley Cup on the ice after the series clinching win. Maybe it is a common occurrence, but to see Bowey all geared up, wearing his jersey with #22 on the back and his name bar was pretty cool. Sure, while not an integral part of the playoff run itself, that shouldn't diminish the work the Winnipeg resident put in during his first full season in the NHL.
To think how fortunate Bowey has been in his hockey career. A gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships, a WHL title in 2015 and now a Stanley Cup ring. Not bad for the Capitals second round pick (53rd overall) in 2013.
In case you forgot, Bowey still holds the single season Kelowna Rockets record for goals by a defenceman with 21. Cal Foote came close to tying that record this past season with 19 goals on the blue-line.
I have to come clean here. I typically don't watch the Stanley Cup finals. I didn't watch a single minute of the series a season ago. Honestly, the interest for me just hasn't been there. I thought it had much to do with a lack of Canadian content that was holding me back. But that all changed in 2018 when the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights clashed for all the marbles. It was excellent hockey. Sure, some will complain about the officiating, but we saw lots of goals and the pace of play was excellent. My theory was to watch the cup finals until Canada's only hope - the Winnipeg Jets were sadly eliminated. I am glad I kept watching.
Watching Alex Ovechkin raise the Cup for the first time was so nice to see. I often wonder what it means to win the trophy to a European born player, who likely grows up looking at winning the World Championships as the ultimate prize or capturing gold for your country at any international competition like the Ivan Hlinka, the World Junior Hockey Championships or the Olympics. I am sure all of those victories are memorable, but you could clearly see that Ovi was in heaven when his team secured the Stanley Cup and he had a chance to raise it over his head for the first time in his 13 year career.
You sure had to feel good for Braden Holtby. The 28 year-old was excellent in the series. It often looked like his mom was more excited than he was in winning the Stanley Cup! She was definitely the more anxious. It has been interesting to watch him become one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, because honestly, Holtby wasn't anything to write home about when he played in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades. Granted, living in Kelowna, I could count on one hand the number of times I saw him play with the Blades between 2006 and 2009. Holtby's best year was his last, on a 49 win team where he won 40 games and posted a goals against average of 2.62. A fourth round pick of the Capitals in 2008, the Vezina Trophy winner in 2016 is clearly proven he is one of the league's best.
The biggest story outside of Madison Bowey winning the Stanley Cup was the announcement that Ryan Huska has been named an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames. Huska earned this promotion on merit alone. Typically its the big name coaches or former players that are often the first to be promoted, but Huska paid his dues, proved his worth at the WHL and AHL level and showed through action that he was indeed the real deal. I am so happy for him. It seems like years ago that he was a raw assistant coach with the Kelowna Rockets under the watchful eye of then head coach Marc Habscheid. I remember in the early years, I would often give Huska a ride to his town home in North Glenmore after we both got off the bus in the early morning hours after a long road trip. I lived in a town home complex only a block away, so it only made sense to car pool. But those were also different times for Huska, who was adjusting to life with a new baby and likely wondering if coaches was indeed the occupation he wanted to pursue.
Huska's promotion wasn't the only big news on the coaching front. I was so pleased to hear that Mitch Love was hired as the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades. He so deserved the interview, but more so deserved the chance to be the head coach after paying his dues as an assistant for so many years with the Everett Silvertips. Being an assistant coach in junior hockey is tough work. Often the pay isn't great, yet the workload and lack of recognition for a team’s success is high. It is a thankless job in some respects, yet those that stick with it do enjoy helping players develop and grow. They also hold out the hope, like the players do, that eventually, they will be head coaches at the WHL level and that will lead to a coaching career in the NHL.
Jordon Cooke has decided to head overseas to pursue his pro hockey career. Good for him. I really like the path Cooke took after his junior hockey career came to an end when he was named the CHL goalie of the year with the Kelowna Rockets in his 20 year-old season. Cooke, now 22, took full advantage of his WHL scholarship money and played four seasons with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. While being named the Canada West goalie of the year an unprecedented three consecutive times, Cooke also earned a economics degree. Now he can go play pro in Gap, France with a degree, a few personal accolades at the U-Sports level and pursue his dream of taking a serious shot of possibly playing in the NHL. Hey, the dream isn't over until you say it is.
