Saturday, July 26, 2014

What an honour

  • What a night! The Kelowna Rockets 2004 Memorial Cup championship team was inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame Friday night in Penticton. The Rockets - in the Team Category - were recognized for their 2-1 win over Gatineau, winning all four games at the four team tournament. Here are some of the highlites of the evening. 
  • Eleven players from the 2004 Memorial Cup winning team were there. Captain Josh Gorges, Shea Weber, Blake Comeau, Cam Paddock, Brett Palin, Darren Deschamps, Tyler Mosienko, Nolan Waker, Chris Ray, Justin Keller and Simon Ferguson.
  • The coaching staff was well represented as then head coach Marc Habscheid was joined by assistants Jeff Truitt, Ryan Huska, Larry Keating and Kim Dillabaugh.
  • Also on hand for the induction ceremony was Paul Mitchell and Bill Winters. These two gentlemen were co-chairs for the Kelowna Rockets bid committee for the 2004 Memorial Cup. The lawyer and accountant were rock stars during the teams presentation to WHL governors back in  November of 2002. They did enough to sway the governors to pick their bid over the one presented by the Vancouver Giants.
  • It was nice to see Gavin Hamilton Senior on the Rockets bus as we made our way down to Penticton for the ceremony. Hamilton SR. has been the chairman of the board for the Kelowna Rockets for 23 years. Hamilton SR. is the father of Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton. Hamilton SR. was presented the hall of fame plaque on stage from Calgary Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke.
  • One of the highlites of the evening was the speech given by captain Josh Gorges. It didn't surprise me that Gorges pulled it off like a true pro. The Buffalo Sabres defenceman spoke straight from the heart and didn't read a word of what he said. 
  • Gorges had one word to describe the Kelowna Rockets organization. 'Class' was the word he used. The now 29 year-old also paid tribute to athletic therapist Scott Hoyer. Gorges spoke glowingly about Hoyer, a trainer that every player loves. Hoyer was a friend. Hoyer provided a listening ear. Hoyer gave advice to the players when they asked. It was nice to see Hoyer recognized in that way for being the bridge between the players and the coaching staff and being more than just an employee who tapes ankles and orders new sticks. I thought it was a great tribute to Hoyer, who is quietly going about his business behind the scenes.
  • Among the heavy hitters from the NHL that were in attendance were Brian Burke, Trevor Linden (President of the Vancouver Canucks), Patrick LaForge (Oilers President and COO), Bob Nicholson (Oilers Vice Chairman) and Brad Treliving (GM Calgary Flames) to name a few.
  • Speaking of Linden, is there any NHL upper management type more accessible than him? Since taking on his role with the Canucks, Linden is a p-r machine. The ex-Canuck captain was offering himself up in the auction portion of the Hall of Fame ceremony last night where fans could bid on a package that including dinner before a Canucks game with him. He also sweetened the pot half way through the bidding process by allowing the winning bid to meet two players after the Canucks game. It seems that Linden has been given the green light to do whatever he wants to do to get the fans back on their side.
  • Maybe Linden realizes that Canuck fans in BC are fading. An auction package at the ceremony last night for the Calgary Flames went for more than the Canucks package. To be fair, the Flames package did include flights to the game. The Canucks did not.
  • Congratulations to colleague Dan Russell for picking up the first ever Bernie Pascall award. It will be given yearly for broadcasting excellence in BC.  
  • On the ride back home on the Rockets bus, it was interesting talking to Josh Gorges about his fallout with the Montreal Canadiens. That will remain confidential. It was also pretty cool to see him wearing his 2004 Memorial Cup ring with pride.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where are they now - Brent Howarth

Brent Howarth was one of nine, 1986 born players on the Kelowna Rockets roster in 2003-2004. 
A 9th round bantam draft pick in 2001, the Selkirk Manitoba product was in the same draft class as Tyler Spurgeon (1st rd), Blake Comeau (2nd rd), and Mike Card (4th rd). What a draft!!
Howarth played three seasons with the Rockets before playing his 20 year-old year with the Selkirk Steelers where he scored 49 goals in 2006-07.
No longer playing the game, Howarth is living in Selkirk, married to his high school girlfriend Jodi. Howarth is a locomotive engineer at CN Rail.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Where are they now - DJ King

Kelowna Rockets General Manager Bruce Hamilton believed his team needed an enforcer to 'keep the flies off' his skilled players if they wanted to seriously challenge for a Memorial Cup championship in 2004.
Insert 19 year-old DJ King in a trade with the Lethbridge Hurricanes that season.
'Kinger' could intimidate. The Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan product could fight and most importantly he could skate good enough to keep up with his line mates.
King would drop the gloves eight times in 28 regular season games with the Rockets, squaring off with Kamloops Blazers enforcer Cam McCaffrey three times. His most memorable scrap was a heavyweight tilt with Seattle's Zack Fitzgerald at the Key Arena in his Rockets debut on January 10, 2004. Oh ya, he also fought at the Memorial Cup. Remember this? 

