Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Things that make me go hmm...


  • I thought it best to pay a quick visit to the blog after a few weeks of sitting idle. It was a time to decompress after an exhilarating, yet short Kelowna Rockets season that came and went in a flash. While taking a step back to evaluate what happened, more news came on changes behind the bench next season. Vernon Fiddler has stepped down wanting to spent more time with his family. I get it. Fiddler was hired in the summer of 2019 as an assistant to Adam Foote. While the lure of coaching the team that he played for was intriguing, the real attraction had to be the 2020 Memorial Cup. With that tournament cancelled due to the pandemic and a shortened season a year later, the former NHLer will look at other options - including coaching his son - who I understand is a chip off the old block. Putting food on the table isn't a problem. 'Fids' could spend the next 12 months in neutral and it won't hurt a bit. 
  • I am not sure if this is of any interest to him, but I could see Fiddler being a good analyst on an NHL broadcast. 
  • To be honest, while I wanted to get to know 'Fids' better, that really didn't materialize over his short - two year stint. It wasn't his fault, but the coaching structure at the time and maybe the circumstances with high expectations meant the play-by-play guy was like the bus driver - seen but not heard. Go about your job with little in the way of relationship building desired. That's cool with me, but again it feels odd that an assistant, who I typically gravitate towards and deal with on a consistent basis, it didn't come to fruition with the 41 year-old. Or at least, I felt it didn't. Maybe I've been spoiled? When it doubt, blame the pandemic, right? Fiddler is a great guy and story teller. I just wasn't afforded the luxury of being around him enough to see it. It was a far cry from my dealings with Dan Lambert as the head coach in 2015. I spent lots of time with him and his two assistants - Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard. Heck we spent New Years Eve in Everett together! I was not an outsider. That trio was very inclusive and it was led by Lambert, who made me feel like I was truly apart of the team. To be honest, I think the players saw that and it only added another layer on how they wanted to play for him. Hello - WHL championship.
  • With Fiddler leaving the helm, who is his replacement? The resumes will come pouring in without question. My hope is Kris Mallette, who is due for a new contract at the end of this month, will have some input. You need someone you can trust. You need someone who is qualified. You need someone who works as hard as Mallette does. There are a lot of retired NHL players that make Kelowna their off-season home, but something tells me that isn't the necessary criteria to land the job here. It's been often said that being a pro player doesn't make you a good coach. Not like former players don't become excellent mentors, but I'd say guys that have paid their dues by coming through the coaching ranks are just as good, if not better, than those that used to be a household name. Did Ryan Huska have a long NHL career? One game. Is he the winningest coach in franchise history? Yes. Mallette, too, may be a good example. No NHL games, but a terrific junior coach. 'Mally' is just getting started.     
  • The WHL held it's draft lottery on Wednesday. The Spokane Chiefs will select number one when the draft takes place in December. The Rockets do not have a pick in the opening round after trading it away to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Connor McDonald deal. It seems like a wasted trade now, but at the time the team needed a puck moving d-man who had a good shot and could quarterback the power play. The trade was necessitated when Lassi Thomson jumped ship and went back to Europe to play after being a first rounder of the Ottawa Senators.  
  • I won't lie. I am really intrigued to see where Lassi Thomson slots in with the Senators organization. Was it a wise choice to use the WHL to get exposure to the scouts before leaving the team to play pro back home? It was a bold move without question. In my humble opinion, Thomson owed the Rockets another season, especially under the circumstances with the team hosting the Memorial Cup. It wasn't like the team was in massive rebuild. It was hosting the biggest junior tournament in Canada. Is it sour grapes on my behalf? Maybe. Unless he was realllllly homesick, the decision to bolt was hard for me to digest.   
  • Just another example that the regular season means little. In the NHL, the Oilers are upset in round one by Winnipeg and heavily favoured Toronto blows a 3-1 series lead and gets kicked out of post season by the Montreal Canadiens. Face it, wins during the regular season and putting up huge offensive numbers will entice the fan base and will get the media talking, but an early exit from the playoffs leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It's like the season was meaningless. I experienced it first hand in 2018 when the Rockets won the BC Division title with 43 wins and 94 points, but despite having Dillon Dube, Kole Lind, Carsen Twarynski and a young Cal Foote, the team lost an opening round series to Tri City. The regular season, despite teasing us that a long playoff run was in the cards, meant little.  
  • A few shockers in the WHL. Gary Davidson is let go by Everett as the GM there and then Matt Bardsley steps down as the GM of the Kamloops Blazers. Davidson was dismissed for what appears to be a cost cutting measure. Bardsley wants to get back to the US where his extended family resides. I wish both men well. They treated me excellent in any conversations I had with them. If I'm guessing, Davidson gets a call from the Blazers to see if he is interested in the vacant job. His track record in Portland and then Everett shows he knows what he is doing. 
  • It sure is nice to see Shea Weber getting a shot at the Stanley Cup in a season where he celebrated a massive milestone by playing in his 1000th NHL game. To think, many thought the Canadiens lost the trade when they dealt P.K Subban to Nashville in a one-for-one deal. Boy, does Montreal GM Marc Bergevin look like a genius - again. 
  • Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme has a connection with two former members of the Kelowna Rockets. Ducharme was at the helm - twice - for Canada at the world juniors. Dillon Dube (twice) and Cal Foote played underneath him. 
  • I was asked the other day what the biggest challenge was doing games during the abbreviated season. The answer was simple. No training camp. No chance to meet the players face-to-face and getting to know them. I love interviewing them and getting to know their personalities. It also doesn't hurt watching them practice several times before actually calling a game. The learning curve was steep from not knowing the players to not having called a live game in over a year. Also not having a colour analyst for that many games was rough. I missed Gord McGarva and Kent Simpson, who make the on-air product significantly better.  
  • What will I take away from the abbreviated season that I would like to bring back when everyone is vaccinated and life is back to normal? I can see myself using my cellphone and calling head coach Kris Mallette for post game comments. It worked brilliantly in the COVID world, so why not try it when life is normal. Sure, the coach can come up physically to the broadcast booth, put on a headset and answer questions after a win or loss, but isn't it easier just to call him and his cellphone and have a conversation that way?           
  • I saw the Portland Winterhawks sent out a press release this week stating that all games will be at Veterans Coliseum next season. They also made it clear, that they plan to have full capacity at all home games next fall - and if you thought about getting a break in the price of tickets - think again!

