Saturday, October 16, 2021

Webbles wobble but they don't fall down

Colby Knight
Three games in and lots to like with the 2021-2022 version of the Kelowna Rockets. A work in progress for certain, but if compete is the foundation to win games this season, mission accomplished. And lets be honest. At it's core, a high level of compete can often mask discrepancies in ones game. Not all the time, but often - will does beat skill. If you are willing to sacrifice to block a shot or be more determined to win a face-off than the guy opposite you, it does make a different. Playing to your strengths and hiding your weaknesses is what this years edition is trying to figure out. Teams with little turnover have that understanding. With 10 players gone from last seasons abbreviated campaign, the Rockets are still finding a team identity. Head Coach Kris Mallette told me as much last night on our post game show. In a 4-2 upset over arguably the best team in the Western Conference, the Rockets used physicality, solid goaltending, a timely power play and adversity in a two goal win. They could have crumbled after having a two goal lead disappear, with the backbreaker coming in the form of a shorthanded goal. Instead of making it 3-1, the Kamloops Blazers score while killing a penalty and it's 2-2. Sure, the home team wobbled, but as the old TV commercial goes 'Weebles wobble but they don't fall down'. (Webbles). The Rockets wobbled, but they didn't collapse. That's a great sign. Oh ya, the Blazers took control of the game to tie the score, but instead of breaking and crumbling in front of 34 hundred patrons that were allowed back in the building for the first time in 583 days, the lead goal came from it's most dangerous shooter. Colton Dach rifled home his second of the game and third of the season to make it 3-2. An empty net goal from Elias Carmichael and the sellout crowd (sellout was 3400 or 50% of capacity) went home with a smile. It's only game three. Championships are never won in mid October, but did this team prove something to themselves? My hope is that was the case along with the well deserved two points. 

What did I like? Lets start here:

  1. Discipline. It's tough playing an arch rival and not getting emotionally invested against them. You have to play with emotion, but it has to be bridled. If you take ill advised trips to the box, the Blazers will tear you a new one. The visitors were granted four power play chances. 
  2. Not chasing the game never hurts. The Rockets opened the scoring for a third straight game. Up until that point, the Blazers had not trailed at any point this season.
  3. Physicality. In the most aggressive game I've seen from this group this season (small sample size) the ability for the d-men to stand there ground as the Blazers skated with speed entering the zone was impressive. Noah Dorey led the charge. Tyson Feist is great at it too. Jackson DeSouza, who often doesn't play to his size, also ramped up his compete level.
  4. Getting back to Dorey. The 18 year-old is raw. He reminds me of a younger Tyson Feist in some respects. The desire to hit and join the attack, sometimes ill advised, is entertaining to watch. Do you know that Dorey is third on the team in shots on net? Only Colton Dach and Pavel Novak, who we expect to lead in that category, have more shots on goal than the undrafted Dorey.
  5. Max Graham looked good last night. He scores the 2-0 goal, but let's not lose fact he is doing some good work at the face-off circle. 
  6. Not a bad debut for 18 year-old Colby Knight. Looked like steady eddy in there. Maybe a modern day Shane Bendera? Quick down low. Excellent rebound control. A steady blocker and no crazy acrobatic saves in an effort to make the WHL Plays of the Week. Just stop that darn thing. Knight was - DYNOMITE. 
  7. Colton Dach's shoot first mentality. Love it!! Not just because he can score, but those two on ones where no shot is taken over making a picture perfect pass grinds my gears. Shoot the puck is always the best option on an odd man rush. Goal scorers shoot. They don't pass. It isn't being greedy. It's smart. Chuck Kobasew. Justin Keller. Jesse Schultz. Rourke Chartier. Jamie Benn. I am out of breath here. You get it. Goal scorers shoot....they don't pass the puck.
  8. I liked the crowd. The sound of live fans in the building celebrating after a goal or big save or a thundering hit was missed. It was nice to see bums in the building!! 
  9. Having a color analyst beside me was like a breath of fresh air. Kent Simpson joined me last night in the broadcast booth. I didn't have the luxury of having any help in the abbreviated season, so to have someone add to the conversation and have dialogue with was something I missed. You don't appreciate it until its gone. I took it for granted. Plus, it makes the broadcast so much better not having just one voice nattering for three hours.  
  10. We used it because we had no other choice during the abbreviated season. I would call HC Kris Mallette for a post game show comment and patch it into my broadcast board for those listening. We've kept the phone calls going this season, not because we can't see each other face-to-face as we are both double vaccinated, but it's just easier and just as affective. I am just glad the coach accepts my calls after games - win or lose. 'Mally' has the easy option to ignore me by not picking up the phone call. So far, I'm 3 for 3 as he's said, 'hello' on the other end. My greatest fear would be an automated voice coming on the line - 'This number is no longer in use'.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

What's Up Dach?

Colton Dach
The Kelowna Rockets and Saskatoon Blades don't often trade, but when they do, they make a big splash in the WHL pool.  

Cannon Ball!!!

Tuesday's transaction between the two teams was a surprise on this side of the Rockies and can only be described as a block buster. 

