Tuesday, April 13, 2021

"I can attest to it because I got it"

Kris Mallette isn't shying away from the subject. The Kelowna Rockets head coach openly admits he got COVID-19. "I had the constant headache. I had a small cough that was annoying. I had some aches and pains in my lower back and lower abs which were probably attributed to the coughing". While busy fighting off the virus, Mallette wanted to make sure his two daughters and wife didn't get sick. "I think the most alarming thing for me was, I had a day where my heart rate was elevated beats-per-minute were 35 plus my normal resting heart rate. That was an interesting day to say the least." Now symptom free, Mallette and his team should be back at practice - today - for the first time since seven staff members and players tested positive two weeks ago. "This virus doesn't pick or choose and it can also infiltrate a team environment or just anyone very, very quickly. I can attest to it because I got it," Mallette added.

Monday, April 5, 2021

"They did nothing wrong"

Shoot the Breeze Photo
 "They did nothing wrong."

Kelowna Rockets General Manager speaking exclusively to AM 1150 following several positive cases of COVID-19 last week involving players and coaches.

"The COVID came into us through a member of the hockey operations staff which is on the coaching side of it. Unfortunately, it was brought in through their and spread. These players have done everything we have asked them to do in guarding against it. The billets have been remarkable."

A staff member tested positive last Tuesday with two coaches and four players getting COVID a day later.

"It looks like what we will do (once allowed to play again) is pick up what was left in the regular season and then make up a couple of games in the gaps, but their just aren't many gaps when you are playing 24 games in 48 days", Hamilton added.

Those who avoided COVID-19 last week will be tested today, with results expected on Tuesday.

If all goes well, the team is hoping to be back on the ice to resume their schedule on Saturday April 17th. 

"Interior Health has been unbelievable. They have communicated with the players that has been basically in lockdown and the coaches and players that have been sick, so they have done and great job and we just need to follow the line and do what we are suppose to do like everyone else," Hamilton said.  

Monday, March 29, 2021

Hub Hockey may provide a roller-coaster ride

Tristen Nielsen - Shoot the Breeze photo

  • Can someone explain to me why Tristen Nielsen is back in the WHL for his 20 year-old season? The Vancouver Giants forward is simply dominating. Undrafted, Nielsen is obviously using this platform to remind NHL scouts that he indeed has the potential to play pro hockey next season - should he choose. In a 6-0 win over the Kelowna Rockets Sunday night in Kamloops, Nielsen was the best player on the ice. Playing determined hockey, the G-Men's leading scorer from last season found the back of the net three times and assisted on two other goals in the lopsided win. A 30 goal scorer last season, Nielsen has four goals in the Hub. If he keep this pace up, and plays in all 24 games, he will end up finding the back of the net 30 times in just 15 games. Realistically, he won't be able to keep up that pace, but heck, he is arguably one of the better older players participating in this abbreviated season.
  • What we learned last night in Kamloops was the Giants older players made a major impact. All three 20 year-old's were not innocent bystanders. Alex Kannok Leipert was solid and played hard. Nielsen was electric and Eric Florchuk was consistently good. Justin Sourdif had a three assist game and was also noticeable. Clearly on this night, the Giants top end players were better than the Rockets top end guys.
  • Before we get too excited, one day looking like a world beater and the next game looking like a has-been will happen. We've seen it several times out East, where a team is hammered one night and then bounces back and looks completely different the next. It's about making quick adjustments, but it is also about having what the coaches call a 'short memory' from game to game. Don't get too high when you win and don't get too low when you lose.
  • It is hard to determine who was good in a lopsided loss. I will say Turner McMillen stood out for me. The rookie had a grade A scoring chance in the second period and just missed. I also thought Steel Quiring was noticeable. The 18 year-old had a team high three shots on net and led the team with 19 face-offs taken. That said, both players were on the ice for three goals against. I liked Jake Lee. Lee was involved in a second period scrap. I just think he plays a calm game out there and his poise with the puck is improved.  
  • After the Rockets d-score had an impressive 15 shots on net in a 5-0 win over Victoria on Friday, the blue-line could muster only 6 shots on Giants goaltender Trent Miner. The reason? While the Giants did a better job of getting into shooting lanes, they also had the puck more.
  • While the Giants have lost Bowen Byram to the NHL, is his replacement 15 year-old Mazden Leslie? A first round bantam pick from 2020, Leslie scored twice in his WHL debut. His first career goal was the result of joining the rush, while his second goal was a bit of a softy that was on the ice that Rockets goaltender Roman Basran overplayed. A memorable night for him regardless. Watch this player closely. In a couple of years, if not sooner, he will providing headaches for opponents every time they see #47 out on the ice. A cold sweet would occur every time Bowen Byram's #44 was seen carrying the puck.
  • Ex-Rockets forward Dallon Wilton had a memorable game. The 19 year-old picked up an assist against his old team and had a breakaway where he almost scored, but was shutdown by the blocker of Basran. Wilton was acquired on waivers by the G-Men when the Rockets let him go.  
  • The Giants allowed the fourth fewest goals against in the WHL last season, so shutting out the Rockets shouldn't come as a surprise. They are typically fairly clean in their own zone. Head Coach Mike Dyck wouldn't stand for anything less. 
  • Last season the Giants shut out the Rockets 4-0 in the second road game of the season. 4-0 was the final score. The game was played at the Langley Events Centre. 
  • When was the last time the Rockets were shut out in their first road game of the season? It happened October 1st, 2010 in a 1-0 setback against the Tri City Americans. Drew Owsley made 34 saves in the victory. 
  • Nice to see WHL VP Richard Doerksen at both games over the weekend. Always a friendly smile, even though I couldn't see it through the mask he was wearing. 
  • A great setup in Kamloops as one of two Hubs in the BC Division. No complaints. Visually the arena looks great despite the lack of fans in the building. I called last night's game from the broadcast booth where Blazers play-by-play man Jon Keen hangs his hat. Oh how the world has changed my friends. Sharing is caring. Hard to believe I will be back there again this Friday when the Rockets face the Prince George Cougars. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Happy home opener playing Hub Hockey