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Saving the best for last

Alex Swetlikoff, like his team, finished strong  

It could have been ugly hockey.

The energy level could have been low.

It could have been a fight filled affair.

It was anything but.

The Kelowna Rockets brought it last night. So did the Victoria Royals.

Playing for nothing but pride with their respective gas tanks pretty much empty, the two teams were amazingly marvelous.

Showing junior hockey fans one last time why the WHL is such a great league, they played with proficiency, focused on purely one thing  - finishing strong. 

Essentially, no regrets.

While skating away with a hard-fought 3-2 win, the Rockets and Royals should be proud of what they were able to accomplish in the finale of this abbreviated season.

  • It was the final game in the junior careers of 20 year-old's Sean Comrie, David Kope and Dillon Hamaliuk. All three took the pre-game skate together before teammates joined them for warmup. While it was sad to see them unable to play this season with the potential for a successful playoff run, all three knew what they were getting into when the season started. Playoffs were not going to happen. I felt terrible for the overage players last year that had their dreams shattered when COVID-19 struck in March and ended hopes of winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup and playing in the Memorial Cup.
  • Roman Basran had a strong showing in goal. The 19 year-old's best save came on a glove hand grab. It came on a shot from Royals forward Graeme Bryks with time ticking down and Victoria goaltender Adam Evanoff on the bench for the extra attacker.  When I saw Basran as the starter, I wondered about his future with the team. Is this the last time we see him wearing Kelowna Rockets colours? It doesn't take a 'hockey insider' to know it is one of either Basran or Cole Schwebius that will be released or traded this off season. You can't have two-20 year-old goalies claiming two of three overage spots.
  • How good was Jake Lee in this abbreviated season? Two of the three goals he scored were tremendous individual efforts. It was that type of deceptive moves with the puck that must have been evident when the Seattle Thunderbirds selected him in the first round of the 2016 WHL bantam draft. Lee finished strong, recording a career high 9 shots on goal in last night's one goal win.
  • The Rockets played the game without marquee d-man Kaedan Korczak. The 19 year-old was a healthy scratch as he travels today to join the AHL's Henderson Silver Knights.  The pride of Yorkton, Saskatchewan had little to prove this season. Signed by the Vegas Golden Knights, Korczak played 215 games in the WHL and will be regarded as one of the top defenceman ever to grace the Kelowna Rockets blueline. He won't be back next season. Pro hockey and pursuing an NHL dream is his next step.  
  • The Rockets ended the abbreviated season with a 10-5-1-0 record in 16 games. 
  • Trevor Wong was the leading scorer. Wong had 16 points in 16 games. Mark Liwiski had a team high 9 goals. 
  • The top rookie was Turner McMillen. The 18 year-old had 8 points in 16 games. 
  • Alex Swetlikoff finished strong. The 19 year-old made a bid to be in the conversation as a 20 year-old next season with goals in three straight games. 
  • It was nice to see Noah Dorey score his first career WHL goal. His bomb from the blueline beat Adam Evanoff after a clean face-off win by Swetlikoff. 
  • What did we learn over the 16 games? The future is indeed bright. The rookies, who I underestimated, really looked good. Coach Kris Mallette gave them every chance to succeed and they took full advantage. I would say the rookies impressed me more than the veterans. I am not saying veteran players didn't stand out, but I would suggest the vast majority of the rookies made significant strides in this developmental season.
  • I think Tyson Feist took a step forward in his evolution as a player. He seems to make better decisions with the puck and wasn't just this one dimensional player, who's best attribute up until this season, was being a physical force and keep the other team honest.  
  • Decisions, decisions, decisions. The Rockets staff have many in deciding who will be the three 20 year-old's next season. The 2001's are Mark Liwiski, Tyson Feist,  Jake Lee, Alex Swetlikoff, Roman Basran and Cole Schwebius. You can only keep three.      

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Blazers backlash

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.

Those lyrics from a John Denver song from 1981.

That tune could have been blaring out of the loudspeakers at Prospera Place last night after a 10-2 drubbing at the hands of the Kamloops Blazers. 

On a night when nothing went right, the Blazers exploded for 5 power play goals in the setback, which fortunately had no fans in the stands to witness.

It was the first time in franchise history that the team surrendered 10 goals against on home ice. 

  • The game started out decently for the home team. Sure, they were down 2-0 after 1 period but the game was still in doubt. That all changed when the Blazers scored three-second period power play goals and blew the game open. Down 6-0 after 40 minutes, the game was essentially over.
  • The Rockets changed goalies after 40 minutes, with Cole Schwebius replaced by Roman Basran. It seemed to jump start the offense with two quick strikes from Alex Swetlikoff and Dillon Hamaliuk to make the score 6-2. Any comeback bid was doused when the Blazers  - again - scored on the power play three minutes later and the rout was on.
  • Blazers rookie forward Connor Levis will want to play the Rockets all the time. The 16 year-old had two-three goal games against them. At seasonal series end, Levis had 6 goals and 10 points in four games against the Blazers arch rival. 
  • The game started with a bang. Tyson Feist dropped the gloves with Western Conference tough guy Montana Onyebuchi. The tilt caught me off guard as we don't typically see these type of premeditated tilts anymore shortly after the opening faceoff. The two tangled 11 seconds into the game. If it did one thing, it woke up the Blazers but, sadly, did little for the home team.
  • How good was the Blazers power play against the Rockets in the four game seasonal series? They scored 12 times with the extra man for an efficiency rate of 57%.
  • Dylan Ernst earned the win in goal for the Blazers. Making his first start against his older brother, Ethan's team, the 17 year-old was steady and sharp early on in the game when the Rockets had some good looks. 
  • The Rockets were playing their third game in four nights, with two of those games played in Kamloops. Was that a factor in last night's lethargic effort? 
  • What's next? The abbreviated season comes to an end tomorrow night against the visiting Victoria Royals. The Royals are on the road tonight in Kamloops where they face the Vancouver Giants. The hope is several players will have solid showings, including 20 year-old's Sean Comrie, Dillon Hamaliuk and David Kope, who will all play their final games in junior hockey. The same holds true for Kaedan Korczak, who will turn pro next season. We will also likely see the end of either Roman Basran or Cole Schwebius too. Both will be 20 year-old players next season and the team won't be keeping both. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Lite night leads to road loss

