- Wins are never easy in the Western Hockey League. Just ask the 2018-2019 edition of the Kelowna Rockets. Four games into the season, they have yet to experience what it feels like to look up at the scoreboard when the buzzer sounds and celebrate a hard fought victory. The latest setback came Friday night in a 3-2 loss at the CN Centre to the Prince George Cougars. A sleepy start followed by a second period where they generated only three shots on goal was likely their undoing. In arguably their best period of the season, in the third, they rallied back from a two goal deficit and scored two quick goals to tie the game. But in a season where goals have been hard to come by and favorable bounces have been few and far between, the game was lost when Cougars rookie forward Matej Toman scored by banking a puck off the skate of Rockets d-man Braydyn Chizen during a goal mouth scramble. The loss, the teams fourth in four attempts, matches a losing streak to start the season that was equaled in the non-playoff season of 2006-2007 and matched to start the 2010-2011 campaign. In both of those instances, the Rockets would earn a much needed win in the fifth game of the season. Game five goes tonight at the CN Centre in the rematch of these two BC Division rivals.
- Looking back at the 2006-2007 season, the team got out of the blocks slowly with only one win in their first eight games. The record was 1-6-0-1 to open that season. I remember it for all the wrong reasons. They were able to win only 4 of their first 17 games and managed a franchise low 22 victories that season.
- When you are struggling, the thing you don't want to do is chase the game. Well, the Rockets were chasing the game early when the Cougars scored two minutes into the opening face-off and made it 2-0 just :45 seconds later. As poorly as the Rockets played to that point, the Cougars had chances but couldn't make it a 3-0 game despite out-shooting the visitors 20-11 after two periods. That allowed for a possible comeback, something the Rockets almost pulled off with third period goals from Connor Bruggen-Cate and Nolan Foote.
- Bruggen-Cate's goal was assisted by rookie forward Ethan Ernst. It was the 16 year-old's first career WHL point. The encouraging sign for Ernst is he has gotten progressively better in the four games he has played at the major junior level. The coaches are rewarding him with power play time thanks to his strong play five on five.
- The Rockets are 0 for 14 in their last three games on the power play. The only goal the team has generated was opening night against the Kamloops Blazers.
- The coaching staff have been flip flopping the goaltenders in the opening four games. James Porter played in games 1 and 3 while Roman Basran started in games 2 and 4. Neither of them are getting much run support, so it appears a win is in the cards if they can give up two goals or less. That is a big ask for a tandem that doesn't have as much support in front of them as a season ago. The Rockets haven't been able to score that elusive third goal.
- Nolan Foote's first goal of the season came on his only shot on goal. It seems odd doesn't it that the about to turn 18 year-old had 12 shots in the opening two games of the season yet came away empty handed.
- Leif Mattson had his three game goal scoring streak snapped last night. Mattson must be thanking his lucky stars for not being injured in the game when Cougars d-man Austin Crossley threw a mean knee at the 19 year-old, knocking the teams leading scorer to the ice.
- The player that showed the most grit and determination was 19 year-old Erik Gardiner. Gardiner received a double minor for roughing in a flare up behind the Cougars net late in the second period and then was involved in a fight with defenceman Rhett Reinhart seven minutes into the third period. Hey, if you aren't scoring, at least Gardiner was doing something in the way of getting involved for the greater good of the team.
- The Rockets played Friday's game without 20 year-old Ryan Bowen. Bowen was ill. That meant the team dressed only one overager; defenceman Braydyn Chizen. Speaking of 20 year-old's, that third and final spot needs to be filled and will be shortly with all team's forced to be down to three of them by October 10th.
- Wil Kushniryk, after being a healthy scratch in the opening three games of the season, made his 2018-2019 debut. The only players yet to dress for a game is 18 year-old Kyle Pow and injured forward Liam Kindree.
- As one observer point out after last night's game, the Rockets have essentially lost 12 straight games if you include a four game playoff sweep at the hands of the Tri City Americans last season, a winless pre-season (4 games) and now four consecutive losses during the regular season.