The now 30 year-old would go on to play in 118 games at the NHL level with St. Louis and Washington. King was originally drafted in the 6th round in 2002 by the Blues.
What is King up to now? After retiring following the 2012-2013 season,  DJ tells me after taking a year off he is now the co-owner of Tawaw Cabins (Waterhen Lake) near Meadow Lake.
The older brother of Dwight King of the LA Kings, DJ will become a first time father in August when his wife Chantal gives birth.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tough loss at goalie coach position

Kim Dillabaugh was like a good mechanic. 
If the Kelowna Rockets had a goaltending problem, he was there to fix it.
Over 11 seasons, Dillabaugh quietly went about his way.
The soft spoken Duncan, BC resident wouldn't overhaul what a goalie prospect brought to camp, but like a good technician (they are called technicians not mechanics right?), he tweaked in an effort to make them better.
Dillabaugh first worked with Kelly Guard in 2002-2003. Guard is a Memorial Cup champion. 'Dilly', as he is known around the Rockets dressing room, also worked closely with Derek Yeomans, Kristofer Westblom, Torrie Jung, Adam Brown and most recently CHL Goaltender of the Year Jordon Cooke to name a few.
Dillabaugh made those players better. He made the rest of the coaching staff better.
He listened to the goalies. He worked as much on the mental side of their game than the physical side. He was always in their corner. I would often speak with 'Dilly' about the teams goaltending, specifically when things weren't going well, which by the way was a rarity. Almost every single time, Dillabaugh defended the player and the position he knows best.
You knew the marriage between Dillabaugh and the Rockets wouldn't last long though. Dillabaugh was having too much success helping LA Kings prospects Jonathon Quick and Martin Jones with their game.
The Kings took notice and finally offered him an expanded role with the NHL team. Had they not, Dillabaugh would have been picked up by another team. He is just that good.
On the surface, many fans won't see the loss of Dillabaugh as significant. Trust me, when it comes to the most important position on the ice - goaltending - the Rockets couldn't have had a better person in place.
It is safe to say the new goaltending coach, whoever he may be, will have massive shoes to fill with the departure of Dillabaugh.
I wish 'Dilly' all the best!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Where are they now - Kevin Reinholt

During the 2003-2004 Memorial Cup winning season, the Kelowna Rockets iced a team with three 16 year-old's. Kevin Reinholt (pictured right) was joined by Kyle Cumiskey and Brent Howarth.
Reinholt was the Rockets first round pick from the 2002 WHL bantam draft. Call it bad timing, but Reinholt entered his rookie season in the WHL playing on a solid d-core that included the likes of Josh Gorges, Shea Weber, Brett Palin, Mike Card and Darren Deschamps.
Reinholt would play just 32 games that season and none in the playoffs or the Memorial Cup. The lack of playing time that year may have stunted his growth as a player.
The Toefield Alberta product would win a Memorial Cup title in his first of three seasons with the Rockets before eventually being traded to the Calgary Hitmen in the 2006-07 season.
Now 27, Reinholt is living in Sherwood Park, Alberta where he is a project manager in the construction industry. Reinholt is due to marry his fiance Anna on September 27th. While no longer playing the game of hockey, Reinholt tells me he plays competitive softball and big game hunts in his spare time.    

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where are they now - Chris Ray

Chris Ray
The Kelowna Rockets 2003-2004 Memorial Cup championship team will be inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame this Friday. I thought it would be interesting this week to look at where some of the players that season are now hanging their hats.
Let's look back at forward Chris Ray, who was a fresh face on the Rockets roster that season.  
What a rookie season for Chris Ray. In 2003-2004, the West Kelowna product was playing for his home town team as a 17 year-old.
Ray would play in 54 games that season collecting just five goals. Despite the modest totals, Ray would play four full seasons with the Rockets including the 2006-2007 campaign when he was named the team captain.
Following his WHL career, the well spoken forward would spend five years at the University of Waterloo.  
What is Chris Ray up to now? The 28 year-old is a father of a three year old boy (London) and a 15 month old daughter (Matilda).
Ray works in Vernon but lives in Kelowna as an Environmental Scientist.

