Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rockets AC reflects on Ottawa incident

video
Here is the interview I conducted with Kelowna Rockets assistant coach Travis Crickard before last night's home game against the Tri City Americans. Crickard has spent the last three years in Ottawa and the shooting incident on Parliament Hill hit close to home. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Game notes vs. Americans



Tonight’s Preview: After playing 7 of their first 11 games on the road, the Kelowna Rockets return to Prospera Place for a mini two game home stand with games against Tri City (Tonight) and Brandon (Saturday). This is the second of four meetings between the Rockets and Americans. These two teams met Saturday in Kennewick, Washington with the Am’s earning a 5-2 win. Tyrell Goulbourne and Tomas Soustal scored in a losing cause. The two teams were tied at two after 40 minutes before Tri City scored three unanswered goals (one into an empty net) to snap the Rockets 10 game winning streak to start the season. The Rockets make a return visit to Tri City on November 26th. The Americans make one more visit to Kelowna on January 14th. In four games last season the Rockets were 4-0-0-0 against the Americans, winning twice at Toyota Center by scores of 4-1 and 4-3 in a shootout. The Rockets won 5-1 and 7-0 on home ice. The Rockets host Brandon Saturday before going back on the road for three straight games next week against Portland (twice-Thursday & Saturday) and Vancouver (Sunday).

You ain’t just Whistlin’ Dixie: Jackson Whistle is 1-1-0-0 in his career against the Americans. Whistle’s 9 game winning streak came to an end Saturday night with a 5-2 loss to the Americans. Whistle’s only other start vs. Tri City came February 26, 2014 in a shootout win in Kennewick. Whistle is 26-3-0-0 in his last 29 appearances dating back to last season. The only games he has lost over that stretch is to Tri City, Everett and Vancouver.  

By the numbers: Nick Merkley’s next assist will be his 50th of his career….Rourke Chartier and Madison Bowey are both 5 goals shy of 50 for their career…Riley Stadel is 4 penalty minutes shy of 100 for his career…Austin Glover leads the team in +/- with a +13…Justin Kirkland is 10 games shy of 100 for his career…Tyrell Goulbourne is 10 penalty minutes shy of 400….Dalton Yorke played in his 50th career game Friday in Spokane.   

Where are they? The Rockets graduated three 20 year-old’s last season. Marek Tvrdon is playing in the East Coast Hockey League in Toledo Ohio with the Toledo Walleye…Myles Bell signed a pro contract with the AHL’s Albany Devils earlier this month. Bell has yet to play a game this season with the New Jersey Devils farm team…Jordon Cooke is playing with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon. Cooke is playing alongside former Rockets Sean Aschim and Zak Stebner. Aschim is in his second year taking Business while Stebner is in his 4th year taking Business as well. Cooke is enrolled in Arts and Science. Cooke is 2 and 2 this season with a goals against average of 2.77.  

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.

This and That: The Rockets 10 game winning streak to start the season is over. It was the best start in franchise history. By comparison, 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 had a 16 game winning streak last season from November 22/13 to January 2/14…. The team was 9-0-2 in its first 11 games when ties were a possible way of ending 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 120-28-3-5 in their last 156 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 eight of eleven games…The opposition has opened the scoring in seven of the eleven games….The Rockets have out-shot the opposition in nine of the eleven games this season…Tyson Baillie had a six game goal scoring streak earlier this season. It is the second longest in the WHL…Austin Glover has points in four of his last five games. Glover has 3+3=6 over that stretch. Glover has points in seven of the ten games he has played in this season…Nick Merkley has been pointless only twice this season. The 17 year-old failed to hit the score-sheet October 7th against the Swift Current Broncos and was held without a point Saturday in a 5-2 loss in Tri City…It has been a rough start to the CIS season for former Kelowna Rockets Cody Fowlie and Dylen McKinlay. The Regina Cougars are 0 and 8. Fowlie was the scoring leader for the Cougars last season. McKinlay is in his first year of CIS hockey.