- The Cougars organization pulled out all the stops on opening night to celebrate 25 seasons. The team had 18 vintage cars escort players to the front of CN Centre, where they were met by a red carpet and adoring fans as they made their way inside the building. The rock-star treatment was a nice touch and the weather couldn't have been much better for the event.
- We are on the air tonight at 6 pm with the Kelowna Rockets This Week. WHL Director of Hockey Richard Doerksen is among the guests. Also joining us will be former Kelowna Rockets captain Josh Gorges, who has been essentially forced into retirement.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
Monday, September 24, 2018
|Mark Liwiski is no shrinking violet - Shoot the Breeze Photo|
- Well....that didn't go so well did it? Back-to-back losses to the Kamloops Blazers has the Kelowna Rockets winless after two games to start the 2018-2019 regular season. But heck, it was the opening weekend with several new faces getting their feet wet at the WHL level, so don't push the panic button just yet. Lose three more to the Prince George Cougars later this week (they are winless too by the way) and then the heat can be turned up a notch. Don't panic. For now, as Faith Hill sang on her 1999 album of the same name - Breathe.
- When you lose 4-1 and 3-1 you are obviously not blown out, but you clearly have holes in your game. The one area that any player can control is effort. I don't care if you aren't the fastest skater on the ice or have problems executing a 10 foot pass, if you can bring effort, energy and enthusiasm to the rink, more times than not, that will mask many deficiencies in your game. Sadly, without naming names, I think several veteran players didn't exactly 'bring it' on the weekend. That's the most concerning part considering many of the older players are not slam dunks to be on this team in the first place. Just because you are 19 or older doesn't mean you are in the untouchable category. Honestly, the untouchables are 18 and under to be frank. But again, I am not going to go overboard here in the opening weekend of the season over what I witnessed, but working harder is clearly an area that can improve.
- None of these players will remember Tyler Mosienko. Tyler who? Tyler Mosienko was a small forward in 2001 who came close to eventually breaking the Kelowna Rockets record for games played. He was small. He was a little fart to be frank and played in an era where bigger players, even in major junior, prevailed. 'Mossy' is regarded as one of the most popular players ever. Why? At 5'8, Mosienko, who was never taken in the WHL bantam draft, worked his tail off. Mosienko could skate, but his hustle and determination were his greatest asset. You have the puck, Mosienko was determined to hunt you down and get it. The Winnipeg resident scored a career high 30 goals, yet it wasn't goal scoring that made him stand out. Work ethic did. Mosienko wasn't a game changer but a difference maker. His effort was infectious and it led the team to WHL championships and ultimately a Memorial Cup. If the Rockets had a wall of fame where hard work was the number one criteria, a mural resembling Mosienko's likeness would surely be there. Tyson Baillie's too. Hello Colton Sissons. I could go on naming players that wouldn't be considered elite, yet made the most of the talents they were given and turned into real, real good junior players. Hard work was a staple like chicken and pasta in a junior hockey players diet.
- So, instead of suggesting some players who didn't 'bring it' on the opening weekend, let me point to one player, in particular, who did. His name is Mark Liwiski. I know he isn't familiar to many Rockets fans yet, but if he keeps it up, the 17 year-old will be a fan favourite. Not blessed with a large frame nor the ability to make an end to end rush, Liwiski is bound and determined to get noticed. Acquired from the Everett Silvertips in the summer for a third round pick, I specifically noticed Liwiski in the second half of the opening game in Kamloops when he was stirring the pot by finishing checks and going out of his way to make life miserable. A night later, Liwiski was again in the face of the opposition and even found himself in a fight with Blazers forward Kobe Mohr. Liwiski isn't a fighter, but he clearly will step out of his comfort zone to make an impact on the game. If two games tells me one thing, Liwiski has much to prove that he belongs here and will do whatever it takes to remain a member of the Kelowna Rockets. The dude has only 12 WHL games under his belt and is fully aware that he is skating on thin ice of being a healthy scratch or being returning to the OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Taking nothing for granted, the Dauphin , Manitoba resident is making everyone notice that he is here to stay and contribute.