One for one trades in the WHL involving marquee players is very rare. 

The Saskatoon Blades announced they had traded 18 year-old forward Colton Dach to the Kelowna Rockets for 18 year-old forward Trevor Wong. 

My eyes popped out of my head when I saw the deal was consummated. 

In the Okanagan, Wong was a building block. A player you wouldn't trade. It would only be considered if you could get a player of equal or greater value in return. Wong was the teams leading scorer in the abbreviated season in 2020-2021 with 16 points in 16 games and was a first round WHL bantam pick in 2018. He was highly touted and heavily recruited. When the Blades became the trading partner and Dach was the player offered in exchange, GM Bruce Hamilton had to ponder it.

Ultimately he consider it and pulled the trigger. 

It only came to light in a Saskatoon Blades press release that Dach had asked for a trade a day after being selected in the second round of July's NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blades, clearly dealing from an area of weakness with a disgruntled player, found what they believe to be equal value in Wong. It makes sense considering both players are the same age while being first round selections. Dach was chosen 6th overall (one spot behind Kamloops Blazers sharp shooter Logan Stankoven) while Wong, as mentioned, was taken 18th.

The trade in many respects reminds me of a deal the two teams were involved in during the summer of 2012. The Rockets send Shane McColgan and Jessey Astles to the Bridge City Bunch (Sorry Les Lazaruk for stealing your line) for forward Ryan Olsen.

Much like the Dach/Wong deal, both McColgan and Olsen were first round WHL bantam picks. Olsen was 18. McColgan and Astles were both 19 at the time.  

Olsen was considered a two-way centre with size at the time of the deal.

Dach is described much the same way. 

McColgan was the Rockets leading scorer when he was traded to the Blades in 2012. The same holds true with Wong following Tuesday's transaction.

So, here we are again. The Rockets have one of the Blades best young players while Saskatoon has one of Kelowna's highly regarded forwards.

It feels like deja vu.

Interestingly enough, Colton Dach's first career WHL goal came against the Kelowna Rockets. Now he wears the colours of teal, red, copper, black and white with an angry looking Ogopogo on the front. 

The hope is Dach's shoot first mentality will frustrate more than a few Western Conference goaltenders this season.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Optimism high

Everyone is undefeated, so optimism remains high for all five teams in the WHL's BC Division.

Kelowna Rockets General Manager Bruce Hamilton admits their won't be many easy games.

"I think Prince George is going to be a better team. They have been building for a while. For sure Kamloops. They had a real good team last year. It will be a real good division and we will play each other a lot to start until we can cross the border".

The border remains closed by land for Canadians going into the United States.

"We've got an exciting group of young guys. Our team will certainly change quite a bit. We have gone with a faster, more skilled group. I am looking forward to see what they can do when we get them on the real stage."       

The Rockets conclude the pre-season schedule this weekend with two games against the Kamloops Blazers.

The regular season starts October 8th. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Rockets rough up Royals

Will Irvine

he Victoria Royals shouldn't like Prospera Place.

It has been anything but kind to them of late.

Another loss last night to the hands of the Kelowna Rockets.

4-1 was the final in the finale of a double header pre-season set in the Okanagan.

The Royals have just one win at Prospera Place in their last 15 appearances.

That is a record of 1-12-1-1 over at stretch which includes the teams record when they had to play home games at Prospera Place during the abbreviated season.

In Saturday's game, d-men Jake Lee and Will Irvine each had a goal and an assist in the Rockets second consecutive win.

Nicolas Cristiano started in goal and was flawless making 11 saves. Nineteen year-old Cole Tisdale played the final 40 minutes and made 17 of 18 stops.

The Rockets now get set for a home and home series with the Kamloops Blazers next weekend to wrap up the exibition schedule and then we play for real.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

A sense of normalcy

It almost felt normal.

Back at Prospera Place with fans in the building.

Sure, we were wearing masks. We attempted to social distance. Not many handshakes were exchanged, but we did our best to greet those we haven't seen for close to 18 months.

The product on the ice didn't change.

It was fast. Mistakes were made. Goals were scored. It was a fun night.

Rookie Max Graham, making his debut, scored once and added two assists in the Kelowna Rockets 7-3 win over the Victoria Royals. Despite getting into early penalty trouble, the home team scored three goals on it's opening three shots on net, one of which came shorthanded from Turner McMillen.

