Monday, October 1, 2018

Thankfully, Rockets won't enter record books

Lane Zablocki as a Victoria Royal
  • Losing sucks. It isn't fun. The vibe around the team is never good when you lose. Four straight games without a victory zaps the life out of you and I feel it only as the radio broadcaster. Can you imagine what the coaches and the players were going through? Will we ever win? Will we ever score? Are we really that bad? I am not sure if it entered the players collective minds, but it entered mine! Doubt is never good for a high performance athlete and like winning, losing is often contagious. But as Rockets assistant coach Kris Mallette told the team after Friday's 3-2 loss to the Prince George Cougars, 'losing is not acceptable - not now, not ever'. I wasn't in the dressing room to hear the firm and direct speech, but if it went down that way, the players were listening. A night later, the team played with more determination and executed to a significantly higher standard in a 5-2 win. Leif Mattson scored twice and added an assist while Nolan Foote, the first star, had a goal and two helpers. The win snapped a four game losing streak to start the season, which ties the longest losing streak in franchise history. The 2018-2019 edition of the Kelowna Rockets avoided the franchise record books for all the wrong reasons as the first team ever to lose five in a row to start the season. 
  • While he didn't receive a star in Saturday's win, I really liked the play of goaltender James Porter Junior. In facing 39 shots, I thought he was dialed in and was one of the reason why the team was able to win for the first time this season. While the goaltenders have flipped flopped, game-to-game this season, it will be interesting to see if the 18 year-old is rewarded for the victory by getting the start Wednesday against visiting Vancouver.     
  • I'm sorry to say this Nolan Foote, but the teams success this season in the offensive zone will greatly depend on your individual success. If you are a threat to score, the team will win many hockey games this season. No, you are not a one man band, but you are the lead vocalist. You make others around you better and allow Leif Mattson and Kyle Toppjng to be more effective if you are a burden that the opposition must focus in on. I know, I know, the responsibility of carrying the offensive load is great, but when you can shoot the puck with a Jamie Benn type of release, it comes with the territory. 
  • Leif Mattson continues to produce. Another two goals Saturday night gives him a whopping 5 to start the season. Mattson is one of three players to score 5 goals in the WHL this season. Brandon's Luka Burzan leads the WHL with 6. Let's remember, of Mattson's 5 goals, four have been even strength. The power play has been dysfunctional to start the season with only one goal in 22 opportunities. Owning the second worst power play unit doesn't look good on anybody and is one of the reasons why the team has one win in its opening five games. The good news is assistant coach Travis Crickard, who may be one of the most underrated coaches in the CHL, is the architect and will get that unit going sooner rather than later. Crickard knows their is plenty of time to right the ship. If the power play becomes a threat, which I believe it will, what then will Mattson's goal totals look like?
  • It's early, but let's give the penalty killing unit a high five. Last year it was among the worst in the WHL. This season, it's top 10 with only three goals allowed in 21 kills. Kris Mallette doesn't lose hair when they are scored upon, but I am sure some sleepless nights exist. So far, Mallette can sleep like a baby knowing from the goaltender on out, the unit is doing an awfully good job of defending.
  • The Rockets made a trade Saturday and the timing of the announcement couldn't have been better. A news release came out at 4 pm, and every player was aware of the move when we boarded the bus for the arena at 4:30 pm. My take is it gave everyone a mental boost. For a team playing one short of the league limit of three 20 year-old's, at least now the team can go into battle with a full complement of overage players. Lane Zablocki can't - but - provide the team with additional scoring and will also add some grit and sandpaper to the forward unit. Once healthy, how can the Wetaskawin, Alberta resident not help in the effort to win hockey games? 
  • With any 20 year-old who plays in the WHL, they are not without their fair share of warts. If they had little in the way of discrepancies in their game, they would be playing in the AHL, not the WHL. Without a contract after being a third round pick of the Detroit Red Wings a few years ago, like Carsen Twarynski, Zablocki has much to prove as he attempts to earn a deal. The Rockets are the fifth team he has played for in the WHL, but he did score 28 goals two seasons ago split between the Red Deer Rebels and the Regina Pats. If he can come in and resurrect his career and do what Carsen Twarynski did (45 goals in his 20 year-old season after a scoring 17 the year prior) then the Red Wings will have no choice but to ink him to an NHL contract. I'm not saying he will get 40+. What I am saying is he can easily be among the teams leading scorers. The carrot is out there. Now Zablocki has to grab it and take a big chomp out of it.
  • Following the bouncing ball. Zablocki was a 5th round bantam pick of the Prince George Cougars in 2013. He was traded to Regina in the Jesse Gabrielle deal before being sent to Red Deer at the trade deadline in 2017 in the Josh Muhura acquisition. Then in December 2017, the Rebels traded Zablocki to Lethbridge for Josh Tarzwell. Then at the 2018 trade deadline, again he was moved to Victoria for a 2nd and 6th round pick. Zablocki is now Rockets property after the Royals moved him for conditional 2nd and 7th round picks. That is 5 teams in essentially three seasons.
  • A few random thoughts on my time in Prince George. While the on-ice product needs some much needed work, the organization is in good hands starting with its general manager. I had a good talk with Mark Lamb before Wednesday's game and the interview was equally as solid. Lamb has the same mindset that brought him success in Swift Current. 'Slow but steady wins the race' is his mantra. Lamb isn't about to make knee jerk reactions in an effort to push his team to be better. Building a champion takes time, where developing from within and making the most by drafting good players at the WHL draft table is the building blocks of any successful franchise.While Manny Viveiros had a significant impact on the Swift Current Broncos championship run, let's not forget that Lamb set the team up wonderfully with several solid first round bantam picks (Glenn Gawdin/Tyler Steenbergen) which paved the way for the Broncos to win it's first league title since 1993.  
  • Andy Beesley is the vice president/business for the Cougars and does a tremendous job. Often in the middle of everything that goes on, off the ice, Beesley makes it look effortless and is a valuable asset to the inner workings of the organization. I hope the Cougars ownership realize his value. Beesley is seen buzzing around the building, making sure things go off as planned and look as professional as he and his staff envisioned. 
  • Tip of the cap to Cougars director of ticket sales, Mark Goodwin, for his efforts on opening night. Having worked with the NHL's Nashville Predators in the past, Goodwin thought the players deserved the royal treatment. With the help of 18 vintage cars, the players were escorted to the front of the CN Centre prior to Friday's game, where they were given the red carpet treatment. Fans stood behind barriers as the players were introduced and then they received high 5's as they walked down the red carpet and through the front doors. What would make it only better is if the home opener was on a Saturday where more fans could come out to the arena and greet the players when they were dropped off at the front entrance at around 4:30 pm. Many were obviously working, so couldn't attend the spectacle. That said, it was still a terrific touch.  
  • Up next, the Rockets host the Vancouver Giants in their toughest test of the season. The G-Men are projected to be the best team in the BC Division under new head coach Mike Dyck. We see the Giants at Prospera Place Wednesday night. 

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