Alex Swetlikoff - Shoot the Breeze photo
  • Kris Mallette has often said this abbreviated WHL season is all about development. The Kelowna Rockets head coach would agree that winning is a bonus. It was close to a dominating effort last night at Prospera Place in a 5-0 shutout win against the visiting Victoria Royals. It was the opening game for both teams, but it was the Rockets that owned the puck the majority of the night. Alex Swetlikoff scored twice, as the home team built up period leads of 2-0 and 4-0 before the 19 year-old closed out the scoring with a little insurance in the third. Cole Schwebius earned the win in goal with a 19 save shutout, with his best work in the opening period.
  • Swetlikoff's two goal game was the second of his career. The Kelowna kid had a multiple goal game February 6, 2019 against Spokane when he picked up 2+1=3. 
  • Talk about making the most of your chances. 'Sweaty' scored two goals on just two shots. A 100% shooting efficiency rate looks impressive.
  • Speaking of shooting, the Rockets d-core fired 15 shots on net over the course of the game. Jake Lee and Elias Carmichael found pay dirt with goals. Carmichael led the Rockets d-core with 4 shots on net while Sean Comrie, Jake Lee and Jackson DeSousa had three shots apiece. If they keep this up, we may want to name the Rockets d-core the 'd-score'.
  • Cole Schwebius' shutout was the second of his career. His first came against the Royals on October 30, 2019 with a 33 save performance.
  • The Rockets have never opened a season with a shutout at home. Yep, last night's effort was a franchise first. The Rockets only had one home ice shutout last season. Roman Basran made 19 saves in a 6-0 win over visiting Seattle. The date was March 6, 2020.
  • How good was 15 year-old Andrew Cristall last night? A two assist effort in his debut. Cristall had the luxury of playing with Swetlikoff and Dillon Hamaliuk. Insolating the smallish skilled forward was a great move by the coaching staff.   
  • While Cristall was terrific, so was 17 year-old Nolan Flamand. The second round bantam pick had a great game with several glorious chances including a breakaway, which he failed to score on. But hey, the failed attempt isn't the thing here. The fact he was in that position is the beautiful part. Flamand earned his first career assist on Elias Carmichael's second period goal. Before his season was shut down due to COVID-19, Flamand had 2+3=5 in four games with the Saskatoon Midget Blazers. 
  • It was nice to see Steel Quiring score. The 18 year-old from Vernon had success with the Okanagan Rockets with 21 goals in 25 games two seasons ago, but that doesn't necessary translate into success at this level. A 5th round pick in 2018, its really time for him to show he can play at this level. Last night, Quiring had two shots on net. He had 1 shot on net in his previous 15 games with the team, which included two stints - 12 games last season and in 2018-2019 when he dressed in three games.
  • The two teams combined for just 9 shots in the third period. Some coaches would consider that strong defensive hockey, but the best two periods were clearly the opening 40 minutes. I get playing systematic hockey and it can't be fire wagon with zero structure, but allow these guys to create and blow off some steam by bringing a quick skating approach to the game. 
  • The Rockets now get set for a road game Sunday in Kamloops. This will be weird. The opponent is the Vancouver Giants, a 7-3 loser to the Kamloops Blazers Friday night. The Rockets had little to no success last season at Sandman Centre. Let's hope 'Hub Hockey' turns the tide in their favour with a solid effort. We will be on the air with the pre-game show at 5:45 pm with the drop of the puck at 6:00 pm.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Crowded crease

Goaltending will be crucial in the early stages of this abbreviated season.