Here are a few observations from the game:

  • Cole Schwebius started in goal. The 20 year-old is completing with three others to retain an overage spot this season. Making 17 of 19 saves in the win through 40 minutes before giving way to Nicholas Cristiano in the third period, Schwebius best save may have been with a low shot that hit him in the left leg on a quick shot from Royals forward Brayden Schuurman. 
  • Turner McMillen had great jump. His greatest gift is his work ethic. Opening the scoring on a breakaway, he was gassed as he skated in on goal but showed some good finish. I always peg him for older than he is. McMillen is an 18 year-old, yet he always looks older to me.
  • Elias Carmichael had a nice, quiet game. With two assists, the 18 year-old made a nice, quick pass to spring Scott Cousins in for his third period goal. 
  • Jake Lee played the part of a 20 year-old. He looked like an older, established veteran back there. I thought he looked steady and picked his spots to rush the puck.
  • Andrew Cristall is calm with the puck and his vision with it is elite. I just like the fact he doesn't have to wear that bird cage any longer. The half visor is visually more appealing.
  • I liked newcomer Gabriel Szturc. He can skate pretty well. The Czech born forward had a team high 6 shots on net. I like trigger happy hockey players. Shoot that thing...don't look for the highlite reel setup. 
  • Sixteen year-old Caden Price had a good night. Again, just from the eye test, I think he has some offensive upside. I know the coaches will be on him for doing a better job of defending, but I want to see him show confidence with the puck on his stick. Take it up ice. Make plays. Make mistakes. I don't care if you turn it over. Just get better and learn from it, but don't be afraid to make miscues. Tyson Barrie. Damon Severson. They were not the best defenders when they came into the WHL, but they were all Defenceman of the Year recipients because of what they could bring in the offensive zone.
  • A quiet night for the 2002 born players. That's a small group with the roster only having 4 of them. Ethan Ernst will take some time to get his motor running. The guy has played only two games in the last two years? He had wrist surgery after being hurt in game two of the abbreviated season in 2020-2021.
  • The Rockets were awarded only two power plays. It would have been nice to see them play more with the man advantage. Victoria had 7 chances and scored once. 
  • The two teams do it all over again tonight. See ya at the rink!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Fans allowed

The good news far outweighs the bad.

Let's start with the bad.

The Kelowna Rockets pre-season games Wednesday night against the Vancouver Giants in Ladner has been cancelled. Thankfully, COVID-19 has nothing to do with it. The G-Men have in the neighbourhood of seven players attending NHL training camps this week and have several injuries and can't successfully ice a team. I know what you are thinking. That's a first! With that game being taken off the schedule, the Rockets will only have four tune up games to work with before the puck drops for real - against Vancouver - October 1st. The Rockets host the Royals this Friday and Saturday before tangling with the Kamloops Blazers next weekend in a home and home series. 

Now the good news.

It appears health restrictions have been eased in Interior Health for gatherings for people indoors. Capped at no more than 50, the changes allow large events indoors to have 50 people or 50 percent of capacity, whichever is greater. What that means for the Kelowna Rockets is fans will be allowed at Prospera Place for the first time since March 11, 2020 when the team plays a pre-season games this weekend against the Victoria Royals. Oddly, it was the Royals that visited the last time patrons were allowed to watch a game in a facility that holds 6,001 spectators. With 50 percent capacity allowed, three thousand people will be in the building, wearing masks, if they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The only time masks won't be worn inside, is if you are eating or drinking. 

Interior Health sent out a press release late in the day with this comment:

“Thank you to everyone across the Interior who continues to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” IH President and CEO, Susan Brown said, in a statement. “However, we can’t let our guard down now. Getting vaccinated and being able to show proof of vaccination is how we can now resume some events and activities safely and with more people."