Monday, October 20, 2014

News, quotes and anecdotes

Nick Merkley - Shoot the Breeze
  • NHL scouts are watching. NHL scouts are comparing. Do you blame them? They are watching  closely the every move of Kelowna Rockets Nick Merkley and Seattle Thunderbirds second year forward Mathew Barzal. Barzal is rated as the top WHL eligible player for next June's NHL draft and Merkley isn't far behind. I spoke to Winnipeg Jets director of player personnel Marcel Comeau about what he likes about Nick Merkley's game. "He is a hard working guy and comes to play. He has a lot of touches. He gets the puck a lot. If someone doesn't get it for him he goes and gets it himself. He seems to play both ends of the rink pretty well. You have to like the way he plays the game. He is a hard working guy", Comeau added. Merkley is one of the leading point producers in the WHL yet has gone six games without finding the back of the net.
  • I spoke to Kamloops Blazers head coach Don Hay the other day about his teams terrific start. It was suggested after 10 seasons behind the Vancouver Giants, Hay's message was falling on deaf ears."I hope I am not washed up. I hope I have a few more miles left on the old body. I feel pretty good physically and health wise. I think I can still coach in this league."  
  • Many have suggested Hay was brought back to Kamloops with the hope that he could re-create the glory years of the mid 90's when the Blazers enjoyed several trips to the Memorial Cup and won it three times. "I don't feel that pressure at all. It isn't 1995 with Ryan Huska and Jarome Iginla on this team. As far as the savior stuff, I don't buy into that. I just want to have success with this group and I am a detailed kind of guy and I think I can help the players to get better", Hay added. I can't argue with that. Hay still has lots of 'game' in him.
  • This is a bit of a concern especially if a European born player isn't producing offensively. Kris Schmidli has gone 8 games without a goal and has just two assists in his last 6 games. It is a concern because the 18 year-old started the season with two goals in his first three games. For this team to have success, it's import players need to be key contributors and not fall off the map offensively. What is encouraging is Euro Tomas Soustal is coming along nicely and the coaching staff have praised his recent play.    
  • Rourke Chartier is off to a terrific start. The 18 year-old has points in 9 of his first 11 games. At the same point last season, Chartier had 3 goals and one assist after 11 games.
  •  Cole Martin was a -2 in Saturday's 5-2 loss in Tri City. I wondered when the last time Martin, who was a WHL best +61 last season saw his plus/minus rating dip to -2 in one game. The fact is, Martin was a -2 - four separate times last season. What is interesting is the 20 year-old was also +3 or better - 10 different times in 2013-2014. 
  • Speaking of plus/minus, Tyson Baillie was -3 in Saturday's loss to the Americans. I looked back at the numbers and Baillie has never been a -3 in his career, not even in his rookie season where your +/- can take a beating.
  • The Rockets two goal out-put Saturday night was the fewest goals they have scored in a game this season.
  • Best opposing player I saw this week? After games in Kamloops, Spokane and Tri City, I would say Blazers forward Cole Ully just edged out Americans sharp shooter Parker Bowles. Ully is a dynamic, honest player. Not dirty or cocky as some good players can be, Ully is fun to watch and needs little room to score. The forehand to backhand goal he scored on Wednesday night while in-tight on Jackson Whistle was impressive. Why? He made it look easy while being pressured. I like him because when he scores he makes it look like he has done it many times before. No over the top antics from this guy when he celebrates his own successes. 
  • Ully should and my prediction is he will be added to the WHL team for the Subway Super Series. 
  • The player I like to see is the one that is more excited when his teammate scores than when he finds the back of the net himself.
  • Rookie goaltender Jake Morrissey earned his first career win Friday night with a 26 save performance in Spokane. Morrissey told me he heard from several people after the game via phone/Twitter/text. One of the congratulatory messages he received was from ex-Kelowna Rockets goalie Kevin Swanson. "Me and Kevin go back quite a while now. He runs a chain of goaltending schools in Calgary and around Saskatchewan and Alberta, so I have trained with him since I was fresh out of novice. 'Swanny' has been a great asset for me coming up through the ranks and training and having that connection with the Rockets is huge".         
  • Outside of Shane McColgan, I can't remember any rookie as well spoken for interviews than Jake Morrissey. The 17 year-old seems relaxed and has well thought out answers. It is impressive for someone so young.
  • Tyrell Goulbourne got into his first fight of the season Friday night against big European defenceman Tamas Laday. Laday, from Hungry, is 6 foot 6. While Goulbourne won that fight, which he should against a less experienced scrapper, its believed that tilt turned momentum in the Chiefs favour. After that scrap the Chiefs seemed to galvanize as a team. The key is fighting the other teams toughest player and beating him. That way you can only gain momentum. If you take on a lesser opponent and he still losses but hangs in there, it often gives the other team the lift they desperately need.  
  • When you play 7 of your first 11 games on the road , it tuckers you out. A good feed of home cooking won't hurt the Rockets, who still have a tough road ahead of them with back-to-back games in Portland next Thursday and Saturday and then a visit to Vancouver next Sunday to close out the month of October.    
  • This weeks hurdle for the Rockets is focusing on beating Tri City Wednesday and not looking ahead to a marquee match up Saturday, at home , against the impressive Brandon Wheat Kings. 

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.