Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Long+Coyotes=NHL Contract?


How close are the Phoenix Coyotes in signing Kelowna Rockets forward Colin Long? I spoke to Coyotes assistant GM Brad Treliving earlier today.

"Our philosophy is we want the kid (Long) to focus on what's important right now, and that's playing. They are still kids yet, and we want his focus on every game and helping his team get as far as they can go because it helps his development. We want the focus to be where it should be, which is the games in hand."

On his 19 year-old season:

"Obviously he is a skilled, skilled player, who has put up a lot of points the last two years in the WHL. In a lot of cases he is dynamic offensively, and I think he has taken a step leadership wise on the ice and off it wearing the 'c' in Kelowna. Hopefully he can lead that team to success in the playoffs, but we are happy where he is. Like any young player their are areas in your game that you need to improve and with Colin he is not a big, huge man. With a lot of offensive players they've always had the ability to let their skill dictate at the junior level, but when they that that next step and are playing against men, you have less time and guys take you out because they are a bit stronger, and are a little bit more forceful in terms of letting you get by them. But that said, their are very few players that come out of junior that you can say are physically where they need to be to play against men".


On signing him to a contract:

"We will see over the next couple of weeks and depending where the season goes and how they end up and at what point...what's the next step for him".

On playing another year of junior considering he was picked in the 2008 draft:

"He was a late draft, and he is still a young man. He is still an '89' birth date and some kids have that growth spurt at 17 and 18 while others wait till they are or 20 or 21 or beyond. Obviously his play and production has really grown in the last two years, so is he now ready for the next challenge? Or is another year in Kelowna developing physically better? The good news for us is we really believe strongly in the program in Kelowna. They have a tremendous franchise. I think they are very well coached. It's a place where players get better, it's a place where players are developed and they are taught the right way to play. It's not a situation where you wanna rush to get him out of there so his game doesn't take a step backwards."

On not being named to the U-S-A World Junior Team:

"I was surprised he didn't make it. I know it was discouraging for him, but it's about how you respond to that adversity. I think he responded very well. He went back, and the only thing he could control was how you react to it, and I think he went back and played hard, was productive and carried that team when they had players like Jamie Benn and Tyler Myers away. He really took a step over that three week period when those players were gone and really became a leader. You can go into the corner and suck your thumb or you can go out and play and push, and do all the things that you can do in a positive way, and he went that route which was a positive thing to see."

Treliving told me he saw Long play in games three and four of an opening round series with Kamloops. Overall the Coyotes watched him play over 20 times this season.
The audio from this interview can be heard Friday night on our pre-game show at 6:35.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Minny 'Wild' About Almond

Great News for Cody Almond. The Minnesota Wild have signed the Kelowna Rockets forward to an Entry Level contract.
Almond had a great season with 33 goals and 33 assists, good for 66 points in 70 games. Almond has 5 points in four playoff games.
Almond was selected by Minnesota in the fifth round (140th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Some would suggest that the reason Almond played with so much consistency this season was the fact he was in his contract year. That may have had something to do with it. Now that he has a deal in his back pocket and the Wild have shown their faith in him, lets hope this only helps his game, not hinders it, as the Rockets make a long push in the post season. Congrats Cody!!

Novotny Needed More Than Ever

  • Secondary scoring is pivotal in any playoff series, but especially when it comes to the second round when the top line will find themselves going head-to-head with the other teams top defensive pairing. Rockets rookie forward Stepan Novotny would fall into that category. Novotny had three goals in four games against the Blazers in round one and will have to provide the team with that scoring threat in round two.
  • Am I expected a little too much from a European forward in the playoffs? I don't think so. Look at Lauris Darzins' contribution in the 2006 playoffs when he scored five times in an opening round playoff series against the Kootenay Ice.
  • How much class does Bob Tory have? The general manager of the Tri City Americans left a message on my cell phone today informing me that the Toyota Center - the home of the Americans - underwent some changes in the broadcast location over the last few weeks and that I should make sure I test my equipment well in advance of game one for any glitches. Small gesture right? Sure it is, but what does it say about Tory and the organization he runs? He could have taken the road of "screw the Rockets radio guy, if he can't make contact with his radio station when he arrives it's his problem". Tory is as competitive as they come, but in my books he's not only a solid hockey man but a class act. That small gesture is just another example.
  • While we are sending out bouquets , I am looking forward to speaking with Americans head coach Don Nachbaur in this series. My objective is not to goat him into saying something nasty about the Rockets that can be used as bulletin board material to fuel the fire. Never has been, never will be my approach. I want to walk away from the interview having learned something new and get his take on the game and the series. I hope the listeners back in Kelowna also get a better grasp of the game through another set of eyes while learning to appreciate the virtues of the other team. We are competing to move on to the next round, but that shouldn't take away from seeing the other team in a positive light, win or lose.
  • It will be interesting to see the ice conditions at the the Toyota Center at this time of the year. In the past it hasn't been great as the weather warms up outside. That said, the Rockets haven't played a game in that arena this late in the season since 2004, so lets hope the quality of the ice surface is a non-issue. Both teams can skate. Let's hope the ice is fast.
  • Speaking of non-issues, lets hope the officiating is a non-issue in this series. Not every call is going to be pleasing in the eye of the two teams, but let the two teams settled the score. I don't see the Americans as a team wanting to take liberties on the opposition. They are much too skilled for that. The same holds true for the Rockets, who want to beat you on the scoreboard, not by the number of players you have in the penalty box. I think the officials calling this series should always remember 'less means more'.
  • A trip to the Toyota Center deserves a stop for some arena Mexican food they serve in that building. It's delicious. Don't spoil it by telling me what really is inside of it though. Just let me enjoy it please!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Yeomans Wins CIS Title