- Does Liwiski know he is wearing sweater #9, the same number worn by legendary captain Ryan Cuthbert? 'Cutter' had below average size, below average skating ability and a below average skill level. Cuthbert had above average heart and above average leadership qualities and wouldn't take ____ from anyone. Two games in, Liwiski, wearing that same number, is taking a similar mindset.
- I think it is safe to say that Lassi Thomson is indeed the real deal. Thank goodness, considering the blue line took a massive hit with the graduation of Cal Foote, Gordie Ballhorn and James Hilsendager. Thomson looked good in his WHL debut Friday in Kamloops and looked equally as solid a night later in the Rockets home opener. I like the fact he had 5 shots on net in Friday's loss and was willing to shoot the puck and skate with it up ice in Saturday's rematch. Turning 18 today, Thomson doesn't play timid which is a really good sign. NHL scouts detest players who play scared. You know what that looks like. Its the defenceman who is never first to the puck in the corner, or its the forward who just can't pick up that pass because his arms aren't long enough to retrieve the puck. The pass isn't necessarily out of his reach, but his desperation level to get it is low. You can't hide scared. It is so noticeable by those watching. Thomson plays with confidence and he will only get better as the season goes along.
- Two goals. Two goals in two games. I'd like to give Blazers goaltender Dylan Ferguson some credit for that, but he isn't the soul reason why the red light went on only twice behind him. The Rockets were far too perimeter. Everything was from the outside, with little activity from 'the paint'. The forwards need to get greaser. In a season where goals will be at a premium, much of what happens in front of the opposition net must come as the result of relentless pressure. Taking a pack mentality, the forwards must fight for rebounds and continue to poke away until: 1) The puck enters the net or 2) The puck is covered and the whistle blows. A more determined effort is needed. The pretty goals will come, but the greasy ones are also rewarding.
- Leif Mattson scored both goals in the two losses to Kamloops. Should that come as a surprise? Well, Mattson had three goals in his first five games last season and had 6 goals in his opening 9 games in 2017-2018. If you look at his last four games from last season and combine them with his opening two games of 2018-2019, the 19 year-old has 6 goals in 6 regular season games. Mattson won't make opposition goalies sweat when the puck is on his stick, but the likable forward is awfully effective.
- Neither Roman Basran nor James Porter Junior were a problem on the weekend. Absolutely zero concern after Porter started Friday and Basran was given the start on Saturday. I don't know who is going to be the official starter this season, but does that really matter? How much fresher, both mentally and physically, will they both be if they share the duties? I don't see a problem if they split the games down the middle. As long as they challenge each other to get better, let the good times roll.
- John Crickard was at Prospera Place when the Rockets opened the 2018-2019 home portion of their schedule. The father of Rockets assistant coach Travis Crickard, John won the 50/50, which meant he took home over 6 grand. That flight back to St. John's Newfoundland must have felt soooooooo good.
- Could Rourke Chartier make the San Jose Sharks opening day roster? The 22 year-old is knocking on the door. How cool would that be? Dealing with concussions, if the Saskatoon resident can stay healthy, he has a legitimate shot of making his NHL debut this fall. Many forget he scored 48 goals with the Rockets in 2014-2015 and had an incredible 13 goals in 16 playoff games on the way to a WHL championship.
- Nick Merkley is still hampered by a knee injury, so that has delayed his progression of making the Arizona Coyotes full time. Tyrell Goulbourne remains up with the Philadephia Flyers. Justin Kirkland was recently sent down to the AHL by the Nashville Predators.
- It was great talking with and congratulating new Kamloops Blazers GM Matt Bardsley on his new gig. I had a chance to sit down with him Saturday night to chat, both off the record and on it, about his new position. Bardsley is a class act and his story of how he was able to achieve his goal of becoming a GM in major junior hockey is inspiring. If he made one thing perfectly clear in our conversations, Winterhawks GM/Coach Mike Johnstone is everything you thought he was. Johnston didn't want to get in the way of Bardsley seeking opportunities elsewhere and by all indications he was a real mentor for Bardsley. How odd will that be when the Winterhawks pay a visit to Kamloops for two games in early October? Don Hay behind the Portland bench and Bardsley watching from the Blazers GM chair high above the ice. "It will be different. When we are down in Portland, I will go down there early to spend some time with family. In 19 years, I had so many good memories. I loved it in Portland but I want to create some great memories here in Kamloops", Bardsley told me in a pre-game interview.
