Monday, September 24, 2018

Opening weekend provides winless results

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. 

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