Congrats to former Kelowna Rockets goaltender Derek Yeomans for helping win the 2009 CIS men's hockey championship.
Yeomans saw his New Brunswick Varsity Reds captured their second University Cup in three years with a 4-2 win over the Western Ontario Mustangs Sunday in the gold-medal final. Yeomans was in a back up role for the game.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rockets Face Americans in Round 2

  • The Kelowna Rockets will face the Tri City Americans in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. The Americans eliminated the Everett Silvertips in 5 games. Game one of the series will most likely be played Friday and Saturday in Tri City with games three and four in Kelowna Tuesday and Wednesday. Those dates are subject to change.
  • These two teams last met in the playoffs in 2004, with the Rockets winning in 6 games. That season the Rockets had home ice advantage, this season the Americans get the extra game at home.
  • The Rockets lost 5-2 and 4-1 in Tri City this season, yet beat the Americans 3-1 and 3-2 at Prospera Place. Overall both teams scored 12 goals against one another.
  • Riley McIntosh will be looking forward to this series. The Tri City Americans defenseman was traded by the Rockets earlier this season. McIntosh played 38 regular season games with the Americans, picking up 5 points (0+5=5). McIntosh failed to earn a point in an opening round series with Everett.
  • During the season these two teams were separated by just three points in the standings. The Americans finished 2nd with 101 points while the Rockets finished 3rd with 98.
  • How evenly matched are these two teams? The Rockets scored just four more goals than the Americans, while allowing 6 fewer against.
  • The Rockets had 10 players with 30 or more points during the regular season. The Americans had 9 players with 30 or more points this season.
  • The Rockets had 5 players with 20 or more goals, the Americans had four.
  • The Americans registered 153 points from the defensive core this season. The Rockets managed 155 points from the back end. That number could be higher for the Rockets if you also include Brandon McMillan's point totals. If that were the case, you would add McMillan's totals to the defensive core and subtract Curt Gogol's, considering the two essentially swapped positions.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Kyle St Denis Injury Update


In a time where injuries are a deep dark secret, Kelowna Rockets general manager Bruce Hamilton isn't hiding behind the fact that forward Kyle St. Denis is struggling with a concussion.
Hamilton told me this morning that St. Denis has undergone an MRI and has seen a neurologist after suffering a concussion over a month ago.

"He still struggles with post concussion syndrome. When we played in Calgary, we felt he was ready to play and then the night before in Red Deer he was complaining about the noise in the building, so we shut him down again".
Hamilton added, "It's a terrible injury to have. We sent him back to his home in Trail this week to get some home cooking from his mom. He's going into three solid days of feeling good, so he will return to Kelowna Sunday where he will undergo an assessment next week. He needs to be symptom free for seven days before he can practice"
St. Denis was injured February 18th against the Chilliwack Bruins.