Friday, September 10, 2021

Working hand in hand with your arch rival

Trevor Wong

  • The Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers both reside in Interior Health. This area is dealing with arguably the stiffest health restrictions in Canada. Under the current rules, you can't have more than 50 people gather in-doors. What does that mean to those two teams? They can't hold pre-season games with fans in attendance if that stipulation isn't lifted. The Blazers have cancelled two games and will instead play tune-up games in Prince George in dealing with that restriction. The Rockets, who have five pre-season games on their schedule, have yet to move or cancel any, instead hoping things might change in the next few days. The exhibition schedule starts next Wednesday, on the road, against the Vancouver Giants. The game will be played in Ladner. 
  • It's been neat to see the Blazers and Rockets work together with Interior Health over ways to allow the two teams to run their businesses. Arch rivals on the ice, these two organizations have banned together in an effort to bring some normalcy to have fans in the stands when the puck drops for real on October 1st. At the end of the day, we are all in this together. We need each other to succeed and it's nice to see that the animosity on the ice can be separated for the greater good for hockey fans in our region.
  • Will you have to wear a mask inside the building to watch Rockets games this season? Unless you are eating or drinking, likely. If that's the case, will the screaming at the referee or at the opposing team be audible in the building with masks on? Hockey fans will find a way to show their disgust and dismay. I should mention, the Portland Winterhawks have already informed fans that they will have to mask up this season. The same goes for the Seattle Thunderbirds. I anticipate it being the norm in the Western Conference. 
  • It's hard to wrap your head around it. The Rockets haven't had fans at a home game at Prospera Place in over 500 days. The last game played with fans was March 11, 2020 in a 3-2 loss to Victoria. Over 47 hundred patrons took in that game.
  • The best case for the Rockets and Blazers right now is being allowed 50% capacity to start the season. That would translate to essentially 3,000 fans at the Rockets home opener. It's a baby step to full capacity, which will likely be feasible in November if COVID numbers remain stable. 
  • It's to early to name a captain, but I would like to see someone anointed that role this season. I want someone to step up and show they are the alpha-male of the group. It takes a special person. He doesn't have to be the loudest voice in the room, but must have the respect of his teammates and the individual must be inclusive. What does inclusive mean? As a veteran leader, you need to talk to the rookies. You need to bring them into the group. You need to lead by example by working hard in practice and doing what's best for the team. You do not need to be the best player. Character is paramount. The team did not have a captain last season and named Nolan Foote to that post in  October of 2019.
  • Pavel Novak made his return to Prospera Place. It was nice to see the 19 year-old back in the city after a long hiatus. The skilled forward did not play with the team during the abbreviated-COVID-19 season, instead suiting up for his country at the World Junior Hockey Championships and honing his skills in the Czech Republic. Novak is the teams leading scorer from two seasons ago. The teams rookie of the year in 2020, it's safe bet the Minnesota Wild prospect will be the trigger man this season.
  • Mark Liwiski had 9 goals during the abbreviated season. That was the most goals of anyone on the Rockets roster. At that pace, pro-rated over 68 games, the 20 year-old would have scored 40 times. Let's be realistic though. He won't score that many goals this season. It's easy to preform at a high level over a short period of time. It is way harder to be consistent with extensive travel and a more laborious schedule. Is 20 goals a possibility though? His career high is 11 set in 2018-2019.
  • New rule changes in the WHL. The most significant is coaches being able to challenge off-sides that result in goals. I like the idea. We see it in the NHL. My only complaint is the length of time it takes to review them. It puts the game 'on-hold' which can suck the life out of the building. If the coach challenges and gets it wrong, his team receives a minor penalty. Coaches.....choose wisely.  And yes, as media, we will be keeping a close tally on the success rate of these challenges.
  • If you are up early Sunday morning, I will be on Global News Morning with Jay Janower speaking of the virtues of the Kelowna Rockets. I may not have any pants on, but the Zoom call is only from the shoulders up! 8:23 am is when I am scheduled to appear. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Things that make me go hmm

  • Rookie Marcus Pacheco