Friday, July 18, 2014

All aboard! Rockets bus heading to induction ceremony

Kelly Guard was the MVP in 04 Memorial Cup
  • Next week the Kelowna Rockets 2004 Memorial Cup winning team will be inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame. The ceremony is a week from today in Penticton (the site of the BCHHF) and I wouldn't miss it for the world. I had the pleasure of calling that memorable moment in May of 2004 when the Rockets earned a 2-1 win over the Gatineau Olympiques. I've been invited on the team bus as many of the coaches and players from that squad head down - in mass - for the special night. It should be an enjoyable 40 minute ride down to Penticton with former coaches Marc Habscheid and Jeff Truitt. It will be odd though, seeing Shea Weber and Josh Gorges sitting at the back of the bus. They didn't look out of place back in 2004, but fast forward 10 years and these two integral pieces of the Rockets success that season are now making big money and making solid careers at the NHL level. They could drive their own limos to the event.  
  • The Rockets social and auction Thursday night at the Eldorado was a massive success. Close to 20 grand was raised for the Kelowna General Hospital. One of the new features of the social evening, which is held a day in advance of the alumni golf tournament, was the auctioning off of several players. The auction allows fans to play with the likes of NHLers Shea Weber, Josh Gorges, Jamie Benn and Tyson Barrie.  
  • This year the alumni hockey game, which is traditionally held on a Sunday has been cancelled. The game was called off with a lack of players being available. I can see the game being scrapped all together. I think if you can get alumni together for two days (Thursday and Friday) it is more workable in every ones schedule rather than the four days (Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday) when the alumni hockey game is part of the puzzle. The fans won't like it, but if the alumni hockey game can't attract the bigger names that once wore a Rockets jersey, is it worth having it? Will people want to come out to watch if Weber, Myers, Schenn and Gorges don't play?    
  • My gut says Victoria. My heart says Red Deer. It is a three horse race to see which WHL centre hosts the 2016 Memorial Cup. Vancouver, Red Deer and Victoria are the three vying for the 10 day tournament. All three have great buildings to host the on-ice portion of the event with the Giants having the leg up on the other two when it comes to a larger venue. The bigger building with more seats means more $$$! But is it all about money? Sadly, in most cases it is. Somehow that needs to change. The Memorial Cup has to be profitable, but the event needs to be attainable for those who want to host it... big or small. In this case, I think Red Deer deserves to host 2016. Why? Because they have made previous bids and have lost. That and Red Deer has never hosted. I like Victoria as a second option, but they are new to the process and would be a good fit down the road in 2019. Vancouver hosted in 2007, which was only 8 years ago, so I think it's far too early to go back there. Saskatoon (2013), Brandon (2010), Vancouver (2007), Kelowna (2004), Regina (2001) and Spokane (1998) are the last six WHL cities to host the MC.
  • Simon Ferguson is back in the game. The Kelowna Rockets alumni, who retired two seasons ago after a short stint in Europe, is the new head coach of the Okanagan Rockets. Ferguson is an interesting choice for the defending BCMMHL champions. 
  • There was so much talk about Tim Hunter being the front runner for the Vancouver Giants head coaching vacancy; one would have concluded the former NHL enforcer would have been the choice to guide the G-Men this season. That wasn't the case. The Giants hired Troy Ward instead so Hunter, who was a bridesmaid in the coaching sweepstakes in Vancouver, took the head coaching duties with the Moose Jaw Warriors instead.  
  • In listening to an interview with Hunter on Team 1040, it sure sounds as though he was the Giants top choice but the two sides couldn't come to an agreement on either money or length of contract. It blows me away that Moose Jaw would have offered Hunter a better deal. If that is indeed true, a high five to the Warriors for outbidding a large market franchise.        
  • Mitch Callahan has signed a one year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. The former Kelowna Rockets antagonizer will have to play well this season in order to get a longer term contract from the NHL team. Honestly, I was a bit surprised it was only a one year deal for the 22 year-old Callahan. Last season in the AHL, Callahan scored 26 goals and was a +23. 'Cally' also made his NHL debut with the Red Wings on March 25th against Columbus. Callahan was drafted by the Red Wings in the sixth round (180th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
  • Congrats to Brendan Batchelor for being named the full time radio voice of the Vancouver Giants. Batchelor did road games for the G-Men last season and the occasional home game. It only makes sense to have one consistent voice calling the games both home and away rather than three announcers wanting a piece of the 36 home dates that are available.
  • Bryan Maxwell is back in the WHL. 'Maxy' has joined the Lethbridge Hurricanes as an assistant coach. I haven't had many conversations with Maxwell over the years, but when I have his deep voice always stands out. It is raspy and low. I am sure a cigarette habit has something to do with that. One thing about Maxwell that also stands out is, while looking intimidating, he always has a friendly smile  on his face.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Things that make me go hmm...

Bill Ranford - pictured right
  • Jordon Cooke is making the most of his opportunity to impress the Los Angeles Kings.
    The 21 year-old Kelowna Rockets goaltender is attending Kings prospects camp this week after receiving an invite from the Stanley Cup champions.
    Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford says the CHL goaltender of the year deserves a chance to prove himself at an NHL camp.
    "With what he has done the last two seasons in Kelowna, we had a spot in our camp open and just I felt like he had earned it to get a look and have an experience of going through a camp with an NHL team."   
    Cooke is one of the smaller goaltenders at Kings camp, but Ranford says he has made the adjustments to make himself appear bigger. "I am a little bit taller than he is. I talked about what I had to do throughout my career in the aspects of reading releases and trying to hold my feet a little bit longer.  And that's kind of the approach I am taking with him because every other aspect of his game is strong", Ranford added.  
  • It appears the Minnesota Wild have had a change of heart. So has Cody Almond. The Kelowna Rockets alumni has signed a one year contract with the NHL team after spending a few years playing in the Swiss Elite League. Almond was essentially forced overseas back in 2012 when the Wild didn't offer him a contract. Two years later, the 24 year-old is back in the NHL. Almond was drafted by the Wild in the 5th round in 2007 and played a total of 25 games with them in 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and most recently 10 games in 2011-2012. Almond's off season home is right here in Kelowna.
  • What is the next step in Kyle Beach's hockey career? The Kelowna resident did not receive a qualifying offer from the NHL New York Rangers at the end of the month meaning the 24 year-old is a free agent. Last season, Beach split time between playing in Sweden and with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers AHL affiliate. It is hard to imagine that the 1st round pick of the Chicago Black Hawks has not played one NHL game. Beach was taken 11th overall in 2008. Beach is getting married this summer.
  • Myles Bell is off to New Jersey Devils prospects camp today. The camp officially begins Monday. The Kelowna Rockets leading scorer the last two seasons is without a contract and must sign one in order to play in the Devils organization this upcoming season. Bell is unable to return to junior after playing as an overage this past season.
  • Tyrell Goulbourne is at Philadelphia Flyers prospects camp this week. Now 20, Goulbourne will want to make great strides this week by showing the organization that he was worthy of a third round pick in the 2013 NHL draft.  Goulbourne ideally is looking for a pro contract from the Flyers. If he doesn't get one, he is a sure bet to return to the Kelowna Rockets this season competing for one of three overage spots with Colton Heffley, Cole Martin and Carter Rigby.
  • You may have missed it, because I did. Ex-Kelowna Rockets forward/defenceman Brandon McMillan is going to salary arbitration with the Phoenix Coyotes. McMillan's arbitration hearing is July 29th. Under a two way contract, the WHL champion from 2009 was paid 709,500 at the NHL level.
  • Another transaction that slipped through the cracks last week was Blake Comeau signing a one year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 2nd round pick of the Islanders in 2004, Comeau has played 422 NHL games with the Islanders, Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets.
  • Troy Bodie signed a one year deal with the Leafs on July 3rd. Bodie was a member of the Kelowna Rockets MC winning team in 2004.
  • The Kelowna Rockets second round pick from the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft will indeed attend training camp this fall. Cal Foote, the 15 year-old (has late December birth date) son of ex-NHL'er Adam Foote will be in Kelowna in late August looking at earning a roster spot. I texted with Adam and he confirmed his son will be in the Okanagan. In case you are wondering, Adam Foote will be watching eagerly in the stands.
  • The Washington Capitals have been putting Madison Bowey to work in more ways than one at prospects camp this week. The Kelowna Rockets captain is writing a blog. 
  • We are 72 days away from the Rockets opening the 20014-2015 WHL regular season. It will mark the franchises 20th season in Kelowna.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Kris Mallette Quotes