Rockets That Impressed Me In Round One


  • Tyler Myers. The 19 year-old defenseman was the best player on the ice in the Rockets opening round playoff series. Myers was great defensively, picked good times to rush the puck, and scored two goals in a four game sweep of the Kamloops Blazers. If you could hand out an MVP award for a first round playoff series, Myers is the winner.
  • Ryley Grantham. Grantham not only scored two goals in game two, but his ability to turn the other cheek and not take a bad penalty in games three and four were down right impressive. Grantham was given an elbow by Blazers forward Tyler Shattock in game three, the hit so hard it knocked the helmet off of Grantham's head. Had the game been out of reach or had it been the regular season, Grantham would have gone directly after Shattock and took out his frustrations physically. Instead, Grantham took one for the team by staying composed and allowing his team the power play chance. One dimensional he is not. He proved it in round one. He deserves a regular shift, something not seen in players that are more known for their fists than their finesse.
  • Cody Almond looked like the player he was in January, when everything he touched turned to gold. Almond was one of the hardest working Rockets in the opening round playoff series, and the hockey God's looked favorably upon him in game three when he scored the tying goal with 3 seconds left in regulation time and the game winner in overtime. Almond was a +6, leading the Rockets in that category.
  • Brandon McMillan. His ability to use his speed to move the puck out of his own zone was invaluable in this series. McMillan often took some physical abuse, including a big hit at centre ice in game four that went undetected by the officiating crew. McMillan was a +4 in the series. Only Tyler Myers was better when it came to defenseman with a +5.
  • Lucas Bloodoff. He came to crash and bang, and played his role to perfection in round one. The well spoken Bloodoff led the Rockets in penalty minutes (11) and is the Rockets version of Vancouver Giants forward Lance Bouma. Is he a clone? Not exactly, but Bloodoff was the first to pucks and played a gritty game. While he failed to score in the series, his efforts do not go unnoticed.
  • Stepan Novotny. Considering he was making his WHL playoff debut in this series, Novotny scored three nice goals in the opening round. You have to remember that Novotny is just 18 years-old and has a bright future with this team. It was nice to see him have early playoff success after scoring 19 times in his rookie season. Novotny's 'secondary scoring' will be a huge boost as the games get bigger and bigger, and as Jamie Benn and Colin Long get challenged by the oppositions top defensive pairings.
  • Mark Guggenberger. 'Guggs' was playing in his first WHL playoff series, and showed his value in game two with several sensational saves. He only allowed one goal that wasn't either a power play marker or shorthanded. I was glad he didn't have to snooze through the opening round, and was forced to make some big saves. Had it been the other way around, I'd be concerned about his mindset heading into the second round of the playoffs when the shooters and the quality of the shots become that much better.
  • You don't register 10 points and not get some recognition for your efforts in this series. Jamie Benn had 3+7=10, impressive to say the least. Benn had five more points than his nearest teammate. He continues to be a game breaker and a threat to score on every shift.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rockets Audio vs. Blazers

www.am1150.ca/player/player?mediapath=&type=mp3&fi=files%2Fam1150%2Fsrimedia%2FRO9_1626.MP3&nid=900369

Random Pic's From Round One

No lack of Rockets' faithful in game four Wednesday night. This group was decked out in Rockets jersey's and flag. I always question why they seat the visiting fans so close to the bench. Is that not the worst seat in the house? All three coaches and the trainer are often standing on the bench, so all you see is a close up of their backside.

The steady hand of Rockets' athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn.
Just a few of the banners that hang above Interior Savings Centre. Greg Evtushevski's retired #26 is proudly on display. 'Chevy' is the proud owner of Chevy's Source For Sports in Kelowna.
The celebration following Cody Almond's overtime winner in game three.
The best Blazer in the series? This guy...goaltender Justin Leclerc. If he was a pitcher, he didn't recieve a lot of run support in this series.
Mikael Backlund in warmup before game three.