- Enjoy the week of great weather. Summer is back....sort of. See you at the rink on Wednesday as the Rockets play three consecutive games against the PG Cougars.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
- It only seems fitting that the Kelowna Rockets open the season against the Kamloops Blazers in a battle of BC Division rivals. The two organizations will fight it out on the ice this weekend before attempting to out duel one another in the boardroom in an effort to win the bid to host the 2020 Mastercard Memorial Cup. The Rockets haven't hosted since 2004. The Blazers haven't since 1995. It is been a long time for both franchises. Heck, Lethbridge, the third competing bid has never hosted. But will the Memorial Cup be again hosted by an Eastern Conference team after similar stops in Saskatoon, Red Deer and Regina? My hope is one of Kelowna or Kamloops wins the bid. Selfishly, I'd love see Kelowna host it again. Wouldn't you?
- When I first heard that Kamloops was bidding for the 2020 Memorial Cup, I thought they were a shoe-in to host the 10 day tournament. If they were granted the games, it would mark 25 years since they last hosted and won major junior hockey's ultimate prize. Do the Blazers have a leg up on the other two bids with that silver anniversary looming large? Pump the brakes for a second. If you haven't been paying attention, the Kelowna Rockets will be celebrating 25 seasons in Kelowna in 2019-2020. The team re-located from Tacoma to the Okanagan for the start of the 1995-96 season. Next season is an extremely special anniversary for this team. Wouldn't hosting the Memorial Cup be a tremendous way to celebrate?
- One more thought about the Memorial Cup bids. If Kamloops wanted to outbid the other two on the revenue generated from the tournament, they could do it in a heartbeat. Let's remember the majority owner of the team is Tom Gaglardi. Gaglardi has deep pockets (family net worth is pegged at 3.92 billion) and could easily throw in a couple of million bucks if he really wanted too. How could that not persuade the other WHL governors that the event, if hosted in Kamloops, would indeed turn not just a profit, but a significant one that would be shared with the other 21 teams. Will he do it? That is uncertain, but when you own the Dallas Stars, run the Moxie Restaurant empire among other things, it is hard to ignore when significant cash is thrown on the table.
- Again I am biased here, but I see Kelowna being the right choice for one reason and one reason only. Bruce Hamilton. A foot soldier for years in the Western Hockey League as Chairman of the Board, Hamilton has stood up and represented the league for years. My understanding is his colleagues vote him in as chairman, this is not a power hungry position that he thirst for. Like Ed Chynoweth before him, Hamilton has helped make tough decisions over the years in a quest to build the league into what we see today. Would it not be a form of payback, or a thank you if the governors put a check mark by Kelowna's bid on October 3rd? And let's be honest, we are all getting older, including Hamilton, who turned 61 in June. This will be Bruce's final time EVER in hosting the Memorial Cup as a league owner. It won't come back to Kelowna in his lifetime. It's the truth. So when you see a faithful owner, who has looked after the affairs of the WHL for so many years, is the Kelowna Rockets bid not the obvious choice in 2020?
- I am very intrigued to see what type of season 20 year-old Ryan Bowen has in 2018-2019. Never a producer of points at the WHL level, I have talked to many hockey people about him and everyone says, "He can skate". Many observers say there must be more there. My hope is Bowen will show his true colours this season. I've seen 20 year-old castoffs from other teams flourish here. Brady Leavold, Mark Guggenberger, Kelly Guard, Dylan McKinley, Cody Fowlie and Geordie Wudrick to name a few. Marek Tvrdon....not so much. I am intrigued to see what Ryan Bowen brings to the table.
- What can we expect from Ethan Ernst this season? At 16, he will take his lumps. The WHL is a hard league. You are playing against older competition and its a significantly upgrade from what he witnessed in midget. It will be up to the coaches to make sure Ernst finds the rest he needs so when he is injected into the line-up, he can succeed and has the energy to compete. Sometimes being a healthy scratch is an ok move. The player should look at it that way too. While he must dress for a minimum of 40 games (WHL requirements) as a 16 year-old, the grind of the season takes its toll and off ice rest is crucial.