Are you excited about joining the Rockets?
"I think joining the Kelowna Rockets is so beneficial for my development to ultimately get to where I want to be, like every coach, to the NHL". 
Kris Mallette

This is something you really wanted to do, be behind the Rockets bench as a coach?

"I have had conversations with other teams. I have always put my name out to let people know that I am interested. I am a Western Hockey League guy through and through. This is where I want to be. Kelowna is my home. The Rockets are my team. I bleed Rockets colours."

How about working with Dan Lambert? 

"We are both honest, brutally honest I think. If we have something on our mind we are going to speak it. It should be a very, very good friendship and I am thrilled to learn from a coach that won't be in this league very long".

Are you going to be the good cop and Lambert is going to be the bad cop as your role as an assistant coach?

"No. No, I don't think I can. I have been successful because I am passionate about coaching. I am passionate about learning. I am passionate about winning. Am I going to be take losses well? No! If you are, you are content and I am not content. By no means am I going to be that pushover who is not going to hold our guys accountable.  I can have fun but I am going to be firm. I think that is the same message we both want to send".

How about the defensive core you will be overseeing?
"The ground work that has been laid is fantastic. I am going to tweak but this is a special group. I am looking forward to it".

Mallette named an assistant coach

The Kelowna Rockets have hired a former player as Dan Lambert's assistant coach.

Kris Mallette (Ma-let) will be behind the bench running the teams defensive core when the 2014-2015 season begins.

The 35 year-old played parts of three seasons with the Rockets from 1996 until 1999 before being traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Mallette was a third round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997.  

Mallette was most recently an associate coach with the BCHL's Vernon Vipers.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It's not how you start, but how you finish

  • Justin Kirkland was grinning from ear to ear. Do you blame him? Kirkland became the third Kelowna Rockets player selected by the Nashville Predators when the NHL team grabbed the skilled forward Saturday with their opening pick in the third round. Kirkland also has the bragging rights of being the first draft eligible player taken in the Western Conference of the WHL. Kirkland is another example of a player that didn't necessarily start the season with a bang, but it isn't how you start in your draft year, its how you finish. The 17 year-old had just three goals in his first 16 games and went a full 15 games without a goal from late November to early December. Kirkland turned it on after Christmas though with 12 goals and 17 assists. The well spoken winger finished his rookie season with 17 goals.
  • Teammate Rourke Chartier also heard his name called on draft day. While not in attendance in Philadelphia like Kirkland was, the soft spoken Chartier was plucked in the 5th round by the San Jose Sharks. It is the first time since Scott Hannan was taken in the first round of the 1997 draft that the Sharks chose a Rockets player. Chartier started slow but ramped up his game as the season went along. With just three goals in his first 15 games, the Saskatoon resident would score 17 goals and would collect 26 assists after the Christmas break. Charter would finish the season with 24 goals and 28 more points than he did when he was named the Kelowna Rockets rookie of the year in 2012-2013. Chartier, while small at 5 foot 10, showed his durability by being one of just three Rockets to play in all 72 regular season games. Madison Bowey and Cole Martin also played ever game last season.
  • Only four NHL teams have never taken a player from the Kelowna Rockets organization. Those four teams are Montreal, St. Louis, Carolina and the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kirkland is a Predator

Justin Kirkland will be taken in Saturday's NHL draft. It is just a question of what round and by whom.
The 17 year-old forward (He doesn't turn 18 until August 2nd) had a tremendous rookie season with 17 goals and had it not been for the spectacular play of 16 year-old teammate Nick Merkley, Kirkland would have been named the Kelowna Rockets rookie of the year.
Kirkland saw massive minutes in his first season in the WHL with time on the power play and playing on a line which often featured leading point producer Myles Bell.
Editors Note: Kirkland was taken in the 3rd round by the Nashville Predators this morning.
I had to question one reporter in Philadelphia who compared him to former Rockets sharp shooter Jamie Benn. Kirkland is a solid player yes, but Jamie Benn played with an edge which only added to his above average skill level. Kirkland is considerably more timid than Benn and will have to really increase his intensity level to be in the general ball park as the Dallas Stars captain. Kirkland has also been compared to former NHL'er Eric Cole. I would say that is more accurate.
Does Kirkland have the ability to play in the NHL down the road? When you possess that size and have that skill set, the Winnipeg born product has all the makings of being an impact player in the WHL and a solid second or third liner in the National Hockey League down the road.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rockets release 2014-2015 schedule

  • The 2014-2015 Western Hockey League regular season schedule for the Kelowna Rockets was released this morning. The team will raise two banners to the rafters when they open the season September 20th against the visiting Kamloops Blazers. The Rockets are BC Division champions and WHL regular season champs.
  • The Rockets make an earlier visit to Prince George with back to back games September 26th and 27th. I guess I am bringing my golf clubs. Al Bristowe, make the tee-time please!
  • 15 of the teams first 24 games will be played on the road.
  • The Rockets play one 'road' double header this season. The Rockets visit the Portland Winterhawks on October 30th and November 1st.
  • The Rockets host the Winterhawks in a double header at Prospera Place on November 21st and 22nd.
  • The Rockets enjoy two - five game home stands.
  • The most significant news out of the Rockets schedule is the team does not play three games in three nights. Nope..not even once.
  • The bad news? If you are a Rockets season ticket holder you won't see the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings at all at Prospera Place. The Rockets face the Oil Kings on their own turf on December 16th.
  • This is a little concerning. The Rockets play three games in four nights 12 times.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Now what?