A Playoff Date With Someone From Washington State

  • For the first time since the 2005 season, the Kelowna Rockets are off to the second round of the playoffs. Jamie Benn put in his best performance of the series with a goal and three assists leading the Rockets to a 5-3 win, eliminating the Kamloops Blazers in four games.
  • Let's face it the pressure was squarely on the shoulders of the Rockets to win this series, and win it handily. Everyone picked the Rockets to make short work of them, yet the Blazers were anything but a push over. Opening round upsets are always a possibility, and the Rockets avoided becoming a casualty. Any playoff loss from here on in will not be considered an upset, especially if Tri City and Spokane advance to the final four in the Western Conference.
  • Rockets forward Mikael Backlund left Wednesday's game after the first period and didn't return.
  • The win was the Rockets 13th straight over the Blazers this season. Nine of those wins came during the regular season with four more coming in the playoffs.
  • The Rockets are no stranger to beating the Blazers in the opening round. The Rockets used four games to end the Blazers season back in 2002.
  • The Rockets power play, which struggled in the series, struck for two goals in Wednesdays win. In the series the man advantage went just 4 for 33, and gave up three shorthanded goals. The Rockets had 14 more power plays than the Blazers in the four games.
  • The Blazers opened the scoring in three of the four games.
  • The greatest struggle for the Blazers was their inability to get big games from their top players. C.J Stretch, the Blazers leading point getter during the regular season, had just one goal in the series.
  • I thought it should be noted that Blazer forward Brendan Ranford took the series loss especially hard. The sixteen year-old was seen at centre ice shedding a tear as the Blazers raised their sticks in the air, thanking the fans for their support. Ranford is a young player who cares about his team and doesn't take losing lightly. It's that type of attitude and emotional attachment to winning that will be needed for this Blazer franchise to break out of a funk of being a first round casualty for an 11th straight playoff series.
  • The Blazers have lost 15 straight playoff games dating back to 2005.
  • The Rockets don't know who they will face in the second round of the playoffs, but they will be playing one of either, Tri City, Spokane, or Seattle. Bottom line is they are playing a team from Washington state.
  • Rockets forward Brett Bulmer is flying back to Prince George today after spending the last few days with the team. Bulmer didn't see any playoff action, but practiced with the team and accompanied them during games three and four in Kamloops. The grade 11 student will most likely be with the team full time next season.
video

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Digging Up Dirt

  • The Kamloops Blazers are riding a 14 game playoff losing streak heading into game four of their playoff series with the Rockets tonight. The Blazers last playoff win came in game three of an opening round series against the Kootenay Ice in 2005. The Blazers were a 3-2 winner March 29/2005.
  • Just five members of the Kelowna Rockets skated today. Goaltender Adam Brown was joined on the ice by Kyle Verdino, Spencer Main, Aaron Borjeko and Brett Bulmer.
  • While it hasn't necessarily been a key to success or a lack-there-of in this playoff series, a strong opening period is pivotal for the Rockets tonight. Should the Rockets play with urgency early, not late, it may be just what's needed to end the Blazers hopes of extending this series to a fifth game.
  • Special thanks to Randy Merkley for his guest appearance on our broadcast last night. Merkley, the play-by-play radio voice of the Chilliwack Bruins, was our guest during the overtime intermission. Merkley and some of the Bruins staff were hungry for some playoff hockey, so decided to make the trek to Kamloops to take in game three.
  • Rockets skills coach Kim Gellert has joined the team during their two day stay in Kamloops. Gellert traditionally does not make road trips, but took the time out to provide a helping hand as another 'eye in the sky' high above the ice.
  • How serious are the playoffs? Even team doctor Mike Bobyn took in last night's game.
  • The Blazers have scored five goals in this series. Of those five, none have been 5 on 5. The Blazers have two power play goals, two short handed goals, and once while playing four on four.

Rockets One Win Away From Advancing

  • A nifty against the grain pass by Mikael Backlund from behind the net to Cody Almond at the far post provided for a tap-in opportunity in overtime, leading the Kelowna Rockets to a 3-2 win over the Kamloops Blazers, and a 3-0 lead in their opening round playoff series.
  • Almond's game winner came on the heels of the tying goal with just 3 seconds remaining in regulation time. Almond's late third period goal came courtesy of a goal mouth scramble that had linemate Mikael Backlund and Ian Duval also taking a swipe at the puck before Almond got it past Blazers goaltender Justin Leclerc.
  • The Rockets shouldn't be happy with the first period. While they out-shot the Blazers 5-3, they failed to score on 4 power play chances and ended up giving up a shorthanded goal.
  • Rockets head coach Ryan Huska must have had something to say in the first intermission because they were a different club the rest of the way. The Rockets out-shot the Blazers 28-8 in the final two period and were the better team down the stretch.
  • The third period saw the Blazers take a 2-0 lead on a power play goal, only to collapse in an attempt to protect the two goal lead. The Rockets forced the issue resulting in several key turnovers by the Blazers defensive core. You could sense the Blazers were trying not to lose rather than win the game.
  • Jamie Benn was a non-factor for the majority of the game, yet his timely goal late in the third period broke the shutout bid by Justin Leclerc. It was Benn's goal that gave the visitors the belief that they indeed had a chance to tie it, and send it into overtime.
  • With the Blazers up 1-0 in the first period, the Rockets had a goal disallowed when Jamie Benn appeared to score to tie the game at one. Yet the goal was disallowed because Colin Long interfered with the goaltender, yet wasn't given a penalty.
  • Tyler Myers again had a solid game for the Rockets. Shift in and shift out he was the best player on the ice. Even in the mistakes he made, he was quick to recover.
  • The Rockets were 0 for 8 on the power play and are now 0 for 18 in their last two games and have given up two shorthanded goals. Those poor statistics are manageable against the Blazers, but would come back to haunt them against teams like Tri City, Vancouver or Spokane.
  • Mikael Backlund's return was an impressive one. Despite missing game one and two with a upper body injury, Backlund's strong work ethic and chemistry with Ian Duval and Cody Almond made them a threat to score on every shift. Backlund was especially good at the face-off circle.
  • The overtime win was the Rockets first in the playoffs since Lucas Bloodoff's overtime winner in game six of last years playoff series with Seattle.
  • It was the Rockets first overtime playoff win on the road since Lauris Darzins scored the winner at the 12:08 mark in game four of the WHL final against the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2005.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Playoff Hockey On The Road