    Head shots. No, not physical contact on the ice of the illegal variety, but photos taken of the players participating at training camp. I like to look through them once they are completed to see who the new guys are, so I can recognize them in an effort to introduce myself, but it also gives me a chance to see how players have changed, physically, over the past few months. I am not sure what Ethan Ernst's skin care regime is all about, but his head shot this year hasn't changed much since his prospect photo when he was 15. That Weyburn water must hold the properties of the fountain of youth!
  • The Rockets fitness test is Saturday. Under the watchful eye of athletic therapist Scott Hoyer, the player will be put through both strength and conditioning tests. Most players dread it, yet it's a good indicator of who put the work in during the summer. The result which I am most interested in seeing is the long distance run. Hoyer will have a different name for it, but it shows not only who has the best lung capacity, but who has the mental fortitude to break through the pain when the mind tells you to slow down or stop. I call it the 'Rourke Chartier event.' The 25 year-old often dominated and barely broke a sweat when he participated. His lung capacity was off the charts.  
  • I was asked if I wanted my photo taken by the Rockets digital media department. It's best that I pass. If I was forced, I would have to tilt my head up towards the ceiling in order to hide my turkey neck from all the weight I've put on this summer. 
  • Rookie goalie Justin Dueck is from Waldeck, Saskatchewan. Where is that? I know!! Why? I grew up in Swift Current, so the town of Waldeck is no stranger to me. It is along the Trans-Canada Highway, but don't blink or you will miss it. It has a population of 277 people. Just 18 k down the road, Waldeck is a German word meaning "Wooded Corner." It is named after the willows that grew along the banks of the Swift Current creek. 
  •  The 2018 WHL draft was a good one. Why? Seven players from that year have played a WHL game with the Kelowna Rockets. That class includes Trevor Wong, who was chosen in the opening round. Others in that class: Elias Carmichael. Jackson DeSouza, Noah Dorey Steel Quiring, Will Irvine and Turner McMillan. 
  • Of the 40 players attending training camp this week, 15 of them are from BC. Nine are from Alberta and 6 are from Saskatchewan. Four come from friendly Manitoba. Can you name the only American born player on the roster? Jackson DeSouza is from Erie, Colorado. 
  • Which city is most well represented at training camp? It's actually Kelowna. That has to be a first! Cole Schwebius, Max Graham, Rilen Kovacevic and Dylan Wightman are home grown talent. The city of Calgary has three players - Jackson Romeril, Jackson Smith and Alex Scheiwiller.
  • The most popular name choice of the 40 players attending camp? Jackson. There is Jackson Romeril, Jackson Smith and Jackson DeSouza. 
  • Who is the heaviest player at camp? Rookie d-man Jace Moffatt is 210 pounds. Moffatt is one of only three players that are over 200. Goalie Justin Dueck and second year d-man John Babcock tip the scales at 200 pounds each.
  • The tallest player is Jackson DeSouza at 6'4. 
  • Only 4 of the 40 players are listed. Goalie Nicholas Cristiano, Jace Moffatt, Scott Cousins and Dylan Whitman fall into that category.
  • Ten players are born in January. August, April and February have 5 each. November and December saw no players born in those two months. 
  • For those wondering, training camp is closed to the general public. The reason? COVID of course! 
  • Matthew Wedman has been invited to Ottawa Senators development/rookie camp. The Kelowna Rockets MVP from the 2019-2020 season was originally drafted by the Florida Panthers but didn't have his contract renewed. Wedman joins former Rockets d-man Lassi Thomson at the camp. Thomson was a first rounder of the Senators. 
  • Zach Franko is back in the WHL...sort of. The former Rocket is working with the Winnipeg Jets/Manitoba Moose organization as a scout. The 28 year-old will be based out of Portland, Oregon where he will have his eyes peeled on teams in the WHL that pass through there this season. 
  • How cool is it to see Quintin Laing join the coaching staff? The former Rocket will be a nice add to Kris Mallette's group. The two are former teammates and were drafted into the NHL at the same time. Why is Laing such a good fit and a good guy? He was born in Rosetown, Saskatchewan!!!
  • The Rockets home opener has changed. With concerns over crossing the US/Canada border, the team will open the season October 1st against the Vancouver Giants. They were scheduled to open the 2021-2022 campaign against the Everett Silvertips, but that game has been scrapped. The WHL sent out a press release yesterday stating that BC Division teams will play all games in October within the division. The same holds true for those in the US Division. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Young and restless