Lambert played with passion. Brings same trait as coach
  • How crazy was Monday for ya? Yikes! Coach Ryan Huska moves to the pro ranks and assistant Dan Lambert takes his place. I love the move. Why? Over the last five seasons I have talked with and watched Lambert closely and the personality traits that I see in Lambert are many of Ryan Huska's strengths. Neither is an intimidating figure. Both are extremely sociable and likable..player coaches if you will. The most important trait in Lambert, like Huska, is the want to win. Huska was often completely honest in post game interviews when evaluating his players or the way his team played. He knew when they sucked as a group and wasn't afraid to speak his mind about it. He told it how it was which made for great radio. Lambert is very much from the same ilk. I can only imagine the two of them are clear in their messaging to there players. You don't have to read between the lines. Both coaches want their players to be accountable and that is where much of the success lies. 
  • Where Lambert and Huska differ is the fiery sides of their personalities. Huska used the softer, gentler approach in communicating specifically with officials after a bad call. My belief is Lambert will use a slightly different tactic if he has a problem with how the game is being called. But that said, when roles change behind the bench, sometimes the demeanour also changes. A head coaches composure, or lackthereof often sends a clear message to the players that the train is either going off the track when adversity strikes or the ocean is indeed calm after a turbulent situation. What I do know is Lambert is a sore loser. What good coach isn't? I will take a sore loser over a coach who accepts it. When a coach accepts losing, so do players. The two are closely connected.
  • Outside of coaching, Lambert brings to the table the ability to recruit. Lambert was a player himself that was recruited by the Swift Current Broncos in the mid 80's. Lambert knows the concerns parents have about their son choosing major junior and closing the door on an NCAA scholarship. Lambert has already been instrumental in that area. I can only see that intensifying now that he is driving the ship.
  • I really liked the emotion expressed by both GM Bruce Hamilton and Coach Huska at yesterday's media conference. That isn't a sign of weakness. That is a sign of being real. That is an outward sign that both Hamilton and Huska really care. They care about the team. They care about each other. I thought it was honest. I thought it was appropriate and the emotional sendoff couldn't have been more fitting for a coach that gave so much. Huska was thrilled that Hamilton gave him the chance in 2007 rather than overlooking him for what would have been considered a better candidate at the time.
  • Hiring from within. I have never had a problem with that concept, especially when the individual is right under your noise. In Bruce Hamilton's case, Dan Lambert was right under his nose and he knew it. I am sure Hamilton could have opened up the search for a new head coach and many big names would have given him a call inquiring about the vacant position. But Lambert, like Huska in 2007 is an up and comer. Can Lambert be the next best thing coming out of major junior? The answer is a definite yes!
  • Losing Ryan Huska to the AHL does have its perks. Huska will be a walking billboard for the Rockets organization. Huska will talk glowingly about the organization to those he comes into contact with and will be a valuable resource for the current coaching staff that he leaves behind in Kelowna.
  • Who is Lambert's assistant coaches going to be? Will only one be added or will two assistants be required? General Manager Bruce Hamilton has suggested they want to hire an assistant with significant experience and to groom that individual - like they did Lambert - to eventually be the head coach when Lambert eventually sets sail. Who that individual(s) is remains uncertain. Now that the Regina Pats have cleaned house with their entire coaching staff, would Malcolm Cameron be a good fit?
  • You would think several Rockets' alumni would have to be considered. Cam Paddock joined the team in late December/early January in a support role when the team played a double header in Portland. Would Paddock be interested? Some may suggest he is to young. Is 31 to young? I don't think so...not as an assistant. One area Paddock falls short on is actual coaching experience, a criteria that must be met according to Hamilton. Paddock is an interesting candidate though. I could throw out more names, but what's the point? Sooner rather than later we will find out who the successful candidate is. Just by looking at the organizations track record, that person will come with the same qualities you find in Jeff Truitt, Ryan Huska and Dan Lambert.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Huska says goodbye and Lambert is promoted to top job