Allen Douglas Photo 

If the Kelowna Rockets were compared to an alcoholic beverage after last night's effort - a lite beer comes to mind. Mild in flavour. Few calories. Head Coach Kris Mallette had a hard time swallowing what he witnessed in a 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Giants. Often considered as a heavy team, the Rockets threw grit and physicality out the window in the lopsided loss. The Giants were able to free-wheel and use speed to execute several pretty passing plays. Giving 20 year-old Tristan Nielsen that amount of space and time allowed the overager to fire home two goals and collect two assists. The loss extended the Rockets winless streak to three games (0-2-1-0) heading into Sunday's encounter - again in Kamloops - but this time against the Prince George Cougars.

  • The good news? The rookie line of Dylan Wightman, Scott Cousins and Steel Quiring was the teams best line. All three were engaged and were rewarded by getting first line power play time in the third period. While that sounds good on paper, it often isn't a great sign when those guys are the best you've got. It tells you that the older players aren't competing at the level they need too with the season quickly coming to an end - with much to play for.
  • Wightman was 7 for 10 in the face-off circle and for my money, may be the most improved player since the team returned to action. To be honest, Wightman didn't show me much when he played a handful of games a season ago. You were looking for small windows of, 'wow this guy can play'. It didn't materialize. This season is a different story. He has been noticeable and even got into a second period scrap. Do you not think scouts write a note beside #24 in their binder by what they saw? Guaranteed. It is worth watching this player, who has come miles since we saw him in 10 games as a call-up last season. 
  • It's often said in hockey, 'your best players have to be your best players'. Or, 'there best players were better then our best players'. That saying would also describe what went on last night. Tristen Nielsen had a 4 point game while veteran Justin Sourdif has 3 points. Two older forwards combined for 7 points. Rookie Steel Quiring opens the scoring with a great effort in front of the Giants net and Kaedan Korczak pots a power play goal late in the game to make the score 6-2. On this night, lots of passengers with the older players, who wanted to play a perimeter game against an elite goalie like Trent Miner.
  • How off were the older players? Dillon Hamaliuk is the teams leading shooter. The 20 year-old didn't register a shot on goal and was a minus 2. Tristen Nielsen, undrafted, led all skaters with 7 shots on net. David Kope, another overager, also didn't fire a puck on net. It's not a good look with scouts in the standings watching. 
  • The Rockets wanted a better start and had it gift wrapped for them less than 2 minutes into the game. Instead, Nielsen scores a shorthanded goal and it's 1-0 Giants. The Rockets had back-to-back power plays just 11 minutes into the game, but again gave up a shorty and didn't do much to manufacture offense when Marko Stacha went to the penalty box for slashing.
  • With the Rockets failing to score on two-first period power plays, the G-Men were afforded a 5 on 3 advantage in the second when the score was 2-1. What happens? They score once to make it 3-1 and then fire home another goal 43 seconds later and it's 4-1. Essentially game over. If it wasn't a done deal by then, it was after Justin Sourdif scored a shorthanded goal courtesy of a favourable bounce off of Kaedan Korczak.
  • Roman Basran surrendered 5 goals on 21 shots. The Giants had several good looks on net, but this was a game where you hoped the goalie would steal a game for you. If the team is flat, or isn't at its best, that one player in that crucial position can really bail out his teammates. It wasn't to be. 
  • Without doing higher mathematics, the Rockets need some help if they indeed want to claim the BC Division title in this abbreviated season. They need the Kamloops Blazers to lose no less than two of their remaining three games, which includes a head-to-head meeting Monday at Prospera Place. Ideally, the Rockets must be flawless in their final three games too. It all starts tomorrow with the final road game of the season against a Cougars team that beat them 2-1 just a few days ago. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

If it was golf, award a mulligan on this hole

You could see it happening. 

The hope was it would fade after five minutes.

No, wait. Ten.

Maybe it was first period flatness?

Nope, it was pretty much through 60 minutes, maybe outside of 3 minutes in the dying moments of the third period when ‘urgent hockey’ was initiated.

To be critical would be too harsh though. While disappointing, are the Rockets not afforded the luxury of laying an egg in this abbreviated season? I will give them a mulligan on this one. A one off. Just a flat game after a weekend of playing against two teams that are above you in the standing over three consecutive nights. That said, play without jam, life or passion on Friday, one can be less lenient. Playing sluggish hockey with just three games left on the schedule - at least in these parts where the bar is set high - is simply unacceptable.

