Sunday, October 19, 2014

Americans upset the apple cart



Tri City Herald Photo credit
  • In what can only be described as a dream way to start the regular season, the Kelowna Rockets 10 game winning streak came to an end Saturday night courtesy of Eric Comrie and the Tri City Americans. With a few favorable bounces - which I will explain later – and the 19 year-old goaltenders strong play, the Americans earned a 5-2 win, handing the defending WHL regular season champions their first loss of the young season.  The Americans wanted desperately to upset the apple cart and become the first team to hand the Rockets a defeat. Mission accomplished.
  • “Coming to the rink every day, being able to not dwell on the negative was a positive for us. We still have a lot of work to do. We are not where we want to be.  We are happy with where we are at, but for sure we have some holes in our game that if we want to continue on this new streak that we are going to start, we have to shape up”, Rockets assistant coach Kris Mallette told me on the AM 1150 post game show.      
  • Comrie’s best save came in the dying moments of the second period when he robbed Rockets forward Kris Schmidli from close range. Tyson Baillie made a perfect pass out front to an undetected Schmidli who fired a one-time shot at the Winnipeg Jets prospect, who niftily turned it aside with a quick left pad save. That stop kept the score 2-2 heading into the third period.
  • The Rockets had to earn every goal they got while the Americans were able to use a favorable bounce to earn their first lead of the game. Forward Lucas Nickles attempted to centre the puck in front of the Rockets net only to have it hit a defender and slowly, and I mean agonizingly slowly, crawl it’s way between Jackson Whistle’s pads and into the back of the net.  
  • The Americans spent the majority of the first period watching the Rockets carry the puck inside the offensive zone.  The visitors spent a large quantity of time firing pucks at Comrie and dominating play. The Americans had a rare chance at the other end of the ice but it was a terrific start for the Rockets, who played a better all around game then they did the night before in a 3-2 win in Spokane.
  • With about 7 minutes left in the third period the Rockets were granted a power play after Americans d-man Parker Wotherspoon was fingered to the box for tripping. With the score 4-2, it gave the Rockets one last real good chance to make it a one goal game. Instead the power play unit, which is the best in the league statistically, fired blanks and ended the night going 0 for 3.       
  • If the Rockets were to lose, which would eventually happen, which team would you chose to fall victim too?  Heaven forbid Lethbridge come into your own barn and end the streak on home ice. You wouldn’t want the streak to end against arch rival Vancouver or Kamloops would you? If the streak ended against Prince George, the ‘New Ice Age’ would have celebrated it for a week!              
  • Parker Bowles had a strong game for the Americans. I thought he was the most dangerous player on the ice for the home team. Now 19, Bowles is especially creative in the offensive zone and makes good decisions with the puck. Undrafted, you would think with a strong season playing with line-mates Lucas Nickles and Brian Williams, the former Okanagan Rockets sharp shooter can get a longer look from an NHL team.
  • Tomas Soustal, the Rockets European rookie, scored his first career WHL goal Saturday night. Soustal made no mistake with a one- time shot from the slot that beat Comrie to the blocker side with about seven minutes left in the second period to tie the game at two. Soustal received high praise from the coaching staff for his efforts on both nights. It was nice to see Soustal score, but it was also cool to have rookies Tate Coughlin and newcomer Lucas Johansen pick up the assists.   
  • Nick Merkley was held off the score-sheet for only the second time this season. Tyson Baillie and Captain Madison Bowey also failed to hit the score-sheet.
  • What kind of night was it for the Rockets in the defensive zone? Cole Martin, who was a +61 last season, ended the night a rare -2.  Tyson Baillie was a -3. That probably hasn’t happened since his rookie season if at all.          
  • If it makes you feel any better, the only other undefeated team in the Canadian Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds lost 6-4 Saturday night to the Belleville Bulls.  
  • If you missed it, like I did, Myles Bell signed a pro deal with Albany this past week. That is the American Hockey League affiliate of the New Jersey Devils.
  • Oddly enough, on the night the Rockets 10 game winning streak ended, former coach Ryan Huska earned his first pro coaching victory as the Adirondack Flames found the win column for the first time this season.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Game notes vs. Chiefs



Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets play the second of a three game road trip with a stop in Spokane to battle the Chiefs. This is the first of four meetings between the two teams this season. The Rockets make a return visit November 11th. The Chiefs make two stops in Kelowna on November 7th and March 7th. Last season the Rockets were 1-1-0-0 in Spokane and 1-0-0-1 at home ice. In the four meetings the Rockets were 2-1-0-1, with the Chiefs out-scoring the defending WHL regular season champions 14-13. The Rockets are coming off a 6-4 win in Kamloops Wednesday night. Rourke Chartier and Austin Glover each scored twice in the win while Nick Merkley chipped in with three assists. The team went 3 for 5 on the power play. Jackson Whistle made 35 saves in the victory. Following tonight’s game the Rockets are in Tri City tomorrow before welcoming the Americans this Wednesday at Prospera Place.

Last season vs. Spokane Chiefs:
In Spokane: 6-3 loss and 2-1 win.
In Kelowna: 6-5 shootout loss and a 2-1 win.  

Bowey-Baillie represents WHL: Captain Madison Bowey and 19 year-old forward Tyson Baillie will represent the Western Hockey League in the Subway Super Series in November. Games against the Russian Selects will take place in Saskatoon November 10th and in Brandon November 11th.  Kelowna, Red Deer, Calgary, Brandon and Edmonton have two or more players on that WHL team.  

Trade winds blow: The Rockets reduced their roster last Friday by sending 20 year-old Carter Rigby to the Swift Current Broncos for a third round bantam pick. Rigby was originally acquired from the Prince George Cougars in September, 2011 for a third round bantam selection. Rigby played 157 regular season games in the Okanagan and scored a career high 21 goals in 2011-2012.

Rockets roar up top 10 rankings: The Rockets are now the top rated team in the CHL. The Rockets moved into the #1 spot in the CHL Top 10 rankings this week. Last week the team was ranked #2. They started the season rated as the 5th best team in the nation.

Tyson Time: Tyson Baillie leads the WHL in goals with 10. Baillie has scored a goal in seven of the nine games he has played this season. The 19 year-old played in his 200th career game Wednesday in Kamloops. Baillie is the highest scoring third round bantam pick the team has ever had. Randall Gelech, a third round pick from 1999, had 112 career points in a Rockets uniform.  Baillie has 155 career points including 68 goals and 87 assists.   

This and That: The Rockets are riding a 9 game winning streak to start the season. The team had a 16 game winning streak last season from November 22/13 to January 2/14….The Kamloops Blazers went 17 games without a regulation loss to start the season in 2012-2013…..The Calgary Hitmen went 11 games without a regulation loss to start the season in 1998-99. The team was 9-0-2 in its first 11 games when ties were a possible way of ending games...Rourke Chartier’s three points (2+1=3) Wednesday night allowed him to reach the 100 point plateau for his career. Chartier now has 102 career points in 138 regular season games…Chartier has three-multiple goal games this season. Chartier had four-multiple goal games last season. Of the seven career multiple goal games, six have been recorded on the road.…The Rockets gave up a season high 39 shots against Wednesday against the Kamloops Blazers. It was the first time this season the team was out-shot….Nick Merkley is second in WHL scoring with 3+15=18. That is one point fewer than Medicine Hat’s Cole Sanford….Nick Merkley now has 76 points in 76 career games….Rookie Dillon Dube will represent Canada at the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge at the end of the month. Dube will play for Team White. Rockets Head Coach Dan Lambert will coach Team Red….The Rockets are an incredible 119-27-3-5 in their last 154 regular season games dating back to the start of the 2012-2013 season….The Rockets have scored five shorthanded goals this season. Last season the team managed 13 shorthanded goals and had the best penalty killing unit in the WHL…Colton Heffley played in his 250th career WHL game October 7th against the Swift Current Broncos…. The Rockets have scored a power play goal in seven of nine games…The opposition has opened the scoring in six of the nine games….The Rockets have out-shot the opposition in eight of the nine games this season…Tyson Baillie had a six game goal scoring streak earlier this season. It is the second longest in the WHL this season. Victoria’s Austin Carroll is riding an 8 game goal scoring streak…. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Make it 9!!!