Saying goodbye to Ryan Huska. (Left to right, Lambert/Huska/Bartel
  • It was an emotional press conference this afternoon as the Kelowna Rockets officially said goodbye to seven year head coach Ryan Huska and then introduced Dan Lambert as his successor. Why was it so emotional? For a junior coach to spend seven seasons with one team, 12 if you include his time as an assistant to both Marc Habscheid and Jeff Truitt for five seasons, you become a part of the fabric of the organization. 
  • Even General Manager Bruce Hamilton showed emotion when thanking Huska for the time he had spent with the organization. "I thought a year ago he was ready but he didn't think he was ready. I knew as soon as the opportunities started coming this year, and the number of teams that contacted me to talk to him where lots, he probably was in a position to pick where he wanted to go. If you would have asked me a month ago I thought the Flames would be the last team he would go to. I think they (Flames) have a great plan and he is a big part of it."
  • Huska too was full of emotion when he stood at the podium to say his thank yous. "It is tough and it just isn't the hockey side of things and that is why it was are in a way leaving family. When you throw family into the picture at any time emotions get involved. We have grown up with this organization. I have learned to coach here. Bruce has been really supportive of us along the way and has done so much for our family that I can't really express right now. Standing up at that podium was a challenge, that's for sure".
  • Dan Lambert has no previous head coaching experience, outside of his position as head coach of Team West at the Under 17's last December. But true to form, Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton hired or promoted from within. He did it with Jeff Truitt. He did it with Ryan Huska and now he did it again with Dan Lambert. "Five years ago I thought I knew a lot. When you see the detail that Ryan Huska puts into a daily schedule and then the detail of coaching, it is pretty amazing. I certainly learned from a great guy and a guy I want to emulate in the future. It feels pretty special. It is with mixed emotions to see Ryan leave and to know that same camaraderie won't be there. It won't mean it can't start from new, but certainly I am excited, thrilled and honoured".   
  • The most composed of the three who spoke at the press conference was Lambert. But even he too admitted it was bitter sweet to see Huska move on. "It is a day of celebration for me but you do have those mixed emotions because over the last five years I have probably spent more time with Ryan Huska then I have my wife, and that's the truth. You do create a bond and a relationship that is pretty special. There isn't to much Ryan Huska doesn't know about Dan Lambert and Dan Lambert about Ryan Huska. The trust that we have built over the years is pretty special", Lambert added.
  • Lambert's next order of business will be to hire an assistant coach. Let's just say the phone will be ringing off the hook at the Rockets office over the next couple of days.

Huska moving on to AHL

I knew this day would come. It was a matter of when, not if. Ryan Huska is no longer the head coach of the Kelowna Rockets.
Huska is moving to the American Hockey League as the new head coach of the Calgary Flames minor league affiliate in Adirondack New York.
It is no surprise Huska is moving on. Like the new I-Phone 6, which will eventually hit the store shelves, Huska is the next best thing.
The personable coach succeeded Jeff Truitt as the new head coach of the Kelowna Rockets in July of 2007 and seven years later he leaves as the winningest coach in franchise history, a WHL championship banner in 2009, two BC Division banner and a Western Hockey League regular season banner in his back pocket.
He was one of the most highly coveted major junior hockey coaches in the country. When you win 109 games over the last two seasons, pro teams tend to notice. That is why he is moving on. Huska is just that darn good.
To be honest, this is a sad day for me. A sad day selfishly because of the relationship I built with him over the years. Huska, who is ten days shy of his 39th birthday, was such a joy to be around on a day to day basis.
I will always remember meeting him at Manhattan Restaurant after the game six win over the Calgary Hitmen in the 2009 WHL final. As I walked towards Huska, who was waiting patiently for us to come down from the broadcast booth for our post game interview, we gave each other a hug in a celebration of what had just happened. It was a special moment that could only be celebrated with an embrace. A solid handshake at that point seemed impersonal.
But friendships are not built on only the good things that happen in life, but are truly strengthened and tested when hardships follow. In January of this year, Huska's father Peter passed away from cancer. In a reception line at the funeral an embrace was only appropriate as I shared the pain with Huska of losing a loved one. My mother Lil too passed away from brain cancer in 2008.
Now on June 23rd 2014, I again will embrace Huska, but this time in celebration as he advances his coaching career to a new level. His father Peter would be so proud of his son and too is this radio broadcaster to see him move on to another chapter in undoubtedly a magnificent coaching career.
Congratulation Ryan on the new gig in Adirondack. I will miss you but am so happy for you.
Who is Huska's successor behind the Rockets bench? The answer is obvious. That individual will be revealed at one o'clock this afternoon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Who backs up Jackson Whistle?