  • It doesn't get old. Playoff hockey on the road is my favorite time of the season. The Kelowna Rockets bus is off limits for media types at this time of the year (see Bruce Hamilton for details) so the Kelowna media ( all three of us) hop into one vehicle and drive down to the city which is playing host to the Rockets over the next two games.
  • The three media types on this particular trip are myself, color analyst Gord McGarva and Kelowna Daily Courier sports writer Doyle (I still can't spell his name right ) Pontenteau.
  • The topics on the trip usually range from hockey to kids, to hockey, to hockey, to hockey and then to hockey. Doyle will often want to bring up the merits of soccer, something I refuse to participate in. With Gord McGarva on the trip, golf may surface as a conversation piece over the two hour trip.
  • The short distance between Kelowna and Kamloops allows us to make the trip the day of the game. Had this been Seattle in round one, we, like the team, would have traveled the day before.
  • Having separation from the Rockets at this time of the year isn't necessarily a bad thing. The stakes are higher and the intensity on every ones faces are evident. Sometimes a bit of breathing room between the team and the media isn't a bad thing. Often times comments can be misconstrued, as every ones anxiety level is just a little bit higher
  • So while we may not travel together nor eat together in the playoffs, the Rockets can still expect us to attend practices, pre-game skates and the games itself on the road. So will we be in their faces during the playoffs? Absolutely. We have a job to do too, and the team realizes that. No Rockets player or coach has ever been off limits to the media. Let's see if the same holds true with the Blazers prior too or after games three and four.
  • I like to take a positive approach to the playoffs. My role when around the players and coaches shouldn't be one of doom and gloom. I prefer to be upbeat and excited about the teams prospects of winning. A 'half full' attitude is far better than bringing a 'half empty' approach in my dealings with the team.
  • Spending a few nights in Kamloops isn't a bad thing. No, I wouldn't want to vacation there, but touring around the Thompson-Okanagan for a couple of days isn't a bad thing. The playoffs give us a chance to tour around the various cities that we travel to with the Rockets during the regular season, but often times see little other than the hotel we are staying at and the oppositions arena.
  • The home of the Kamloops Blazers has the best sight lines for the visiting broadcaster in the WHL in my opinion. Medicine Hat would be a close second. My general belief is the visiting broadcaster has a better vantage point than the home broadcaster,who has had to slid down to make room from video replay. The location of the broadcast booth is at centre ice, not to high, not to low. As Goldie Locks would say "it's just right'.
  • The PA announcer in Kamloops isn't annoying. I other words, you can understand what he is saying, even when the home team scores. I am all about being excited, and portraying that through your voice, but keep it audible so even a visiting broadcaster can use a goal announcement on the radio. In Kamloops it's a slam dunk.
  • The media/scouts room in Kamloops is nothing special, but the food sure is. Roast beef, hand sandwiches and delicious white chocolate macadamia nut cookies go a long way in the stomach of those attending the games. If you can't stomach what you see on the ice, at least you can feel satisfied with what you are being served in the media/scouts room.

Monday, March 23, 2009

He Ain't Whistling Dixie

How is the playoff series being called after the first two games of the Kelowna Rockets/Kamloops Blazers best of seven?