Andrew Cristall

They are raw, wide eyed and often naïve.

It’s that unbridled enthusiasm that make 16 year-old players such nice additions to any junior hockey team.

A total of 10-16 year-old’s are attending Kelowna Rockets training camp this week.
Many are unfamiliar, outside of forward Andrew Cristall. The slick skating forward was the team’s first round bantam pick in 2020 and played in 14 games during the abbreviated-COVID season. He showed solid offensive instincts and will undoubtedly make the opening day roster.

Two other 16 year-old’s that I will be watching closely are Marcus Pacheco and d-man Caden Price.

Pacheco signed a standard WHL player’s contract in April. It was a pleasant surprise considering the Edmonton product was considering playing NCAA hockey and the WHL appeared to be his plan B. Pacheco is a third round pick from 2020.

Caden Price is intriguing because he comes with offensive upside. Lots of it in fact. A few years ago he had 31 goals in 31 games playing with the Saskatoon Generals. Can he translate those numbers to the WHL level? Not likely right away, but you can’t teach skill. I want to see him join the rush and throw caution to the wind in training camp. I need to see he can skate, has good edges and is comfortable handling the puck and distributing it. Tyson Barrie did it at 16 and look what he turned into.

The tough part for the coaching staff is making the decision on whether it’s best for these young players to remain with the big team where they will likely see limited ice time. 

While it is hard to swallow for the parent and the player, they are often served better by going back to midget for more seasoning.

The WHL is committing to dress 16 year-old players for no less than 40 games, so it’s hard for many teams to have more than two of them on its roster.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

'Cole' notes on Rockets goaltending outlook


Cole Schwebius' time is now


That's the number of players that will participate in Kelowna Rockets main camp this week at Prospera Place.

On-ice sessions begin tomorrow as those 40 players are split into two teams.

Training camp is always interesting. What can we expect? 

Let's look at the goaltenders today.

Five players will be vying for just two spots with 20 year-old Cole Schwebius returning with the most game experience.

Used as primarily a back-up to starter Roman Basran after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Thunderbirds, it is now or never for the Kelowna resident to show he is worthy of being a number one goalie at the WHL level.

If you missed it, Basran was released this summer and was immediately listed by the Everett Silvertips.

Arguably the best interview on the team, Schwebius played in 9 games last season, posting a 5 and 3 record with a goals against average of 3.11. His save percentage will need to improve if he wants to be a starter, with a career .892 in 47 appearances. 

Also competing for a job at training camp is Cole Tisdale.

Tisdale is now 19, but made a name for himself as an emergency call up at 15 when he played five games during the 2017-2018 season. Since then he has spent the majority of the past two seasons in the AJHL. Tisdale is a 8th round bantam pick.

Nicholas Cristiano is back. Who? You may or not remember him from the abbreviated season. He was one of three goaltenders on the roster and saw action in just one game. It was a nice debut for the listed goalie, a 31 save performance against the Victoria Royals in a 5-1 win. 

The two rookie goalies attending camp are Justin Dueck and Alex Scheiwiller. Dueck is 18 while Scheiwiller is wet behind the ears at only 16. Dueck, from Waldeck, Saskatchewan was a 10th round bantam pick in 2018 while Scheiwiller was chosen in the 7th rounder in 2020.

In my humble opinion, the starting role in 2021-2022 is up for grabs. No one is a lock. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Pre-season just a month away!!!