Jackson Whistle will be front and centre this season
  • The Kelowna Rockets hold the first of its kinds prospects camp this weekend at the Capital News Centre. In the past only goaltenders have been involved, but this time 14 prospects (8 forwards and 6 goaltenders) will be put through the paces by the coaching staff. The three day get-to-together is designed for these new faces to meet the coaches while getting to know a few of the veterans. Among the prospects will be 15 year-old defenceman Jonathan Smart who was taken in the first round by the Rockets in May's WHL bantam draft.
  • It will be worth watching the six goalies in camp closely. Why? The question has to be asked. Who is the next Jordon Cooke? With the CHL Goaltender of the Year graduating from major junior, hopefully no less than two emerge as a possible back up to 19 year-old Jackson Whistle. Is Whistle ready for prime time? He better be. After two years as a back up to Cooke, now is the West Kelowna residents time to shine in his third full season in the WHL. The Rockets are counting on Whistle to carry the mail this season. If he can't...look out!
  • The Rockets will release their regular season schedule next week. If I was a betting man, the chances of starting the season with a home and home series against the new look Kamloops Blazers under head coach Don Hay is pretty good. If that indeed happens, it will be nice to raise the BC Division and WHL regular season championship banners in front of them. That never gets old against an arch rival. I remember when the Blazers lifted the BC Division banner in front of the Rockets at the Interior Savings Centre in 2013. It wasn't nice to watch as a member of the dreaded opposition.
  • Dan Lambert showed he can preform under pressure. The Rockets assistant coach was asked to pinch hit when GM Bruce Hamilton was unable to make a press conference Tuesday when the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame named its four inductees for 2014. The Rockets 2004 Memorial Cup championship team will be inducted during a ceremony in November. Despite not being apart of the team in 04' and playing in Europe at the time, Lambert came through with flying colours with some nice thoughts of how that championship team paved the way for future success within the organization.
  • Just to keep things straight here, the Rockets will be inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame in Penticton in July and will again be inducted into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame in Kelowna at a breakfast in November.
  • I met an enthusiastic female Rockets fan at the Hall of Fame press conference. She came up to me and said, "So you are Regan Bartel! I expected you to be much larger". We both laughed. I told her to give me another 10 years, with the way we eat on the road, I will look exactly how she envisioned. 
  • Next month I will share my memories of the 2004 Memorial Cup winning team, but for now a memory from 2002 when the team was attempting to beat out other bids to host the 10 day tournament. I remember boarding the Rockets bus headed for Vancouver the night before the presentations were to be heard. The Rockets bid committee was comprised of GM Bruce Hamilton, VP of Business Gavin Hamilton, then Prospera Place GM Dave Dakers, Memorial Cup Chairman Paul Mitchell and Councilor Andre Blanleil. Myself and Doyle Potenteau of the Daily Courier were the only two media members asked to come along to report on the event. Rockets Head Coach Marc Habscheid and Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray were also apart of the committee's presentation, but they were not on the bus the day we headed out to Vancouver. I remember the day of the announcement after the presentations were heard by league governors at a downtown hotel. At a gathering in a conference room at the Pacific Coliseum that evening, WHL Commissioner Ron Robison stepped up to the microphone to announce the host team for the 2004 Memorial Cup. With Lethbridge bowing out, it was between Kelowna and Vancouver for the chance to host the prestigious event. As we know now, Kelowna won the bid. When Commissioner Robison uttered those words, the yell from the committee in jubilation is something I will never forget. Less than two years later the team would win the darn thing.
  • I was extremely pleased to learn Prince George Cougars assistant coach Jason Becker is heading to the Okanagan this fall. Becker, who spent five seasons as an assistant in PG, has taken a coaching position with the Okanagan Hockey Academy. Becker and I go back to my days as the Swift Current Broncos radio broadcaster while he was a player on the team. The year was 1994-95. The move for his family alone will be a major upgrade. The winters are so much better here in the Okanagan than up North. That said, the people of Prince George are a friendly bunch and my hope is the people here embrace them too.
  • The Okanagan is always the site of weddings in the summer. Kelowna specifically provides for an outstanding backdrop. This summer two former Kelowna Rockets players will be tying the knot in our fair city. Ryan Cuthbert, who captained the team for two seasons including the 2003 WHL championship squad, will say 'I do'. Defenceman Tyler Myers, who was a member of the Rockets 2009 WHL championship team, will also walk down the aisle. 
  • It looks like Zach Franko will head to Acadia University this fall. The 21 year-old played 252 regular season games with the Kelowna Rockets before being traded to Kootenay in January to make room for overage forward Marek Tvrdon. Franko told me he will choose to go to Acadia if a pro opportunity doesn't come his way.
  • It will be interesting to see what happens with Myles Bell and his contract negotiations with the New Jersey Devils. With Bell being unsigned and having no other option but to play pro or go to school, the Devils need to offer him a contract to his liking for him to play in the AHL this season. Bell was drafted in the 6th round by the Devils last summer.
  • Speaking of players looking for a contract, will the Edmonton Oilers re-sign Kelowna resident Curtis Hamilton before July 1st? If the Oilers don't, Hamilton, a 2nd round pick of the Oilers in 2010, will become a free agent. Several players in Oklahoma City have had a chance to show their stuff with the Oilers over the years but Hamilton unfortunately hasn't been afforded that luxury. It makes you wonder if the now 22 year-old would get a better shot with another team?
  • Will Rockets alumnus Travis Moen be with the Montreal Canadiens next season? While he still has two years left on a four year contract that pays him 1.8 million, it never looks good when you are a health scratch in the Eastern Conference finals. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hamilton up for the challenge on two high profile fronts

Bruce Hamilton
  • Bruce Hamilton loves a challenge. The Kelowna Rockets general manager will again be an integral part of the management team for Hockey Canada at the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships in Montreal and Toronto. Hamilton was apart of the management team that lost in the bronze medal game in Sweden at the 2013 tournament. Hamilton has one World Junior Championship medal in his home after his son Curtis was a part of Team Canada’s entry at the 2011 tournament. Hamilton told me winning a gold medal at the World Juniors would be ‘his Stanley Cup’.
  • It has been a busy week for Hamilton, who was re-elected as Chairman of the Board at the WHL annual meetings Wednesday in Vancouver. Hamilton is now in his seventh term as chairman, which is the longest tenure of anyone to hold the post in league history. I may be reading between the lines, but it doesn’t appear anyone else wants the job. No one is stepping up and saying, ‘pick me, pick me’. Instead they are taking the easy way out by re-electing Hamilton. The main reason why, I assume, is it takes a lot of work and being the chairman often puts you in a tough spot  when you have to make decision for the betterment of the league that may not sit well with some people.    
  • League governors have voted for a new playoff format that mirrors the one used in the NHL. The new format should set up divisional playoff match ups in round one; something the Rockets didn’t see at all in three playoff rounds in 2013. The Rockets faced American based Tri City in round one, Seattle in round two and Portland in round three.  Portland followed a similar path facing BC Division Vancouver in round one, Victoria in round two and Kelowna in round three.    
  • Bruce Hamilton would like to get a pro tryout for 21 year-old goaltender Jordon Cooke. He says the CHL Goaltender of the Year deserves a closer look.
  • Word is Cooke has 14 Canadian Universities wanting to obtain his services. Do you think?
  • The NHL Draft at the end of the month should see no less than two Kelowna Rockets players taken and maybe even a third. Justin Kirkland will hear his name called and Rourke Chartier also has a shot of being picked by one of the 30 teams. It will be interesting to see if Tyson Baillie has a team that chooses him when the draft is held in Philadelphia.
  • Nice to see former Kelowna Rockets forward Dylen McKinlay is going to university this fall. Now 22, McKinlay will suit up with the University of Regina Cougars. McKinlay had career high 24 goals and 68 points with the Rockets in 2012-2013.
  • Congratulations to AJ Jakubec for being named the radio play-by-play voice of the CFL expansion Ottawa Redblacks.  AJ was my colour guy on Kelowna Rockets broadcast during the 2000-2001 season. It has been a great six months for the Edmonton resident, who called his first NHL game with the Ottawa Senators in March. I’m thinking AJ better buy a lottery ticket. The dude is on a roll.   
  • I loved LA Kings goaltender Jonathon Quick's comments to reporters after a pre-game skate this morning in advance of game five of the Stanley Cup final.  Quick sounded like Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. Quick's answers were 'quick' and had little to no substance. The more reporters attempted to pry something out of him, the more tight lipped he became. 
  • Darryl Sutter was asked how important the start would be in game five. Check out his answer. "How important is a good start? That's why they put time on the clock always. It starts. That's when it starts. Then you get 30 or 40 seconds of it and then somebody else gets to go. It is not just the start. What does start mean? Does it mean shift?  Does that mean period? Does that mean until the first time out? Does that mean save? Does that mean, o-zone, d-zone or neutral zone? What does it mean? After listening to that, I'm as confused as Sutter is.       