  • The Kamloops Blazers are for real. The Kelowna Rockets can vouch for that after a hard fought 6-4 win Wednesday night at Interior Savings Centre. The Rockets used two goals from Austin Glover and a pair of third period goals from Rourke Chartier in a 6-4 win. The clubs winning streak is now at 9 heading into back-to-back games in Washington State this weekend.
  • After a slow start against Lethbridge Saturday night, it was anything but for the Rockets against the Blazers Wednesday night. While the team’s were tied at one goal apiece after the opening period, the Rockets should have had a 2-0 lead. While the shots were 14-10 Kelowna, the visitors had numerous chances to score, yet it was the Blazers who found the back of the net first when Colin Shirley was awarded a penalty shot while shorthanded and beat Rockets goaltender Jackson Whistle to the blocker side.  Riley Stadel scored a power play goal as the teams went into the first intermission break tied at one goal apiece.
  • The Rockets scored two beautiful goals in this one with Nick Merkley playing a key part in both of them.  Merkley set up line-mate Tyrell Goulbourne with a power play goal in the second period that gave the visitors a 3-2 lead. Merkley went wide on Blazers defenceman Michael Fora, who slide down on the play in an effort to shutdown a passing lane. Merkley, with the patience of Job, calmly held onto the puck at the side of the net before feeding Goulbourne with a perfect pass for a one time shot that beat Kamloops goaltender Cole Kehler.   Merkley also set up Rourke Chartier for the game winning goal just 2:22 into the  third period on a pretty three way passing play which again included Goulbourne.
  • I thought Tyrell Goulbourne had a terrific game. The 20 year-old looked like....like....a 20 year-old. He was a force playing with Merkley and Chartier. Goulbourne had a nice hit in the first period and wouldn’t  give up on the puck when he worked wide on a Blazers defenceman,who attempted to pin him up against the boards. Instead, Goulbourne didn’t stop skating and continued to pursue the puck. Goulby’s determination and all out effort was impressive. If he plays like that consistently, and the key word here is consistently, he can earn a contract. The Flyers will have no choice.
  • It was nice to see Austin Glover rewarded with two goals. I like Glover and think he has been short changed by injuries over the years which have stunted his growth. No one will feel sorry for him, outside of me perhaps, but the second round bantam pick is off to a nice start this season.  I hope he continues to shoot the puck more and gains confidence in his game.          
  • Cole Ully is going to score a lot of goals. The 19 year-old Blazers forward is a big time player. If he scored 30 goals last year on a team that won 14 games, he can be a top scorer in this league this season with a much better team. Ully is dangerous with the puck and does some good things playing on the point on the Blazers power play. Matt Needman won’t get much credit for his defensive work, but man, is he ever responsible in his own end.   I thought he was a one trick pony with his focus purely on offensive, but Needman’s strong d-zone effort was clearly visible in this game.
  • Dillon Dube played his first game of the season. The 16 year-old missed the first eight games because of a broken ankle. Dube, the Rockets first round pick from 2013, was trying to shake off the rink rust after a six week absence.
  • The Rockets gave up a season high 39 shots on net. After surrendering only 10 shots on net in the first period, the quality of chances for the Blazers increased significantly in the final 40 minutes of the game.   
  • The Rockets take a nine game winning streak into Friday’s game against the Spokane Chiefs followed by a stop in Tri City against the Americans on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Game notes vs. Blazers

Shoot the Breeze Photography


Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open a three game road trip tonight with a stop in Kamloops to face the Blazers. The two teams are separated by three points with the Rockets holding two games in hand. These two teams met opening night with the Rockets earning a 6-1 win back on September 20th. Following tonight’s visit to ISC, Kelowna won’t return here until January 2nd. This is one of five visits to Kamloops this season. They make return stops on January 2nd, January 9th, February 7th and March 13th.  Last season the Rockets were 4-0-0-0 in Kamloops. In those four games, the defending WHL regular season champions allowed just seven goals against. The team is coming off a 4-2 come-from-behind win Saturday against the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes. Justin Kirkland scored the game winner while Tyson Baillie had two goals in their 8th win of the season. The real story was the play of Jackson Whistle, who was spectacular in earning his second – 1st star status of the season. Following tonight’s game the Rockets are in Spokane (Friday) and Tri City (Saturday). The team’s next home game is October 22nd vs. the Tri City Americans.