  • Let’s give the Cougars credit here. Short staffed and built-in excuses were there before puck drop. Yet, a 16 year-old opens the scoring and a veteran pots a short handed goal and its 2-0 for the road team before you knew it. With a lack of urgency offensively and Taylor Gauthier making it hard for a possibly rally, the Cougars ended the Rockets winning ways at home. It was Kelowna’s first loss at Prospera Place in 6 attempts.
  • The turning point was clearly three consecutive power play chances in the second period. The Rockets were unable to score on any of them. Instead they surrendered their 7th shorthanded goal against. The team allowed just 6 shorthanded goals all of last season.
    The Rockets power play went 0 for 5. It’s the first time in 7 games they failed to score with the extra man.  
  • Mark Liwiski was able to find the back of the net late to make it a one goal game. The 19 year-old leads the team in goals with 9, which equals his total from all of last season. ‘Louie’ had a career high 11 goals two seasons ago. 
  • A clear indicator of how softly the game was played? From start to finish it took 2 hours and 8 minutes. It was the quickest Rockets game on record this season.
  • Mark my words people. The Cougars will destroy a lot of teams in the future. Not next year, but in two years time when this core of younger players learns to win as a group. It’s keeping them together that is paramount. Win together. Hate to lose together. Keep Mark Lamb intact to cultivate a winning culture there. They’ve got the right man at the head of it all. If you think Lamb isn’t a forward thinker, look at how he was able to build the Swift Current Broncos into the powerhouse they became in 2018. Lamb could have traded away first round picks for short term gain to save face. Instead he chose to rebuild. Putting his pride in his pocket, he built through the draft and didn’t mortgage the future. That allowed Manny Viveiros to do it when he traded away Lamb’s players/prospect if you will, in the teams WHL championship season. 
  • What’s next? A much better effort this weekend. Veterans and rookies alike. Make Tuesday’s effort an anomaly on what can only be considered an above average season. In the minds of many, this group is better than what the naysayers had envisioned. It’s up to the players to make sure that theme resonates in our heads even after the lights at Prospera Place have been turned out for the summer and the ice plant has been shut down until the fall.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A man of his word

Kris Mallette is a man of his word.

In an interview before the puck even dropped on this abbreviated season, Mallette told me he would not sacrifice development over winning.

As competitive as they come, Mallette wanted to use this season as a tool to evaluate talent, look for success by winning games while allowing rookie players to be given the chance to shine in the spotlight if the opportunity warranted.

Oh, what an opportunity Mallette has given them.

Do many of them realize what they've been given?

I counted no less than two rookies getting a shift in overtime in a 4-3 loss last night to the Kamloops Blazers. 


In five minutes of overtime, playing three on three, would any other coach do what is considered the unthinkable? Did the Blazers have a rookie hit the ice in OT? I think not. 

Mallette is showing great trust in his players, young and old, believing they can get the job done, whether you've played 200 games in the WHL or a handful in major junior hockey. 

Mallette's words are not hollow. They aren't shallow. He means what he says and is being rewarded for it with his team following his lead. How can you not when he puts that type of trust in you? No agenda. No massive punishment if you screw up. A players coach. As he often says - he wants to be 'fun but firm'.

Getting the tap on the shoulder to play in crucial situations is fun. A sense of trust coming from your coach is fun. Winning is fun.

Mallette has provided his players with that exact formula.

Is their any other explanation on why the 2020-2021 Kelowna Rockets are having this much success?

It's easy to blame the coach when the team is losing, but let's not lose sight of the fact Mallette is one of the real reasons why the team is winning.

The contribution of new faces on this roster has been a real nice story, but the way Mallette has handled himself with less than 30 games coached at the WHL level shouldn't be overlooked either. 

  • Overtime loss...yes. But let's look at the big picture here. The Rockets earned 5 out of a possible 6 points in three games in three night's over two teams ahead of them in the standings. To recap, a 4-3 come-from-behind win over Vancouver, a 6-1 triumph over Kamloops before losing last night's game, despite a solid effort in a 4-3 overtime loss. Mallette had this to say after the game. "Our players didn't sit back. It wasn't like the Blazers ran all over us. We created offense. To tie it up after chasing the game all night....the resilience of this group is great". 
  • Remember the Rockets trailed 2-0 at one point in this one before getting back-to-back power play goals to tie it. It's the third time this season the team has fought back from being down by a pair of goals to get back in the game. The belief system with a little bit of 'no quit mentality' has served this team well in the opening 11 games. 
  • David Kope led the way with 2 goals and an assist. Kope leads the team in scoring. While his breakaway goal with Mark Liwiski was well executed, it was the opening goal that jump started the offense. For my money, the first goal of the game is always a true indictor of who is a difference maker. Scoring the 5th goal in a 6-0 triumph doesn't given me the sense you are determined to make a difference when the game is in doubt. Nice to see Kope elevate when his team needed him most.
  • The Rockets scored two power play goals last night. That is 6 consecutive games with at least one power play goal. While giving up a shorty last night, which is never good, the team was able to score shortly after giving up what some would consider a back breaker.
  • Despite the loss, a solid effort from goaltender Roman Basran. The 19 year-old made some solid saves early to keep the game scoreless in the first period. I was hoping that Basran could steal a game for his team in a building where wins have been few and far between.
  • Ample chances to score. Firing 38 shots on net was impressive, with Dillon Hamaliuk and Trevor Wong hitting goal posts in this one. Blazers goaltender Dylan Garand was on his game, so the Rockets weren't the recipient of any soft goals. 
  • The loss snapped the Rockets five game winning streak, yet the team has points in 8 of their last 9 games. (7-1-1-0). With the point, the Rockets are now two points up on Prince George for third in the BC Division and still hold the best winning percentage of the five teams. 
  • A well deserved rest. A little sunshine on the face today and the Rockets are back at work Tuesday against the Prince George Cougars. I won't lie. Coming to the rink is fun for even this broadcaster. It seems like every game, something new and exciting happens. Like a good novel, I can't wait to read the next chapter.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Doubt no more!

Turner McMillen

Are you a Doubting Thomas?

Doubt no more.

The Kelowna Rockets are indeed for real. 

They showed it last night in a 6-1 win over the top team in the BC Division circuit - the Kamloops Blazers.

Six different goal scorers got into the act with rookie Turner McMillen leading the charge with a three point effort.

The Rockets exploded for four goals in a span of 2:44 in the first period and the game was essentially over. The key the rest of the way was not allowing the Blazers any chance of rallying back. They are a quick strike team, so caution must always be taken. This time the tables were turned. Goaltender Cole Schwebius made sure no rally was in the cards with a brilliant outing.