  • Here we are. Mid-August and a month since I posted a few thoughts on this blog. Where to start? Well, we are a few weeks away from what would typically be rookie camp, with close to 100 hopefuls taking to the ice. It would be chance to see the newest crop of just drafted prospects take to the ice against others who are attending with the hopes of being listed by the team with a good showing. We didn't see a rookie camp last September with the pandemic playing havoc. Will it cripple another attempt at rookie camp again this season? Sadly, COVID-19 won't go away. The Delta Variant is the big concern and overall positive cases are going up and in the wrong direction despite more people being vaccinated. It has to be frustrating for teams not knowing if they can proceed as planned. While we want to believe its 'full speed ahead', you can't but hold your breath for the next two weeks and for the calendar to change to September.
  • To think, the Rockets first pre-game game is exactly a month away when they face the Vancouver Giants down in Ladner. The pre-season consists of just 5 games before the puck drops for real October 2nd against the visiting Everett Silvertips. 
    • While the WHL hasn't sent out a press release asking all players, coaches and team personnel to be fully vaccinated like their counterparts in both the QMJHL or OHL, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that without being vaccinated, you can't play or travel with the virus still playing such a prominent role. As a radio broadcaster, I was unvaccinated during the abbreviated season back in March, but I didn't travel with the team. I had zero contact with the players or the coaches. I am no scientist, but without two shots, I can't be in the same air space with any team member in fear of infecting them. Fast forwarding to now, I have been vaccinated, which appears to be my ticket to not only traveling with the team but making my way across the border into Oregon and Washington State.
    • The Winnipeg Jets have put a line in the stand. If you are not double vaccinated, you won't be watching the team play home games inside Canada Life Centre. While it sounds bold for the team to make the decision, True North Sports and Entertainment says season ticket holders made it clear that was their preference. Look for others in Canada to follow the Jets lead. The question must be asked, will WHL teams also require hockey fans to be full vaxxed to enter the building or will they let the provincial health officers to make that decision for them? As a fully vaccinated person, my hope is those around me inside a building would also do the same, but that's not my call. 
    • I golfed with three Rockets season ticket holders on the weekend. A small sample size, but all three preferred everyone in the arena vaccinated over none-vaccinated. 
    • Speaking of traveling, two NHL teams have already decided their radio play-by-play broadcasters won't be part of the traveling entourage this season. The Buffalo Sabres will have their radio crew call road games from home on a monitor as will the Toronto Maple Leafs. I anticipate more teams doing the same. The fact is, radio is the ugly step child of media. It is not king. TV is. Radio may sit third in the pecking order behind the teams ability to control its own message through it's social media channels. NHL radio is nowhere near what it used to be in the glory days, especially in the 80's and 90's when big names were behind the microphones and played a significant part in covering the team. People used to listen more intently and radio was one of the go-to mediums. With COVID prohibiting TV and radio broadcast crews from traveling last season, they were forced into dipping into technology by sitting in a studio and calling games over a monitor. Did it work? It actually worked so well you could hardly tell they weren't physically in the arena. Credit to the radio crews and the production people that were able to pluck ambience sound from inside the respective arenas. It was surprisingly good. Like very, very good. Broadcasters will kick and scream if they are told they can't travel this season, but this may be the new reality. It isn't perfect. Pre-game skates and media interviews can't be executed face-to-face, but it has been proven that it's possible to get the job done with a high level of proficiency. If the team pays the travel costs for its media members to attend road games, I could see broadcasters making the trip. If the media company has to fit the bill, in a time of fiscal restraint, those who love riding the private jet with the team, rubbing shoulders with the players, eating at great restaurants and visiting excellent NHL arenas in fabulous cities may be a pipe dream moving forward. It's one of the perks of  being a broadcaster at that level. Losing the ability to be on the road and covering the team would be a hard pill to swallow for many - if not all.
    • Enough COVID talk. How about the season that is schedule to start October 2nd. For those who weren't paying attention, the Kelowna Rockets won't play any games in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba this season. Teams based in those provinces won't return the favour either. It's strictly a diet of BC and US Division opponents this season. The Rockets will play 48 games against BC Division teams with 20 against American based clubs. That's 96 points available within your own division. With Kamloops winning back-to-back BC Division titles and looking as the odds on favourite to do it for a third straight time, winning games against them won't be easy. Prince George may be the most improved. It could be a three horse race between the Rockets, Giants and Royals to see who can grind out points against one another.
    • I've been calling games in this league since 1995, so am I disappointed that we won't be making a prairie road trip this season? Honestly, no. Been there, done that. It isn't like I don't enjoy it, but it's typically a grueling trip with 6 games in 9 night's where the team from 'out west' doesn't look very good on a Tuesday night in Prince Albert because of  travel, moving from city-to-city in a small window and on most occasions involving the Rockets, the best players are absent as they attend a world junior main camp. The only thing missing from not playing games against Eastern Conference opponents will be my first live viewing of Connor Bedard.   
    • Roman Basran's time with the Kelowna Rockets is over. The writing appeared to be on the wall. When you are a 20 year-old goalie, you need to be a consistent, dominating force at that position in order to earn one of three overage spots. Basran was unable to attain greatness consistently. He had his moments, but again it was streaky play. Basran had many highlites during his time in red, teal, black and white. Who will forget his first career start, at 16, with a 38 safe performance against the Medicine Hat Tigers. It was a Kelowna Rockets first where a goalie that young earned the white wash in his first career start. Basran was also involved in a goalie fight with Dylan Garand of the Kamloops Blazers which got him recognized with those viewing the replay time and time again on YouTube. One thing Basran didn't accomplish during his stint in the WHL was a goalie goal. I thought if one goalie would score a goal - Basran would be that candidate. He loved to play the puck. He especially loved to play it in his 16 and 17 year-old seasons and tempered that enthusiasm down in his 18 and 19 year-old campaigns. He could fire the puck quickly and accurately, but he never really came close to achieving something that only one other Rockets goalie has been able to accomplish. Jeff Calvert scored a goalie goal with the Tacoma Rockets. I have never called a 'goalie goal' in my 26 years in the booth. If I was a betting man, I would have put my money on Basran being the one that would allow me to tick that off my bucket list. 
    • Trevor Wong didn't hear his name called at the NHL Draft, but all is not lost for a second year forward who picked up 16 points in 16 games during the abbreviated season. Wong will attend the training camp of the Florida Panthers. 
    • Tyrell Goubourne, pound for pound, was one of the toughest and most intimidating players ever to wear Kelowna Rockets colours. 'Goulby' just signed a one year contact with the Belleville Senators, the AHL farm team of the Ottawa Senators. Now 27, Goulbourne has 11 NHL games under his belt with the Philadelphia Flyers. He most recently played with the Vegas Golden Knights AHL affiliate, but never had a chance to dress for the big team. A move to the Senators organization seems like a better fit to get another shot of getting back to the NHL. Ottawa is young and improving after missing the playoffs last season. Vegas is loaded with veteran talent and owned the second best overall record in the NHL in 2020-2021. Goulbourne is a bottom 6 forward, so earning a spot with the Senators seems a more likely possibility.
    • Many people have been struggling mentally during the last 17-18 months in dealing with the pandemic. I get it. It's been rough. That said, have our anxiety levels not increased exponentially since the advent of the cellphone? No seriously, are we better off mentally because we have it in our hands and look on it continuously? No...we....are...not. Some post on social media for the exact purpose of getting likes and feedback/admiration from others. If you don't get that 'positive' feedback, you go into a dark place. If you really struggle with the mental side of living on this ever changing planet of ours, look at your iPhone as one of the contributing reasons why you don't feel good about yourself. I challenge those that struggle to abstain from it. Take a week from it being in the palm of your hand. I bet many can't do it. 