- Again, the goaltending situation in Kelowna is more than sufficient to compete this season. I am not saying that Roman Basran and James Porter Junior won't have nights that will be forgettable, but I'd go to war with that duo. For the first time in forever, it appears the goaltending situation is not a question mark with an 18 and 17 year-old providing the last line of defense. Knowing that those two can return next season and no changes need to be made at that crucial position is comforting.
- Can Nolan Foote score 30 goals? If healthy, and a year older, while playing on last year's team, I'd say without a shadow of a doubt he can hit that mark. I am wondering if the supporting cast around him with this year's roster will give him the best chance to achieve that milestone? Foote needs to find a passer, but who has the ability to get the puck on Foote's blade? Liam Kindree? Kyle Crosbie? Kyle Topping is a shooter not a passer. It will be interesting to watch to see who the coaches put with the draft eligible prospect.
- I had an interesting conversation the other day with a hockey dad who works for an NHL team. I asked why he decided that the WHL was the right place for his son, who will cut his teeth this season at the major junior level at 16. The thought process was his son was physically mature enough to handle the rigors of the WHL. Looking into the crystal ball, the hope is the 16 year-old, in four years' time, will be able to compete for a spot on an NHL roster when he is 20. That is a four year window of development. This player, now 16, can play in the WHL, against elite competition in his 16, 17, 18 and 19 year-old seasons. Plus, this 16 year-old can play a prominent role on his team right now, not when he has two years of junior eligibility left when he is 18 or 19. I won't reveal who this hockey dad is right now, but if you listen to 'The Kelowna Rockets This Week' (Saturday's from 6 pm until 6:30 pm on AM 1150) you will figure it out awfully quick.
- I have been so impressed with my conversations with parents I've chosen to interview about their sons experience in the game of hockey. Last week I called Shaun Gardiner, the father of Erik Gardiner. Shaun was so well spoken and explained in great detail about how he and his family dealt with the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. I also called Darby Melville, the mother of forward Liam Kindree. She explains with great excitement in her voice when recalling WHL bantam draft day and how thrilled the family was that Liam was chosen by the Rockets in the fourth round. It makes for terrific radio. We will feature those interviews this season.
- The Rockets raise another BC Division banner high to the rafters Saturday night. It will be the teams 19th banner in its 23 seasons in Kelowna.
- Colour analyst Gord McGarva will join me in Kamloops for Friday's opening game. We are on the air on AM 1150 at 6:30 pm with the puck drop a touch after 7:05 pm Pacific Standard time.
Monday, September 17, 2018
|Shoot the Breeze Photography|
Game Day Preview: The Kelowna Rockets face the Kamloops Blazers to open the 2018-2019 Western Hockey League regular season. This is the 7th straight season the Rockets have met the Blazers in the opening game. The Rockets are 4-1-1-0 in those six previous meetings. The last time the Rockets opened against another opponent was in 2011-2012 when they visited the Everett Silvertips to begin what was then a 72 game schedule. This season we play 68 games falling in line with the OHL and the QMJHL. These two teams face each other at Prospera Place tomorrow night before meeting again December 28th and 29th in another home-and-home series. The Rockets were 8-0-0-0 against the Blazers last season and is an impressive 26-9-1-0 in the last 36 meetings between these two teams.
Rockets Review: The Kelowna Rockets are defending BC Division champions. The team won 43 games last season (6th consecutive season of 40+ wins) and earned 93 points, 9 more than second place Victoria. The team scored 280 goals, the 5th most in the WHL and third most in the Western Conference behind Victoria and Spokane. The team tied for 8th in fewest goals allowed and earned a Western Conference high 26 home ice wins. Only Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Brandon won more times at home. With 79 power play goals, the Rockets had the third most with the extra man behind only Victoria and Swift Current. The Rockets also scored 17 shorthanded goals, tied with Moose Jaw and Brandon for the league lead.