  • The win, the Rockets 7th in 8 games, improves their record to 8-2-0-0 on the season. That is good for sole possession of third place in the division, one point up on Prince George and two points back of second place Vancouver.
  • This game didn’t have the bite, nor intensity we typically see in games between these two teams. Is Connor Zary to blame? Without the skilled yet feisty forward in the lineup, the game didn’t have much ‘snarl’, which played into the Rockets hands. The home team didn’t get rattled, instead keeping their cool, playing composed and not allowing the Blazers to generate offense on the power play. The Blazers scored five times in an earlier meeting, so the Rockets knew trips to the penalty box would be their demise. Choosing to turn the other cheek and play within the rules, they handed their arch rivals only their fourth loss of the season.
  • Of the six goals scored last night, three came off the blades of rookies. Turner McMillen’s wrister from the hash marks was set up wonderfully after rookie Scott Cousins won a battle against the end boards. Dylan Wightman, who has had a strong campaign in the ‘Hub’, scores on a wraparound and rookie Nolan Flamand fires one home, his first in the WHL, on the power play late in the game. These rookies are not taking a backseat to the veterans.
  • Do you not start Schwebius again tonight in the rematch after that performance? Just asking.
  • Nolan Flamand was due. He really was. Hitting the pipe skating down the left hand side in the first period was a sign of things to come. But the chances have been there all along. It was just a matter of when. 
  • Dillon Hamaliuk keeps shooting - and scoring. Now with 4 goals in his last 5 games, ‘Hammer’ leads the team in shots on net. His decision to shoot on a slow developing two-on-one was the right decision as he was able to sneak one past Dylan Garand - five hole. 
  • I’m a fan of John Babcock. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just ‘Steady Eddie’ back there. This player knows his best friend is the ‘glass’. Up and out!!
  • Cole Schwebius was at his best in the 2nd period when the Blazers came to play. The likeable goalie, who is as good an interview as you will find in junior hockey, made 18 straight stops. He was dialed in from the drop of the puck and essentially outplayed the guy at the other end of the ice.
  • It was a rare win over the Blazers. You don’t have to look at the numbers to know Kamloops has walked away with a ‘W’ on most nights between these two teams. Clearly another step forward with this group. Now, can the Rockets beat the Blazers in their building? Like a thin hair on my every increasing bald spot, its been a rarity in the last two seasons. Let's see if they can pull off the feat tonight at Sandman Centre. 
  • Note! Don't read the press clipping about how 'good you are'. Do that, it 100% comes back to bite ya. If I am a player, I hope they have no clue this blog even exists. 

Friday, April 30, 2021

When your jaw drops to the floor




Jake Lee's third period goal had me....speechless. That's not good news for a broadcaster at anytime, but what can you say when a player who has a career high 5 goals ends up taking matters into his own hands and scores a highlite reel goal? 

"What happened there," is all I could come up with as my jaw dropped to the floor. 

Stunning would best describe how the 19 year-old skated with the puck and weaved in and out of defenders before snapping the puck blocker side on startled Giants goaltender Trent Miner. 

What has only shocked me more - in the last few days - was my teenage boys making their own beds!! 

  • Lee's goal tied the score and 3. What made it so impressive is someone had to step up after Kaedan Korczak was ejected from the game after getting into a fight with rookie Colton Lankow. So, who delivers when the teams top d-man is sitting in the dressing room? As a veteran of over 200 WHL games, Lee did what few have been able to witness during his time wearing Kelowna Rockets colours. Maybe this was the type of flash and dash that had Seattle Thunderbirds scouts taking the Sherwood Park, Alberta product in the first round of the 2016 WHL bantam draft?
  • Lee's goal was the most timely. It came late in the game with his team down 3-2. It marked only the second time this season the Giants have lost when leading after two periods. Both losses have come to the hands of the Rockets.
  • How about Turner McMillen's goal? Wow. A shorthanded beauty to say the least. The 18 year-old found a second gear to break away from a Giants defender before firing the puck - on a breakaway - high to Miner's blocker side. It was McMillen's first career goal. Could it have been anymore spectacular? No! I loved the celebration when Trevor Wong leaped into the air to congratulate McMillen. That's why we play these games folks. Pure, unadulterated jubilation. In a year that has sucked, those two hugging in mid-air was magical in my eyes. 
  • The game winner was ugly. Yikes. Alex Swetlikoff's shot seems to hit a Giants defender, then goes off Mark Liwiski and into the back of the net. It was a glorious gift and another example of - no shot is a bad shot. 
  • A slow start for the Rockets in this one. I said it on the broadcast, if I was the Rockets, I'd be happy being down 2-1 after 20 minutes. The home team looked slow despite leading on the shot clock 9-6. The Rockets have traditionally been quick starters this season, but Vancouver was more desperate. I thought the G-Men seemed to look fatigued in the third period as their best players didn't have the jam or execution we are used to seeing.
  • The Rockets discipline was better. The G-Men had just 4 power play chances and the Rockets PK was a perfect 4 for 4.
  • The power play is coming around too. Two goals on three chances. Impressive. 
  • Five fighting majors between these two teams in three games. The hate is real.
  • The win was the Rockets 6th in 7 games. The Giants have lost four straight. While it doesn't mathematically eliminate Vancouver from winning the BC Division and catching first place Kamloops, this loss against Kelowna did some significant damage to their chances.
  • The theory is the winner of the BC Division will be granted that honour on winning percentage. I don't like it, but what can you do? The Rockets can't play as many games as the other teams after losing eight of them due to COVID-19. Is it fair that a smaller sample size allows the Rockets to have a better winning % than Kamloops or Vancouver at seasons end? No. But is it fair that we've been sequestered in our homes, can't eat indoors at restaurants and can't have fans in the stands while hoards of people shop at Costco? Everything is whacked people. Nothing is normal anymore. 
  • If you think you are a good team, you've got to show it. I am sorry, but you have to beat Kamloops. You have beaten every team but them in this shortened season. Show me you can beat them, not twice, but even once will do. Do that and I can swallow this winning % argument if indeed that plays a factor in the end. The chance to beat the Blazers starts tonight. Having played terrific hockey, there is no better time to face their arch nemesis.  