Trade winds blow: The Rockets reduced their roster last Friday by sending 20 year-old Carter Rigby to the Swift Current Broncos for a third round bantam pick. Rigby was originally acquired from the Prince George Cougars in September, 2011 for a third round bantam selection. Rigby played 157 regular season games in the Okanagan and scored a career high 21 goals in 2011-2012.

Rockets roar up top 10 rankings: The Rockets quick start this season has not fallen on deaf ears. The Rockets last week were rated as the second best junior team in Canada. The CHL Top 10 rankings have the Rockets as the second best team only behind the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic.

Bowey’s blistering start! Kelowna Rockets defenceman Madison Bowey leads all WHL defenceman in scoring with 3+10=13 in 6 games. In four of the six games he has played, the 19 year-old has had a multiple point game. Look out. Bowey heats up in November. Last season the gifted d-man had 7 goals during the month. Bowey was named the WHL Player of the Week October 6th after scoring two goals and added six assists for eight points while posting a plus-seven rating in three games.

Tyson Time: Tyson Baillie leads the WHL in goals with 10. Baillie has scored a goal in seven of the eight games he has played this season. The 19 year-old is playing in his 200th career game tonight against the Blazers. Baillie is the highest scoring third round bantam pick the team has ever had. Randall Gelech, a third round pick from 1999, had 112 career points in a Rockets uniform.  Baillie has 153 career points including 68 goals and 85 assists.   

This and That: Madison Bowey leads the WHL with 8 power play assists…Nick Merkley is tied for second in WHL scoring with 15 points. Merkley now has 73 points in 75 career games….Merkley had 5+4=9 after 8 games last season….Rookie Lucas Johansen earned his first career point last Tuesday with an assist in the Rockets 4-0 win over Swift Current…In six of the eight wins this season a different player has scored the game winning goal….. The Rockets are the only team in the WHL that is undefeated so far this season….Nick Merkley leads the WHL in assists with 11….Rookie Dillon Dube will represent Canada at the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge at the end of the month. Dube will play for Team White. Rockets Head Coach Dan Lambert will coach Team Red….The Rockets are an incredible 118-27-3-5 in their last 153 regular season games dating back to the start of the 2012-2013 season….The Rockets have scored five shorthanded goals this season. Last season the team managed 13 shorthanded goals and had the best penalty killing unit in the WHL…Colton Heffley played in his 250th career game last Tuesday against the Swift Current Broncos…. The Rockets have scored a power play goal in six of eight games…The opposition has opened the scoring in five of the eight games….The Rockets have out-shot the opposition in all eight games this season…Last season after eight games the Rockets were 5-1-0-2…The Rockets are 0 for 6 on the power play in their last two games…The Rockets are 6 for 6 on the penalty kill in their last two games…Former Rockets d-man Nolan Yonkman is the captain this season of the Adirondack Flames, the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames. The baby Flames are guided by former Rockets head coach Ryan Huska….Former Rockets d-man Scott Hannan played in his one thousandth NHL game Tuesday night for the San Jose Sharks. Hannan has played with five teams including, Nashville, Calgary, Colorado, Washington and the Sharks. Current assistant coach Kris Mallette was a teammate of Hannan’s during the 1997-98 season when Hannan had 10+30=40 with the Rockets.  

Former Rockets leaders in NHL games played:
#1 Scott Hannan: 1000
#2 Duncan Keith: 688
#3 Travis Moen: 681
#4 Vernon Fiddler: 658
#5 Shea Weber: 609
#6: Josh Gorges: 563        

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Things that make me go hmm.....