    Thursday, July 15, 2021

    Weber's future/Lind unprotected?/Two coaches to cheer for

      • Shea Weber
        Welcome to mid-July. Where I live, it's all about forest fire season. It was almost inevitable
        when we - like most of Canada - were hit by a massive heat wave with temperatures for days hovering over 40 degrees. The Okanagan is a dry, hot climate, so heat and sun are typical at this time of the year, but this type of heat for this extended period of time, with no relief was unusual. I love the summer. I love the heat. I will admit, even for me, it was a little to hot under the collar. With the heat comes the threat of forest fires and that's exactly the position we are in now. I know it's their job and they are darn good at it, but it still amazes me how good fire crews are at tackling these blazes. The pilots in these water bombers turn into rock stars at this time of the year as they save property and lives time and time again. The people on the ground creating containment lines with the use of hatchet pick axes in their hands is amazing. Climate change is real. What is also real is people going around setting fires intentionally for either thrill or in some cases, sadly, creating employment. Sure, human caused fires are part of the problem with careless behaviour, but these 'suspicious fires' grind my gears. It puts lives and property at danger and makes everyone anxious. The air quality is also compromised at a time when being outdoors and enjoying summer should be priority number one. Heck, we've spent so much time in-doors during the pandemic, I want to be outside enjoying the fresh air. Sadly, that fresh air has a smoky haze to it. 
      • I was thinking of what to touch on in this blog entry and Shea Weber was the first thing that came to mind. Is his career in jeopardy? It appears so with injuries mounting and the threat of the 35 year-old having to take the entire season off to recover. And face it, at that age, sitting an entire season on the sidelines would make it extremely difficult to come back and play at a high level after a long absence. It is easy to say, 'I knew something was up', but it did seem odd when Weber was seen tearing up at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup final series with Tampa Bay. I believe the heartbreak for every player who comes that close to winning it all is real, but when Weber showed it publicly, my first thought wasn't injury, but more-so that he realized his one and only chance of winning hockey's holy grail was over. He likely wouldn't be in this position again. Indeed that may be the case, not because of the Canadiens performance and future outlook, but because his body is beat up after years of wear and tear and the ending is near. 
      • While it's been suggested Weber will be left unprotected in the NHL expansion draft with the theory he will be placed on long term IR, will the Canucks leave former Kelowna Rockets forward Kole Lind unprotected too? That's the rumour. Teams must submit their protected list by Saturday. Lind played 7 games with the Canucks this season, failing to register a point. The now 22 year-old was chosen by the NHL team in the second round in 2017 and was the 33rd player plucked off the board. If Lind is chosen, let's hope he gets a solid chance of being an NHL regular. 
      • Since my last blog entry, the Kelowna Rockets have extended Kris Mallette's contract. Despite a small sample size, 'Mally' deserves it. Selfishly, I am glad he will be around for another three years to guide the ship because it gives me someone to cheer for. I'm serious. If I have a good relationship with a head coach, who treats me with respect and essentially allows me to feel a part of the team and not feeling like an outsider, my thought process into wanting him to succeed goes up expediently. Maybe I am spoiled by how I was treated by Ryan Huska and Dan Lambert? I believe I have trust with Mallette with 6+ years of riding the bus together. I hope he believes that I can sit across the table and what he says - will stay in confidence. Trust is built over time, but some coaches allow you into the inner circle, while others don't want any part of you - as you are perceived as 'the media'. I think it comes with being in pro and then coming back to junior that pushes that sense of paranoia or lack of trust. That's my conclusion. Thankfully, in looking back in my time here in Kelowna, I can tell you on one hand who has given me the cold shoulder with far more positive relationships than negative ones. It's just nice to be cheering wholeheartedly for Mallette.
      • Mitch Love
        Mitch Love is the new head coach of the Stockton Heat. The just turned 37 year-old left his post as the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades to turn pro. Good for him. Love is very likable. In any of my dealings with him over the years, I get nothing but a quiet confidence. He is easy to cheer for. He never fast tracked his way to the position he holds today. I may be old school, but he made his mark in coaching on resume alone. The success he has had, the time that he has spent perfecting his craft shows others that he is a winner and a quality coach. Name recognition has zero to do with his ascension up the coaching ranks. Another example came this week when he sent me a text message. It's that type of 'reaching out' that goes a long way with me. It shows me, deep down, this guy cares for people and isn't about to run over someone in an effort to better himself. It's just another reason why I will pump his tires because I am the type of person that if you treat me with respect, you get it right back. I am sure we all want to be treated that way. If you want to play the one-way game, I'm way to old to grovel for your acceptance. That ship sailed in my 30's...which looking back...was way to late. 
      • Duncan Keith is an Edmonton Oiler. While many don't like the trade and the belief is the Oilers got fleeced for taking on all of his salary, it will be interesting to watch him regularly now that he is out west. In Chicago, despite having the ability to watch games, I never tuned in to see how well, or as I've heard from others, how his game has regressed. I say give him a chance to prove himself. The last thing I would want is people to evaluate me over the last 16 months. It's been a hard time for everyone during this pandemic and no one has been at his or her best. It's Keith's 38th birthday today!
      • Here we are - mid-July and the Kelowna Rockets have not named a new assistant coach to replace the departed Vernon Fiddler. I am interested in the new candidate with the hopes of building a strong relationship with that individual. 
      • Logos. The Vancouver Giants revealed its third jersey this week. Very nice. Is it better than the original? In my opinion, yep. The Portland Winter Hawks also introduced its new logo this week. It's a right-facing hawk with two feathers and a depiction of Mount Hood. It's the team's first logo change in 45 years after wearing the old Chicago Blackhawks crest since 1976. Do I like the new look? It's ok, but heck its original so you have to applaud them for that. The organization was often slagged for a lack of an original logo. I remember a 2008 article in the Hockey News rating Portland's logo as the second worst in the WHL. I won't mention who the worst was. But as the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 
      • Trevor Wong
         The Abbotsford Canucks are the name of the new AHL franchise. We knew the Vancouver Canucks farm team was moving to the Lower Mainland, but now they are just a half hour drive from Langley, where the WHL Giants play their home games. How much of a challenge will it be for the G-Men to sell tickets when many will be curious to check out the new product down the road? The 2021-2022 season will be an interesting one for all WHL teams as they welcome fans back into the building after a long hiatus, but the G-Men have an extra challenge on their plate. The sales staff at the LEC will be doing some extra lifting.
      • The NHL draft is July 23-24th. It will be interesting to see if a team selects Kelowna Rockets forward Trevor Wong. A quiet rookie season paved the way to an abbreviated sophomore campaign where the likeable Wong showed more offensive flair. The tough part is this draft is considered deep. That is why highly coveted prospect Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers may not be chosen until the second round. In a typical year, the former 30 goal scorer would be a no-brainer to be selected in round one. The Buffalo Sabres, who finished last in the league and won the draft lottery, will choose first overall for the second time since 2018.
      • A vaxathon is taking place in Kelowna this weekend (Sunday July 18th - 9 am until 3:30 pm at Kelowna Secondary School on Raymer Avenue ) with several familiar hockey faces participating. Prince George Cougars Assistant Coach Jason Smith will be on site in the morning with Kelowna Rockets Trevor Wong and Dillon Whitman there in the afternoon. Even Cougars players Ethan Samson and Aiden Reeves will be there playing street hockey with kids and signing autographs. Here is a chance to get your first shot. No excuses kids!!

    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!