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Win tainted by trips to the box

It’s been a problem in these parts for sometime now. 

If Kris Mallette has any say in it, which he clearly does as the head coach of the Kelowna Rockets, like a good mechanic, he will do his best to fix it.

Undisciplined penalties.

It’s been a common theme with the hockey club for no less than three years. Maybe longer? It isn’t smart hockey. It’s hockey that will result in loses and ultimately early exits from the playoffs if it isn’t eradicated.

Last night at Prospera Place, the Rockets allowed the one win Royals to hang around for a possible third period comeback by going to the penalty box - time and time again. Fortunately for the road team - the Rockets were the visitors in this one despite playing at home - the Royals fired blanks in the final frame and rookie goaltender Nicholas Cristiano was forced to make 16 saves in the process.

Oh, the score ended up being 5-1, but this continued aggressive play after the whistle needs to stop. You can bet Kris Mallette, who was an enforcer in his day as a player, will make it happen. Even Mallette realizes, this isn't a quick fix though.

  • Positives? Lots. Let’s start with 16 year-old rookie Nicholas Cristiano. Getting his first career start, could it have gone any better for him? He gets run support (baseball analogy) from David Kope 26 seconds in and made two stops early in the game to gain some confidence. I thought he played well. Looked composed. Tall but skinny, he was square to pucks and had his goal posts help him out twice. I hope he is the goalie of the future, because I am not sure who is after Roman Basran and Cole Schwebius age out next season. You need a young goalie to emerge. Let’s hope Cristiano is that guy.
  • David Kope wears sweater #18. He reminds me so much of alumnus Cam Paddock. Kope, like Paddock, isn’t very physical. That said, Kope puts up points like ‘Pads’ did.  The 20 year-old had 1+2=3 last night and collected his 100th career point in the process. Kope leads the team in scoring. Enough said.
  • Mark Liwiski had a goal and an assist. His assist to set up Kope’s goal was one of beauty. The 19 year-old separates the puck from the Royals defender by knocking him on his rear, then slides it over to Kope and it’s in the back of the net. In the third period he gets over aggressive in the crease after a goal mouth scramble and takes a bad penalty. That’s an older guy that needs to be smarter.
  • Why were the shots so close last night? Penalties. I would love to see what the shot volumes were 5 on 5. I’d suggest the majority of the shots the Royals administered towards the net were with a Rockets player sitting in the box.
  • Scott Cousins scored his first career goal. It was an ugly one on a horrible turnover inside the Royals zone. The likeable 17 year-old will take the gift wrapped goal.
  • How did Turner McMillen not score last night? With a yawning cage and his eyes wider and brighter than that full mood Monday night, McMillen hit the goal post. I double clutched on the radio getting ready to yell - scooooores - before it amazed me by grazing the iron.
  • The Rockets have now out-scored the opposition 33-11 in the games they’ve won this season. In those 6 wins, five times they’ve opened up the scoring.
  • The Royals have lost 10 straight. Playing a lot of rookies is a factor, but look at the Rockets roster. Kris Mallette is winning games with a lot of players that are wet behind the ears too. For Dan Price it could be worse. The team lost 11 in a row in 2012-13.
  • You don’t often get many clear indicators of how good your group truly is until the rubber hits the road. It hits the road - big time - when the Rockets play the elite in three consecutive games. Vancouver is here Thursday with a home and home series with Kamloops Friday and Saturday. Playing undisciplined hockey like they did against the Royals will make for an agonizing three in three. Play smart, you can prove to yourself that indeed - winners of 5 of their last 6 - this Rockets team is for real. 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Are the Rockets a top tier team?

Photo of Kris Mallette taken before pandemic

I had to ask the question, even though I knew what the answer would be. In a pre-game interview with Kelowna Rockets head coach Kris Mallette, we talked about what appears to be two tiers in the BC Division. The first tier is comprised of elite teams like Kamloops and Vancouver. The second tier is Prince George and Victoria. Where do the Rockets fit into the mix with only a handful of games under their belt? Mallette didn't hesitate when asked where his team belongs. "Absolutely", in believing his team should be considered a top tier team. "I know our team can compete". The likable coach wasn't just blowing smoke. His team went out and did it, earning a 4-3 win last night over the hard charging Vancouver Giants. Mark Liwiski scored the game winner 5 minutes into the third period. From there, goaltender Cole Schwebius held the fort and puck management and defending were rock solid. Was it the biggest win of the season for the Rockets? In my opinion - darn tootin'.