Penalties by Period:

Period 1
Rockets: 5 infractions
Blazers: 5 infractions

Period 2
Rockets: 4 infractions
Blazers: 8 infractions

Period 3
Rockets: 8 infractions
Blazers: 13 infractions

Total Combined Penalties:
First period: 10 penalties
Second Period: 12 penalties
Third Period: 21 penalties
Total: 43 penalties

Infractions in Series:
Roughing: 14 *7 by Rockets
Boarding: 6 * all six by Kamloops
Interference: 4 * two each
Unsportsmanlike: 3 *two of the three to Kamloops
Cross Checking: 2 *one each
Hooking: 2 *one each
CFB: 2 * both by Kamloops
Slash: 2 *one each
Trip: 2 * one each
Misconducts: 2 *one each
Fighting: 2 * one fight between teams
Delay of Game:1 * Kamloops
Knee: 1 * Kamloops
Note: double minors are being calculated as one penalty call despite the player serving four minutes.

Backlund Back In?

  • If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on Mikael Backlund returning to the Rockets lineup Tuesday night in Kamloops. Backlund practiced for a third straight day, and I spoke to him this morning after practice. He told me that if it was up to him, he'd play tomorrow night. It will be up to Rockets athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn and the coaching staff to make the final decision. Backlund's injury was an untimely one. Not only did he miss game one and two of the series, but his father flew in last week from Sweden to see him play.

Rockets Facts Going Into Game 3

  • Ryley Grantham's two goal effort was an impressive feat in game two, but has a Rockets player ever scored three times in a playoff game? Brett McLean is the only one to register a hat-trick, collecting 3 goals and an assist in a 6-3 win over Spokane in game five of an opening round playoff series March 29/98.
  • Even in a 10-0 win over the Vancouver Giants in game one of the 2003 playoffs, no one managed a three goal game. Tyler Mosienko came close, with 2+3=5 and was a +5.
  • If you are wondering, Tyler Mosienko has the Rockets franchise record for playoffs games played with 81. Mosienko is followed closely by Brett Palin (75) and Mike Card, Blake Comeau and Tyler Spurgeon (72).
  • Who is the Rockets playoff goals leader? Cam Paddock. Paddock had 22 goals in 61 playoff games. Paddock's 22 goals were two better than Mosienko's 20.
  • Mosienko is the franchise leader in playoff points with 57. Mosienko had 22+35=57. Surprisingly Josh Gorges is next on that list with 45 points followed by Paddock, Comeau and Justin Keller, who all had 40 playoff points.
  • When was the last time the Rockets were up 2-0 in an opening round playoff series and had to play games three and four on opposition ice? It was March 23/04 against the Kootenay Ice. The Rockets won game three 4-0 before wrapping up the series in game four with a 3-1 win. That season the Rockets won the Memorial Cup. Good teams realize that when an opponent is down, you should leave them no room, as they try to drag themselves off the floor in an attempt at a comeback bid.
  • Jamie Benn has a goal and 4 assists in his first two playoff games. Benn is tied for the league lead in playoff scoring with Tri City's Kruise Reddick and Giants forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel.
  • Mark Guggenberger is second in the WHL in playoffs goals against average at 1.50. Only Calgary's Martin Jones is better at 0.50.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Desperation Save, Difference Maker in Game Two


  • It was one of the best saves you'll ever witness, and Kelowna Rockets goaltender Mark Guggenberger has the paddle of his stick to thank. Guggenberger robbed Blazers forward Jimmy Bubnick of a sure goal on an early first period power play, leading the Rockets to an eventual 5-1 - game two win.
  • The save wasn't the deciding factor in the outcome of the game, yet it kept the Blazers at bay after the Rockets got off to a slow start. The save was the result of the Blazers firing the puck inside the zone on an early power play. Guggenberger attempted to stop the puck behind the net, yet it took a funny bounce in the corner and jumped towards the front of the net onto the stick of Jimmy Bubnick. In an effort to recover, Guggenberger dove back towards the net, and with his goal stick extended, got a piece of the Bubnick shot, sending it wide of the open goal. An inch higher and it would have been 1-0 Blazers.
  • The Blazers were given the luxury of a power play just 54 seconds into the game, and created several quality chances off of it. A goal post, Bubnick's glorious chance, and Seth Compton's shot from the high slot that hit Guggenberger in the shoulder, had the visitors scratching their heads. They did everything right but score. Instead the Rockets roared back and got the opening goal from Ian Duval 8 minutes into the first period.
  • How good were the Blazers early? They held a 10-1 shot advantage before the Rockets finally found their game. Once that happened, the Rockets out-shot the Blazers 11-1 in the final half of the opening frame.
  • The Rockets got solid efforts out of Ian Duval and Cody Almond. Duval opened the scoring, but had good jump throughout the game.Cody Almond's worth ethic was tremendous, with his greatest work coming shorthanded. Often times Almond's efforts were recognized with a loud cheer from the 52 hundred fans that were in attendance.
  • The Rockets were 0 for 10 on the power play while the Blazers were 0 for 4. The Rockets did a better job of staying out of the box, but the power play unit is a concern. Look at it being much better in game three Tuesday.
  • Rockets forward Ryley Grantham deserves credit for his two goal effort. Playing on a line with Evan Bloodoff and Mitchell Callahan, Grantham had a solid game offensively, and scored a beauty with a wrist shot to the glove hand side of Blazers goaltender Justin Leclerc to make it 4-0.
  • Games three and four are now back in Kamloops Tuesday and Wednesday. It's a place the Rockets like to play, winning five times in that building during the regular season.
  • Could we see Mikael Backlund in game three? Backlund took the morning skate prior to game two. Backlund hasn't played since getting injured in Kamloops in game 70 of the regular season.
  • The Rockets now lead the series two games to none. Don't expect this team to be overconfident though. The Rockets won the first two games of last years opening round playoff series with Seattle before dropping game three and eventually losing the best of seven - 4 games to 3.
  • Did we see the best of the Blazers Saturday night? My belief is we have not seen the best from the Rockets in the first two games.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Playoff Crowd Numbers