Who’s Gone: The Rockets lose their top four point producers in Kole Lind, Dillon Dube, Carsen Twarynski and Cal Foote. That is over 300 points missing from the 2018-2019 roster. Also graduating was 20 year-old’s James Hilsendager and Gordie Ballhorn. Goaltender Brodan Salmond was claimed off waivers in the summer by Moose Jaw while Czech born forward Marek Skrvne was released. In total, 8 player from last year’s team are not with the hockey club. Kole Lind was the leading scorer while Cal Foote was named the Defenceman of the Year.
New Faces: The team welcomes three rookies back on the defensive core. Listed player Devin Steffler is joined by Finnish born blueliner Lassi Thomson (Turns 18 on Monday). Both are 18 year-old defenders. Joining those two is 17 year-old Cayde Augustine (turns 17 October 5th). Up front, the team has added 16 year-old Ethan Ernst (3rd round pick in 2017), 17 year-old Kyle Crosbie (8th round pick in 2016),and acquired 20 year-old Ryan Bowen via trade with the Lethbridge Hurricanes last season. The team also obtained the playing rights to Mark Liwiski, a third round bantam pick of the Tips from 2016.
Broadcasters Notebook: The team failed to have a player drafted in the 2018 NHL draft. Forward Kyle Topping attended San Jose Sharks rookie camp on a free agent tryout….Second year defenceman Kaedan Korczak won a gold medal for Canada at the first ever Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in Edmonton in August…Head Coach Jason Smith returns for his third season at the helm. Both assistant Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard enter their 5th seasons in the WHL….The Rockets play seven straight games to start the season against teams in the BC Division….The team is in Prince George for back to back games next weekend and host them this Wednesday at Prospera Place….The Rockets are in their 24th season in the Okanagan after relocating from Tacoma for the start of the 1995-1996 season…The Rockets have made the playoffs 11 consecutive seasons…The team has averaged 104 points in the last 6 seasons including a franchise high 118 in the 2013-2014 campaign when the hockey club lost only 11 times…The Rockets currently have 14 alumni playing in the NHL. That list includes Colton Sissons (Nashville), Josh Morrissey and Tyler Myers (Winnipeg), Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton), Damon Severson (New Jersey), Alex Edler (Vancouver), Shea Weber (Montreal), Mikael Backlund ( Calgary), Tyson Barrie (Colorado), Jamie Benn and Blake Comeau (Dallas), Madison Bowey (Washington), Luke Schenn (Anaheim) and Duncan Keith (Chicago)…Crickard spent the summer as an assistant coach and interm GM for the Botany Swarm of the New Zealand Ice Hockey League. The Swarm play from late April to early August.
Player total: 24
Year by Year Breakdown:
20’s (1998) – 2 Chizen, Bowen
19’s (1999) - 5 Topping, Mattson, Gardiner, Bruggen-Cate, Cowell
18’s (2000) - 10 Brennan, Porter, Foote, Zabransky, Kindree, Brennan, Kushniryk, Pow, Hair, Steffler,
17’s (2001) - 6 Korczak, Crosbie, Basran, Liwiski, Wilton, Augustine
16’s (2002) - 1 Ernst
Game Notes Compiled by Regan Bartel of AM 1150
Sunday, September 9, 2018
|Allen Douglas photo credit|
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I had a chance to watch the Kelowna Rockets pre-season game against the Kamloops Blazers last night. To be honest, it was my first look at any new players attempting to crack the roster with family commitments not allowing me to take in the opening weekend of exhibition action. Here is a quick summary of what I saw in the teams final tune up game, a 5-3 home ice loss to Kamloops.
- There were three new players that stood out. Rookie Kyle Crosbie had a great game. The smallish size forward was dynamic with the puck and showed great offensive instincts. He stood out like a sore thumb on the power play. Sure, he is allowed more time and space in that situation, but you can clearly tell his puck skills are above average. I am no sure what his interest was like in the defensive zone, but when you have a player with that skill set, which you can't teach, you have to take the good with the bad and run with it. If you are an offensive dynamo, I give you more grace in the d-zone. The coaches won't, but on a team that may have problems scoring goals, I will. Crosbie, an 8th round bantam pick, makes my team in a heartbeat. My comparison for Crosbie? Kyle St. Denis with the way he pivots and works away from pressure while carrying the puck. .