  • What made the win so impressive? No excuses, but the Rockets were playing the second game of back-to-backs. The statistics show the team having a day between games is far fresher and typically come out on the winning end.
  • The Rockets put four pucks past Trent Miner. Remember, coming into last nights game, the 20 year-old had a goals against average (1.18) that was the best in the WHL with four shutouts.
  • The Twitter police were out in full force last night. I suggested on the broadcast that Miner was indeed 20. A Giants fan quickly attempted to call me out before deleting the tweet as Miner turned 20 in early February.  
  • Two of the Rockets four goals came from defencemen. Kaeden Korczak's goal was massive to tie the score at two, especially after surrendering a shorthanded goal from Justin Sourdif after having the luxury of three consecutive power plays. 
  • The Rockets were down 3-2 heading into the third. Again, statistically the percentages works against you when trailing heading into the final period. Striking twice in the opening five minutes was impressive. Jake Lee takes matters into his own hands with a nice individual effort to tie the score and then Liwiski pots his 5th on a lost face-off by hurrying to a loose puck and chipping it, blocker side, on Miner. Liwiski is now tied with Trevor Wong for the team lead in goals. I didn't see that coming.
  • How about Kris Mallette throwing out rookie Turner McMillen on the ice in an effort to protect a one goal lead late in the game? What does that say about McMillen? What does that say about Mallette having the confidence to throw the 16 year-old out there. Wow!!
  • Kaeden Korczak was the first star last night. Sure his goal was huge, but his defensive play was the reason why he was one of the best players on the ice. His bread and butter at the NHL level will not be about scoring. It won't. If he wants to earn a paycheck at that level, he must be able to defend. While the Rockets are benefitting from having his calm presence back on the blue-line, it must be Christmas morning for rookie John Babcock. The 16 year-old is Korzy's d-partner. 
  •  Tyson Feist is really growing on me as a player. I really thought his skills were limited last season. He could fight and looked like a 6 or 7th d-man. Something happened though. I don't know what it is, but he is showing way more offensive flair that I anticipated. Not without his fair share of warts as a player, he competes hard and is getting power play time. Feist is also getting a lot of his shots through to the net from the blue-line. I would say the 20 year-old (turned 20 in January) has been a pleasant surprise after I considered him a small piece when he was acquired in a trade with Regina at last years trade deadline. 
  • Dillon Hamaliuk has elevated his play. How? Shooting the puck! A team high 6 shots last night and 12 in his last three games. Any wonder why he has goals in back-to-back games? Hammer's best work is from in-tight. Not much flash and dash in his game. Good hands and a bull like mentality makes him an impactful player. 
  • Odd man rushes. When the Rockets have had one, more times than not, the puck carrier has shot it. Love it. Nothing worse than trying to pass the puck in an effort to make a pretty play. If the defenceman is cutting off the shooting lane, blast it on net and get the rebound. To be honest, I can't remember a two-on-one this season where the Rockets puck carrier hasn't shot it. Again, love it. 
  • Props to the officiating staff last night. Sure, sure, the teams also dictate how the game is called, but Jeff Ingram and Mark Pearce stayed out of the way. They didn't over-officiate the game. Four minor penalties were called. FOUR!!! Beautiful. Could their have been more? Maybe, but they would have been 'ticky-tacky'. It was the quickest game of the season. Two hours and 12 minutes and the game was complete.
  • In the Rockets five wins this season, they have out-scored  the opponent 28-11.
  • The Rockets host Victoria Tuesday night. Ok, technically the Royals are the home team, but you get what I'm putting down. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Sometimes you're the windshield....

A Douglas Photo credit

 Sometime you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug.

The Kelowna Rockets are finding that out in the opening five games of this abbreviated season.

After scoring 14 goals in back-to-back wins against Prince George and Victoria, the rubber hit the road last night in a 6-2 loss to the Kamloops Blazers. Specialty teams and a lack of discipline were factors in the setback. Kamloops scored five goals with the extra man and were never in true danger of losing this one. Whenever the Rockets appeared to be challenging for a come-back-bid, an untimely penalty got in the way. They didn't do themselves any favours either, going 0 for 5 with the extra man, dropping their overall record to 3-2-0-0. The Blazers are an impressive 8-2-0-0. 

  • Mark Liwiski and David Kope provided the scoring for the visitors, who were out-shot and outplayed in the opening period. The Blazers built up a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes. Thankfully, the Rockets came alive in the second period and turned the tables, but coming back from that deep hole against the defending BC champs doesn't come easy. Cole Schwebius gave his team a chance with back-to-back breakaway saves on leading scorer Connor Zary to make it interesting.
  • Liwiski and Kope now have goals in back-to-back games. Liwiski's was the teams fourth shorthanded goal in five games while Kope's marker was one where he deflected the puck in mid-air after a quick wrister from the blue-line by Tyson Feist.
  • Who's is taking full advantage of this abbreviated season? I'd guess d-man Jake Lee is taking it seriously. They all do, obviously, but Lee has turned his play up a notch. I think he was terrific last night and is making great decisions with the puck. Undrafted, Lee needs to show urgency if he wants to play this game professionally. I really like what I've seen from him - specifically on the penalty kill.
  • Lee played in his 200th career game last night. 65 of them have been played in Kelowna Rockets colours after a trade with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
  • Alex Swetlikoff played in his 100th career game.  He was good at the face-off circle, winning 11 of 18 draws but was quiet on the offensive zone. 
  • The best Rocket last night? I sure liked rookie d-man John Babcock. The 16 year-old is a stocky player that knows his limitations. I thought he played a solid game against a quick, quick team. Babcock was a +2 and had two shots on net.
  • The best Blazer? Everyone will say Connor Levis after his four goal effort. Sure, he was good, but d-man Mats Lindgren caught my attention. The first round bantam pick passed my eye test. Head Coach Shaun Clouston played him a ton (isn't that what this season is designed for?) and he made some real nice plays. Who is the last, real, real good - young - Blazers d-man to take the WHL by storm? Maybe Lindgren is the man? Watch and wait if he delivers. 
  • The Blazers played this one without Logan Stankoven and Orrin Centazzo. That's a lot of fire power out of that lineup. I still think the Blazers are the best team in the BC Division hub. It may not look like it on paper, but if this was a 'real season' they would be fighting for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. While many feel sorry for the Rockets not being able to host the 2020 Memorial Cup, how would you like to be the Blazers at the peak of their cycle, yet essentially playing for next season? The Blazers would have needed to add a player or two - via trade - to only increase their chances for a long playoff run, but the core is intact for championship success.  
  • The Rockets will face the Blazers an additional time. The WHL announced another game between the team teams has been added after being missed when the Rockets were tangling with COVID. The two teams will meet Friday April 30th. The additional game means the Rockets will miss 8 games, not 9, when they were shut down for two weeks.   
  • I've eaten McDonalds as a post game meal in Kamloops twice in the last 4 days. I may have to visit Weight Watchers when this season is over. That, or do my own version of Super Size Me!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Road team wins at home! What?

This COVID-19 world has turned everything upside down.

No fans in the building.

A 24 game season.

No playoffs.

Home teams are playing in their own arena, yet they are considered the visitors.

Rookie's are rock'n it and the Kelowna Rockets are scoring goals like its 2015. 