Just for clarification, the Kelowna Rockets regular season streak of 174 consecutive sell-outs remains alive.

Last night’s crowd of 5 thousand 123 was nothing new when we are talking about the playoffs though. In game three of last years opening round playoff series with Seattle, just 5 thousand 108 took in the game at Prospera Place. Game four was only slightly better as 5 thousand 186 took in the contest. Game six in that series, also in Kelowna, saw 5 thousand 217 go through the turnstiles. The last time the Rockets had a playoff sell-out crowd on home ice was April 14, 2006 in games five of a second round series with Everett. I noticed on another blog that it was stated that the streak is over, but that in fact is not true.

*In round one of last years playoffs the Rockets averaged 5 thousand 170 fans in the three games they hosted against Seattle.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Game One Effort..Just Ok


  • The Kelowna Rockets earned a 4-2 win over the Kamloops Blazers Friday night, but the home team shouldn't be jumping for joy over the game one win. The effort was good enough for the victory, yet it appeared that the home team was willing to expend only enough energy to earn the win.
  • The Rockets appeared to be nervous at the puck drop and the more relaxed Blazers took the play to them in the first period. Despite being out-shot 8-6 in the opening frame, the Blazers had the better jump and the better scoring chances.
  • The Rockets deserve credit for bouncing back despite giving up the first goal. Four straight goals gave the home team a 4-1 lead before the Blazers closed out the scoring to make it a 4-2 final.
  • Jamie Benn had three assists in the win. Tyson Barrie and Colin Long each chipped in with a goal and an assist.
  • The Blazers receive a solid effort from Kenton Dulle, Tyler Shattock and Scott Wasden. It's those core players that need to be difference makers for the Blazers to have a chance in this series.
  • The best Rocket was the games first start, Tyler Myers. Myers logged close to 25 minutes of ice time and made several great rushes with the puck and made as many solid defensive decisions. Myers was the best player on the ice.
  • Mark Guggenberger didn't look good on the Blazers opening goal, yet made solid saves off of Kenton Dulle and Tyler Shattock. Guggenberger's save off of Shattock came when the Rockets had a 3-1 lead. It's those saves, even when the game isn't necessarily in doubt, that make a huge difference between a win and a loss. If Guggenberger gives up a goal in a two goal game, the Blazer are just a shot away from tying the score.
  • You take it foregranted until you see the empty seats. The game one crowd of just over 5 thousand left several seats empty. It was an odd sight for a building that is always sold out. It's anticipated that close to 1 thousand seats will also be empty for game two tonight. Not even a close rival is enough to fill the building on a Friday night.
  • It was a pleasure to meet relatives of Mitchell Callahan and Ryley Grantham following Friday's game. I ran into both parties at the post game show at Manhattan Point restaurant. Callahan's relatives came all the way from Toronto to take in the game while Grantham's relatives, including his niece if I am not mistaken, took in the game after traveling to Kelowna from Hanna Alberta.

Rockets Notes vs. Blazers

Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to the 2009 WHL Playoffs. The Kelowna Rockets host the Kamloops Blazers in game one of a best of seven Western Conference quarter final series. Game two is tomorrow night with games three and four back in Kamloops next Tuesday and Wednesday night. The Rockets have qualified for the playoffs in 13 of the 14 seasons in Kelowna. The Rockets have missed the playoffs only once over that period, failing to make the grade in 2007. Nine members of this year’s squad remain from the 2006-2007 team that failed to make the playoffs.