Scoring chances will likely be plentiful as teams suffer break-downs in their own zone.

"I think the beginning of any season, you see a significant amount of breakdowns, whether that is turnovers or missed assignments in the defensive zone. This year will be a bit more than normal because of the rust that a lot of guys have."       

Rockets goaltendering coach Adam Brown says the team will implement three goaltenders this season.

Roman Basran and Cole Schwebius return along with newcomer Nick Cristiano.

"He is very astute. He is extremely athletic. He has long limbs. He promotes himself big towards the puck and he has a high compete level," Brown added.  

Put your money on Basran starting Friday in the season opener against the Royals.

The 19 year-old got the call last year and was the winning goaltender in a 4-3 overtime victory against the visiting Spokane Chiefs.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Scoring by committee a must

Who will score goals for the Kelowna Rockets this season?

"With the type of system I would like to implement, you will see some more offence coming from the back end. I think it will be by committee". 

Head Coach Kris Mallette will look down the bench and won't see Matthew Wedman, Nolan Foote, Kyle Topping or Pavel Novak.

Wedman, Foote and Topping are playing pro hockey while the team was unable to secure a visa for Novak.

"We want to see Dillon Hamaliuk come back the way he ended and started the season with renewed confidence," Mallette added.

The 20 year-old was excepted to play pro hockey this season after signing a three year entry level contract with the San Jose Sharks. But the NHL team typically doesn't like to rush their prospects and believe Hamaliuk's up and down season shows he needs more seasoning.

"Dave Kope, another player that we acquired, he can score goals. Big years are going to have to be had by a bunch of our 19 year-old's. Mark Liwiski, Alex Swetlikoff, you are hoping that these guys gain a lot of confidence early and ride it out for this shortened season."    

How much fire power have the Rockets lost from a season ago?

Over 200 points, with 19 year-old d-man Kaedan Korczak the top returning player after racking up 49 points in 60 games.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Like father, like son

Curtis Hamilton knows something about hockey.

He played in the WHL.

He played for Canada at the World Juniors and at the Spengler Cup. 

He even played a game in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. 

Hamilton will now join the Rockets coaching staff - temporarily - in a secondary role.

The 29 year-old is looking forward to working with the players.

Hopefully that makes me more approachable and helps them in whatever walk of life they continue to do, whether in be in hockey or whatever they do. I just want to give them (players) the life lessons and whatnot that I have learned and pass that along them."   

Hamilton is typically overseas at this time of the year, but like many, his season with the Belfast Giants never happened due to COVID-19.
Making the most out of a bad situation, with no title, Hamilton will help where he can.

"I am not entirely sure what I will kind of be doing. I think I am going to be extra hands and feet to help out and do whatever Kris, Vernon and Adam want me to do. Like I said, more eyes for Kris just to help out in this condensed season they have coming up."       

If you are wondering, Hamilton is the son of Kelowna Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Hardship makes rookie easy to embrace

 It was a revealing interview. 

I didn't see it coming.

I spoke to Kelowna Rockets rookie d-man William (Will) Irvine on Tuesday.

He was asked about the most influential person in his hockey career.  

The conversation became heart felt in a hurry.

"My dad got me started pretty much as soon as I can remember. I was skating and shooting and going to an outdoor rink pretty much every day. He passed away when I was five."    

His father's name was Wayne. He died of a heart attack. 

"I don't want to say I got used to it. I tried to keep it as normal as I could and I always worked hard and that's what got me here". 

What makes the story even more heart felt is how a nearby family in Morden, Manitoba, who's son now plays with the Victoria Royals (Trentyn Crane) became like a second family to Irvine.  

William (Will) knows his father is watching.

"He told me how to skate. He taught me how to shoot a puck. Obviously pretty much every game I play, I play for him and try to make him proud".  

I cheer for them all, but after hearing his revealing story, it's hard not to cheer just a little bit harder for Rockets rookie d-man William (Will) Irvine. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

The price of playing in a pandemic

If you want to play junior hockey during a pandemic, you have to pay a price.

Health officials require the Victoria Royals, Prince George Cougars and Vancouver Giants to quarantine for a week - in a hotel - before resuming practice. 

A bed. 

A bathroom and food delivered to your door. 