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Things that make me go hmm...

Vin Scully knows when to 'shut up'.
  • Kim Dillabaugh has one Stanley Cup ring. Would he like another? The Kelowna Rockets goaltending coach is also a goaltending consultant with the LA Kings, meaning he will be at Staples Center tonight for game one of the Stanley Cup final between the Kings and the New York Rangers. Dillabaugh was with the Kings when they won hockey's holy grail back in 2012. Dillabaugh primarily works with the Kings goaltending prospects but worked extensively with Jonathan Quick when he was cutting his teeth at the American Hockey League level.
  • How would you like to live in a hotel for a month? If you are wondering what its like,  just ask Ryan Olsen. The Kelowna Rockets forward has been hanging out in a hotel in St. John's Newfoundland while practicing with the American Hockey League's IceCaps during their long playoff run towards the Calder Cup. Olsen hasn't played a game, but is a group of Winnipeg Jets prospects that are along for the ride and could see duty if a regular is injured. "We have had to eat out every single day since I have been here. I haven't had a home cooked meal since I left Kelowna", Olsen told me this morning on an off day.    The IceCaps face the Texas Stars in the Calder Cup final which begins Sunday.
  • Several WHL teams have updated their jersey colour scheme over the last couple of years. This week the Swift Current Broncos went back to the uniforms they wore when they broke into the league in 1986. I wonder if the Kelowna Rockets change things up considering this season marks their 20th in the Okanagan in 2014-2015.
  • If Brian Gionta doesn't resign with the Montreal Canadiens, wouldn't Josh Gorges be a nice choice for captain of the Habitants?
  • NHL prospect Sam Bennett raised eyebrows this week when he was unable to do one pull up at the Combine in Toronto. I am a little surprised he couldn't do one, but have you ever attempted to do a pull up? Try it. I dare ya! I am a little bit of a gym rat so I know the strength and technique needed to execute one properly. Trust me, Bennett is not a bad player because he can't execute a pull up. If he can't shoot a puck or skate, then he is in massive trouble.
  • The NHL draft will see Kelowna Rockets Justin Kirkland taken somewhere in the late second or third round. When he is chosen, just remember he didn't play major junior until he was 17. The lanky forward spent his 16 year-old year playing midget hockey in Wilcox Saskatchewan (Notre Dame). Did that extra year in midget hurt? Not one bit.
  • I read an interesting article on legendary broadcaster Vin Scully. The one quote that stood out was when Scully said, 'I've learned to shut up'. That is so true. Some times its best to keep your yap shut.
  • The Kelowna Rockets will have one prospect attending the WHL's Combine this weekend at the Capital News Centre. Jonathon Smart, the teams first round pick in April's bantam draft, will be there.
    Prospects will be put through the paces at the Combine, which is designed to assist players with their skill development, with on ice testing, tips and seminars. Rockets Head Coach Ryan Huska will make a presentation to players attending on the benefits of playing in the WHL.
  • An interesting hire indeed for the Saskatoon Blades this week. Bob Woods leaves his assistant coaching position with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks and will guide the Blades for the next five seasons. I only find it interesting that an NHL assistant coach comes back to major junior in the hopes of getting some additional head coaching experience with the goal of eventually moving back to the 'bigs' as a full time bench boss. And to think Woods traded in the sunshine of California for the cold winter nights on the Saskatchewan prairies. He likely won't say it publicly, but on several occasions he will mutter to himself, 'What did I do'?
  • Now that the Montreal Canadiens are out of the playoffs, lots of talk about how good Brendan Gallagher was leading up to the Eastern Conference final. Gallagher is a smallish player with a MASSIVE heart. He just doesn't quit. But honestly, how many small players are out there that play with that type of effort and can do it at an elite level? Gallagher is a special player and I am not sure many can match what he brings in a small package. 
  • The Blue Jays are sparking my interest. I know it is only June, but I am watching the out of town scoreboard closely hoping the team stays atop the division and has what it takes in October. Will the bubble burst? I am enjoying the fact they have won 14 of their last 17 games and are in first place. I thought they would suck this year. That said, I thought they would be good last season and they really struggled. 
  • The Saskatchewan Roughriders are holding training camp in Saskatoon this year. I remember as a teenager driving up from Swift Current with a buddy of mine and spending the weekend watching the Riders workout. Even back then, in the mid 80's when the team was horrible, we were still diehards.
  • The BC Lions hold training camp at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. Remember the days when the Lions held camp in Kelowna? I understand the set up for the Lions in the 'Loops' is outstanding and they are looking at staying there long term.

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