Eighteen year-old Dylan Wightman scored his first career WHL goal, then lit the lamp again in the third period in a 7-2 win over the lowly Victoria Royals. Wightman, a listed player, also chipped in with an assist for a three point night and first star honours. Overager David Kope also had a three point night (1+2=3) as the Rockets won back-to-back games for the first time this season while handing the Royals their 6th consecutive loss. Victoria has been out-scored 32-14 over that stretch.

  • How good was Andrew Cristall's power play goal last night? A one timer from the lower portion of the face-off circle was one of beauty. If he scores more goals like that, we may need to call Cristall the 'pistol'. A nice pass from Jake Lee set up the best goal of the night.
  • It was nice to see the Rockets power play click. Two chances and two goals. 
  • Mark Liwiski showed some good hands last night. His second goal of the game was a nice net drive, before cutting to the middle and chipping the puck over the glove of Royals goaltender Adam Evanoff. Liwiski has 4 points in his last two games. Not bad for a player four penalty minutes shy of 200 for his career.
  • Alex Swetlikoff sat this one out after serving a one game suspension for a high sticking major against Prince George Saturday. The 19 year-old will play in his 100th career WHL game tonight in Kamloops.
  • Rookie d-man Will Irvine made his WHL debut. He went through the rookie lap prior to the pre-game warm-up and then took a spill at the blueline as his teammates took to the ice. Irvine also earned his first point, an assist on Wightman's second goal of the game.
  • Dillon Hamaliuk came out firing last night. He led the team with 8 shots on net. 
  • Rookie John Babcock earned his first career point - an assist on David Kope's opening goal just 2:31 into the opening period.
  • Jake Lee plays in his 200th career game tonight in Kamloops.
  • I like the Rockets willingness to go to the 'paint' to score goals. How many have they scored his season by going into the dirty areas to poke the puck past the goaltender? A greater emphasis or desire has resulted in the team putting up 14 goals in back-to-back games. Wightman's first goal....Trevor Wong's fifth of the season and Liwiski's opening goal last night all came from in-tight. 
  • A spirited tilt between Tyson Feist and Cage Newans. I wasn't surprised at Feist's flurry with his gloves off, but Newans impressed in the lengthy bout.
  • The Rockets and Royals meet two more times. Next Tuesday they clash before closing out the season May 12th.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Eight was great!

Trevor Wong - Shoot the Breeze Photo

If you are my age, you remember the TV sitcom - Eight is Enough. 

Last night at the Sandman Centre - 8 was enough for the Kelowna Rockets. 

Second year forward Trevor Wong, wearing sweater #8, was the best player on the ice in a 7-5 win over the Prince George Cougars. Wong scored four goals in the road win, tying him with Alex Swetlikoff for the team lead in points (4). The 17 year-old now leads the hockey club in goals. 

The four goal effort by a Rockets player doesn't happen often. Reid Gardiner had a four goal game in an opening round playoff series against the Portland Winterhawks in 2017. Myles Bell also had four goals against Kamloops in 2014. 

Wong prospered in a positional change. Playing centre, the likable smallish forward had success with Jake Poole and Dillon Hamaliuk as linemates. Poole collected two assists while Hamaliuk earned a helper in Wong's second period goal, collecting his 100th point in the process. 

Wong is no stranger to finding the back of the net. Much hype and pressure was put on his shoulders when he chose the WHL and was selected in the 1st round of the bantam draft - 18th overall. 
His rookie season was one filled with struggle. Just 6 goals and 14 points in 58 games had him playing second fiddle to rookie of the year nominee Pavel Novak. 

 A new season. 

A new position. 

A new coach. 

Let's see what Wong can do moving forward after taking 37 games to score 4 goals last season.

  • Again, rookie Nolan Flamand impressed me. I am not sure if its his low centre of gravity or if his lower body resembles that of a tree trunk, but he looks to be hard to push off the puck. Maybe his edges are so good, but he seems to really be good on his skates. The part that sucks about this season is I don't see these players up close and out of their hockey gear to see how they are put together - physically. All I do know is Flamand really impresses me with his overall game. He is routinely around the puck. The fact that he is a Saskatchewan boy only earns him greater brownie points in my book.
  • Scott Cousins made his WHL debut last night and didn't disappoint. He didn't look out of place after missing the first two games of the season. Earning an assist on Trevor Wong's laser beam - wrister - on a two-on-one, Cousins had the luxury of getting in his rookie lap prior to the pre-game warmup. The fact that the Prince George resident made his debut against the Cougars only added to a great evening.
  • Andrew Cristall is doing what we hoped. When first round picks in the WHL bantam draft are few and far between for this franchise, which had to mortgage the future for championship success, you need to hit on players like Cristall. The 16 year-old scored his first goal of what is hoped to be a great junior career for the Burnaby product. If he shoots more, look for goals to follow. He has one shot on goal this season. That one shot found the back of the net. Ok, it was actually a tip of a puck in mid-air, but you get the idea.
  • A small sample size, but the best second year player in my mind is d-man Elias Carmichael. I really like his offensive awareness. A second round draft pick from 2018, I have noticed him several times making nice outlet passes and getting the puck through to the net for tips or rebounds. I am not sure about his defensive game. I will be watching that closer to see if he is a liability in his own end, but mark me down as someone who's impressed by what he has shown us in the opening three games.
  • Mark Liwiski and Dillon Hamaliuk really set the physical tone last night. I love how both players play with reckless abandon. I thought both made solid contributions by playing their role to perfection.
  • Tyson Feist made his 2021 debut and ended the evening with a +5 rating. 
  • It was the Rockets first win in Kamloops since February, 2019. That snapped a winless streak of 7 games. 
  • The Rockets power play needs some work. But lets be fair here. The team had 19 days off dealing with COVID-19. It didn't create much last night and ended up surrender two shorthanded goals against.   
  • Despite the loss, Prince George has 4 wins in its opening 10 games. It took them 22 games to win 4 times last season. 
  • Alex Swetlikoff received a 5 minute major and game misconduct after getting his stick high into the chicklets of a Cougars d-man late in the second period. Prince George was able to score only once on that extended power play.