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • What an unbelievably busy week! But let me be the first to say it was a whole lot of fun. It included calling a Kelowna Rockets home game Tuesday against Swift Current before flying out to Calgary (then renting a car) where I called the Shaw TV broadcast Friday in Red Deer between the Rebels and Medicine Hat Tigers. Then it was a quick flight back to Kelowna to call the game Saturday night between the Rockets and Hurricanes. What an awesome experience making my TV debut Friday night on Shaw. While many believe calling a TV game and doing radio games would be hugely similar, the differences are many when you actually put the headset on your head and do the game yourself. It was a wonderful experience and I want to thank the boys at Shaw, Grant and Dave, for being gentle on me during my debut. Would I do it again? If they have me back, I'd do it in a heartbeat.   
  • I had the pleasure of working the game with Kevin Sawyer. Sawyer, from Christina Lake, was my sidekick in the booth Friday night. What a pro. Sawyer, who has done TV work in the past, was working his first game of the season but it didn't show. Sawyer was well prepared and simply has an eye for the game that only good colour commentators do. He has a future in the bizz without question.
  • Calling a TV game is significantly different from radio. You have a director that is essentially talking in your ear on when to take a commercial, or when to go down to the benches to hear from the on-ice reporter. In radio, the announcer is overly descriptive. You describe where the puck is by literally saying its in the right corner or left corner. In TV, the pictures explain where the puck is so using that terminology isn't required. Being less descriptive is hard to do when you have been calling hockey games that way for 20 years. 
  • Even the small change of using a headset mic without holding a stick mic was different for me. I have been using an old fashioned stick mic for years while calling games, so not having my 'skinny little friend' to speak into felt odd. I believe it provides a fuller sound as I am able to put it closer to my mouth. With a headset mic, the separation between your mouth and the mic is greater, so often the sound is shallower. Some would argue with my theory or say the sound isn't significantly different. I believe there is. It is just personal preference. 
  • It was interesting to call a game between two teams where I didn't have a vested interest. I was hoping for a good hockey game and didn't have a preference whether Red Deer or Medicine Hat won the game. I thought Medicine Hat was significantly stronger on the night and will make some significant noise this season in the Eastern Conference.  The Tigers are well coached and have good goaltending. 
  • Speaking of good goaltending, how good was it Saturday night in the Rockets 4-2 win over Lethbridge? Jackson Whistle was outstanding in the game and made several solid saves, specifically against Hurricanes captain Jamal Watson. Lethbridge netminder Zac Robidoux, who should have been named a game star, was equally as good at the other end of the ice.
  • It was surprised that the Hurricanes had so much jump in their game considering it was the final stop in the BC Division road trip. After losing the night before in Kamloops, the Hurricanes had lots of energy and didn't fatigue in the third period like many, including me, had predicted. Sure, the Rockets scored two goals 14 seconds apart late in the game to steal it away, but I don't think the Hurricanes were tired. What I think happened was the Rockets simply played with more desperation and urgency. I didn't think they were very good over the first 40 minutes and would have lost for the first time this season had Whistle been average.
  • Tyson Baillie continues to score in a variety of ways. With ten goals already, 30 has to be easily attainable. All goal scorers go though dry patches, but my feeling is Baillie won't allow that to happen for a long period of time. I hope this breakout year gives the 19 year-old another chance for a pro opportunity down the road. 
  • I didn't touch on it until now, but I am sad to see Carter Rigby being the odd man out in the 20 year-old situation. I am pleased he is headed to my old home town and playing with the Swift Current Broncos. Rigs was a fun player to be around. He treated me great. Rigby always had a positive attitude and was a great interview. I think he will do well in his final season in the WHL under Broncos head coach Mark Lamb. Plus, he has a chance to wear the best jerseys in the WHL on a nightly basis. 
  • If you missed it, former Kelowna Rockets defenceman Nolan Yonkman has joined Ryan Huska with the Adirondack Flames. Yonkman signed a deal with the AHL team after being released by the Calgary Flames during an NHL tryout. Yonkman is now the Adirondack's captain. Huska is still looking for his first pro coaching win after losing the first two games.
  • Look for Seattle d-man Evan Wardley to see a significant suspension after a massive hit on Portland's Nic Petan on the weekend. Petan was hit hard late in the first period when Wardley left his feet before knocking down the smooth skating forward to the ice. Was it a dangerous hit? You bet it was. Caution was clearly thrown to the wind and Wardley needs to be significantly punished. Oddly enough, last season Portland's Brendan Leipsic crushed T-Birds forward  Keegan Kolesar and was slapped with a 7 game suspension.
  • How about the Kamloops Blazers? Would you have thought this team, winners of just 14 games last season, would already have 6 wins? I didn't anticipate this type of start. I don't think management did either. I was told Don Hay was washed up. I don't think so.