- I was hoping to see Lassi Thomson show his value. The about to turn 18 year-old did not disappoint. I really like him. You can see he reads and reacts well and his ability to rush with the puck is impressive. I also like his shot, or his ability to get the puck on net through traffic. Thomson is in my top four. How does he defend? He has an active stick, makes contact when needed but he won't blow anyone up. Again, it is a one time viewing of a player who probably looked considerably better in his second pre-season games than he did in his first up in Kamloops on Friday.
- Ryan Bowen. An overage player who has a real nice opportunity to flourish in a Rockets uniform this season, my expectations in my first evaluation of him was low. Why? Any player that is on his third WHL team and has a career high 9 goals with Moose Jaw in 2015-2016 doesn't exactly have you expecting great things offensively. That said, it appears the player has underachieved in the past and is a better player than he has showed. I liked his battle level, skating ability and at 6'2, he clearly is involved in initiating body contact. I hope he has a career year. He needs too for the team to have success.
- I will always remember Dylan McKinley. Plucked off waivers as a 20 year-old, McKinley came into Kelowna as a spare part. He really did. Expectations were low. McKinley would go on to score 24 goals and collect a career high 68 points in 72 games in 2012-2013. Given opportunity and renewed confidence, McKinley proved he was a better player than his previous track record showed. How about Cody Fowlie? Released by Everett as a 20 year-old, Fowlie scored a career high 17 goals and generated 40 points that same season and was not considered an offensive dynamo when the Tips made him expendable. In Kelowna, Fowlie flourished.
- Kaedan Korczak really impressed me last night. Korczak looks so much older than a season ago. The composure with the puck is off the charts. The ability to quarterback the power play is impressive. As small of a skill set as it may sound, if you as a d-man can make a hard, crisp on the tape pass to an awaiting forward, you are making me very, very happy. Sounds elementary right? Then why do some defencemen at the junjor level, when pressured, fire a puck knee high to a teammate or deliver a pass that bounces and turns on end as it comes off his stick? Korzcak delivers hard passes which are easy to accept.
- My only fear for Korczak, in his draft year, is he will be forced into doing too much. It's called 'Cal Foote syndrome'. Cal was forced to cover up for others mistakes, which at times made him look out of position. My hope is Korczak doesn't try to do too much on a d-core that is as thin as the hair on my head. As a competitor, the temptation will be to mask others mistakes, which he will be able to do to a point, but will it make him look worse because of it? As much as I would like to see him paired with Lassi Thomson, the coaches may be forced to play them apart.
- I am here to suggest we are seeing a better Libor Zabransky. A year wiser after getting his feet wet as a rookie in the WHL last season. the undrafted d-man needs a solid season to show scouts that the hype around him was warranted. A captain for the Czech Republic on the International stage, Zabransky will play a more determined game this season with some added muscle and a better knowledge of the game on North American ice. I am a big fan of Libor off the ice. The 18 year-old had the misfortune of sitting behind me in the Rockets bus last season. I often talked to Libor, who while quiet, has a great personality.
- This may sound like an odd statement, but I have no concern with the goalie situation. I really don't. You would think I would with an 18 year-old and a 17 year-old carrying the mail. Roman Basran, who I project to be the starter, is an above average goalie and his backup, James Porter Junior, is more than adequate. The worst feeling is having that 'oh, no' moment when the starter is pulled in favour of the backup. In my opinion, that won't happen when either goalie comes into the game. Let's remember though, Basran will have some nights where the puck looks like a BB, so let's be patient with the player who has the hardest position on the ice.
- I won't name names, but clearly some of the rookies and new faces have outplayed some of the second year veterans on this team. I like Crosbie, Thomson, Bowen, Wilton and Steffler to name a few. Will the second year players on the bubble be given more time to prove themselves on the first weekend of the regular season? We will have to wait and see.
- The Rockets finish the pre-season 0-2-1-1 in four games. Without a win to show for it, I don't think it is a big deal. As one observer said to me last night, "If you win the games its a big deal. If you lose them, the losses mean little".