No going outside. 

Prince George Head Coach Mark Lamb admits its an odd way to spend a week in Kelowna or Kamloops. 

"We are just following all the prodigals, right to a tee. We all got tested yesterday. We will get tested again. I think when practice starts, it will change everything for these kids." 

How did the COVID test go for the personable Lamb? 

"It was absolutely nothing. It took five seconds. We are not getting the nose one done. That one is probably a little more uncomfortable. It didn't bother me one bit." 

If you think the Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers are getting off scot free, think again. They are quarantining for a week too, in their billet homes.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Backup not about to take a back seat

Shoot the Breeze Photo
If you think this abbreviated 24 game season in the BC Division is a waste of time, think again. 

It's huge for the draft eligible players who will be under a microscope with over 60 NHL scouts - per game - allowed into the building to watch.

It's also massive for players like Kelowna Rockets goaltender Cole Schwebius, who is undrafted and turns 20 in April.

The Kelowna born prospect may have lost a season of development when COVID-19 came crashing down, but the personable last line of defence, used the downtime to work on his game.  

"I have had a lot of time to be able to go on the ice with the coaches and work on the technical aspects of my game. Even off the ice, I have had the time to work on my daily routine and mentally, so I think I will come back better than I ever have."  

With no WHL season, Schwebius played an exhibition game with the BCHL's West Kelowna Warriors before spending a month with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

"It was just so much fun to go out there and play again. It was a nice reminder that this is what we are working for right now. Obviously this isn't going to last forever. You are going to be able to play hockey again. Just keep working. Just remember to have fun and go out there and play," Schwebius added.        

With limited ice time playing behind Roman Basran, Schwebius picked up 7 wins in 2019-2020 -- 5 of them came on the road.  

Friday, March 12, 2021

Extended stay but no vacay

It will go down as the longest hotel stay in the history of the Victoria Royals.

The WHL team will spend over 40 nights at the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna in an effort to play hockey.

Head Coach Dan Price says it will be strange playing all of their games on the road.

"At the end of the day this really is a short term competition. Twenty-four games in 48 days, I don't think it will have the same feel as a normal regular season. This is going to feel more like a sprint. Like a tournament. You have to break that out into small chunks of games where you really try to feel like the home team when you can."

It will be anything but a vacation for the Royals, who will make the Coast Capri Hotel their home away from home.

"Yes we are going out on the road. We are going to be a remote outpost and we will be operating that way. The City of Kelowna, the Rockets organization and the league have all been tremendous to make sure we have what we need there," Price added.

The Coast is operated by Royals majority owner Graham Lee.      

The Royals open the abbreviated season March 26th against the Kelowna Rockets.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Rookie enters season with little fan fair

 Shea Weber.

Jamie Benn.

Josh Gorges.

What do they all have in common?

All played for the Kelowna Rockets. All played in the NHL. All were never chosen in the WHL bantam draft.

The same can be said for 17 year-old Scott Cousins, who will play for the Rockets as an undrafted player.

Listed by Lorne Frey more than a year ago, Cousins will try to make the transition from midget to major junior.

"The jump from minor midget with a bunch of 16 year-old's to the WHL isn't a small leap. I am looking forward to it though. I am skilled enough to compete at that level".    

Cousins is one of 11 rookies on this years roster.

"My parents know this is something I have been working for for as long as I can remember. They have been awesome. They have given me everything in their power to get me to this level," Cousin added.

The well spoken rookie will also have to make the transition to a billet family for the first time, after having the luxury of living at home with parents Bill and Cheryl.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Basran always ready to learn

When he was younger, YouTube got in the way. 

Goaltender Roman Basran was too busy watching video clips of ex-Vancouver Canuck Roberto Luongo making saves, that he didn't pay enough attention to what really matters. Now a few years older, the 19 year-old values his East Indian heritage, and during the pandemic, took it upon himself to learn Punjabi. 

"My grandparents speak it. My great grandparents speak it. My dad speaks it. Now that we had some time now, it is good to dig down into your roots, learn a few things about your culture and about your ethnicity. I thought I would pick up a little bit of Punjabi might help me make friendships in the future." 

It's been a steep learning curve for the soft spoken Basran, who seems to open up verbally when asked about what is really important to him - his family and the language is common place with his ancestors. 

"It is hard to learn it. Like I feel for the most part it is in my blood so I can say the words correctly, for the most part, but I can't understand all the words, especially when they speak fast," the Delta, BC resident added. 

Basran has also draw great inspiration from his 98 year-old great grand father, who immigrated to Canada with virtually nothing and made a good life for himself and his family in the lumber industry.