Marek Skrvne will not return to the Rockets this season. You could see the writing on the wall with his lack of offensive production. While a great teammate and a pleasure to be around, you just can't have a European player, when you are allowed only two on a roster, make so little in the way of a dent on the score sheet. You just can't. The team would be better served playing a younger, North American prospect and allow him to work on the kinks and get his feet wet over an 18 year-old, fourth line player, who's greatest work was at the face-off circle. Skrvne did make a mark in his brief season in the WHL. Who can forget the fight he had with Vancouver Giants pugilist Darian Skeoch. While one sided, Skrvne quickly got the respect of his teammates after that tilt.
Will the Kelowna Rockets win the bid to host the 2020 Memorial Cup? With Kamloops, Victoria and Lethbridge all in the mix, it won't be easy. If they do win it, I think a few things may come into play.1) The Rockets should have the upper hand on Kamloops considering the Blazers recently gutted their front office by getting rid of its general manager, director of player personnel and head coach. I am not sure how that looks in the eyes of the voting governors. Does it put a black mark on the Blazers bid? Maybe. Maybe not. I do think the Blazers made the right choice by adding Matt Bardsley.
While Victoria is a great spot for the Memorial Cup in 2020, will they land the tournament when the city is playing host with Vancouver for the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships? That is two awfully big events in back-to-back seasons. Lethbridge, like a field mouse, quietly entered the race at the last second. Considering the Memorial Cup has been played most recently in Regina, Red Deer and Brandon, is it not time the tournament returns to BC for the first time since the Vancouver Giants hosted in 2007?
My biggest concerns when hosting the Memorial Cup is the strength of the host team. It is well documented that the WHL champion has not fared well over the years in the high profile event. A 10 game losing streak by the WHL champ is an ugly statistic. The Rockets are the last champion to win a game, and it came in Quebec City in the semifinals in 2015 against the Quebec Remparts. But how can the four bidding teams in 2020 really know how good they will be in two years’ time? It really is a guessing game.
Will money talk when the bids are presented to league governors in early October? Likely. It has in the past, so what would change this time around. Governors of the other teams want to know how much cash they can expect once the tournament comes to a successful conclusion. Each of the 22 teams will get a piece of the pie. The Saskatoon Blades, in 2013, promised a profit of 3.5 million dollars, but they came up short. In the end, the Province of Saskatchewan had to pony up $668,000. It didn't stop there. The province also put up 250 grand to upgrade rink boards and glass, bring the total closer to $918,000. Regina paid 3.65 million for the 100th Memorial Cup and clearly lost money from hosting it with smaller crowds than anticipated. So what will the financial guarantee be in 2020? Does a number below 2 million fail to get consideration?
Ethan Ernst announced last month on Twitter than he indeed signed a players contract with the Kelowna Rockets.Typically, the team doesn't announce these signings like other teams do. The reason? I am not exactly sure, but it's Bruce Hamilton's call. Regardless, the Ernst signing is significant. For those unaware, he was part of the Notre Dame Hound's Telus Cup winning team this past season.
I hope to hear some news on the Ethan Bowen front this summer. It would be nice to see him in Kelowna Rockets colours in his 16 year-old season. Honestly, if Ethan is going to make the jump to the WHL, now is the time to do it. Ice time is at a premium with the team looking significantly different than last season. Bowen could play large minutes with the departure of Kole Lind and Dillon Dube and the fact that some rookie forwards from last season are on the bubble with players like Bowen and Ernst able to challenge for roster spots. At this point, the Rockets need good, young skill. Both Bowen and Ernst fall into that category. While you need foot soldiers to have success, when you lose your top 4 point producers and 321 points combined (Lind, Dube, Carsen Twarynski and Cal Foote), it doesn't take a genius to figure out that an uptick in the scoring department is pivotal in 2018-2019.