Here We Go Again: This opening round playoff series marks the fourth time these two teams have met in the playoffs. All previous playoff series between these two teams have been first round affairs. In the 1992 playoffs the Tacoma Rockets fell in four straight games to the Blazers. In 1999 the Blazers eliminated the Rockets in 6 games while in 2002 the Rockets eliminated the Blazers in four straight.

In Case You Are Wondering: Last season the Rockets were involved in an opening round playoff series with Seattle. The Rockets won the first two games in Seattle before losing 3-2 in overtime in game three back in Kelowna. In fact the road team won the first four games of the series before the home team won the final three games. The Rockets lost in seven games to the T-Birds, four games to three.

Game One Playoff Success: Since the start of 2000, the Rockets are 4 and 4 in game one of an opening round playoff series. In game two the Rockets are an impressive 7 and 1. The only loss over that period was in 2000 when the Rockets lost both games of an opening round playoff series in Prince George.

Playoff Experience: Overage forward Ian Duval leads the Rockets in playoff experience with 42 games under his belt. Duval was part of a Calgary Hitmen team that went all the way to the Eastern Conference final last season before losing out in four straight games to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Heading into Post Season: The Rockets head into the playoffs riding a season high eight game winning streak. Over that period the Rockets out-scored the opposition 32-12. In the big picture the Rockets enter tonight’s game with one loss in their last thirteen games (12-1-0-0), and just two regulation losses in their last 25 games (20-2-1-2).

The Season That Was: The Rockets finished in third place in the Western Conference, three points up on the fourth place Spokane Chiefs and three behind the second place Tri City Americans. The Rockets scored the second most goals in the Western Conference this season and the 5th most overall. Defensively, the Rockets allowed the third fewest goals against in the Western Conference behind only Vancouver and Spokane. The Rockets won the 4th most home games in the WHL (28). Only Calgary (32), VancouverTri City (30) had more home ice wins. The Rockets had the 4th best penalty killing unit in the league and the 5th best power play.

That’s A Fact Jack: Rockets forward Colin Long has led the Rockets in scoring in back-to-back seasons. It marks just the second time in franchise history a player has earned the team scoring title. Allan Egeland led the Tacoma Rockets with 113 points in 1992-93 and then put up 76 points in the 1993-94 season. Long led the team in points with 100 last season and managed 91 points this year….Name the last team the Rockets beat in the playoffs? Answer – Kootenay Ice. The Rockets won that first round series in 2006…The Rockets have won 7 of their last 8 road games. The only stumble over that period was a 3-2 loss in Red Deer February 27th….Colin Long had 191 points over his last two seasons. Only Jason Deleurme has registered more points in back-to-back seasons, collecting 194 points from 1996-1998…Ian Duval ends his WHL career with 202 career points…The Rockets scored 267 goals this season, nineteen more than all of last season. More impressively, the Rockets allowed 37 fewer goals against then a season ago…The Rockets had 19 road wins this season, two more than last season….The Rockets had 7 more home wins than in 2007-2008.

Very Interesting! Rockets assistant coach Ryan Cuthbert was the captain when the Rockets beat the Blazers in the 2002 playoffs….The Rockets won 28 times on home ice this season, the most home ice wins since the club recorded 30 victories in the 2004-2005 campaign…Kyle St. Denis will miss his 14th straight game tonight with a head injury suffered against Chilliwack February 18th…Ian Duval played in 331 career WHL regular season games….Mark Guggenberger has won his last eight starts and has won thirteen of his last sixteen and has earned points in 19 of his last 21 appearances…The Rockets were 23-2-0-1 when Colin Long scored…The Rockets are 21-5-1-3 in thirty games since the trade deadline…Mitchell Callahan had 20 fighting majors this season as a 17 year-old. Teammate Curt Gogol – also 17 – hasd17. Veteran Ryley Grantham had 17 fighting majors. The Rockets had five players with 100 or more penalty minutes…Jamie Benn was named the Rockets MVP at the hockey clubs awards banquet Tuesday night. Colin Long was named the top scorer and most sportsmanlike while Tyler Myers was the top defenseman. Adam Brown was named the rookie of the year while Lucas Bloodoff was named the top defensive forward and humanitarian of the year…The Rockets finished the month of March 7-0-0-0, the first time in franchise history the team has been undefeated in the month.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Habscheid Hex

  • Is the 'Habschied Hex' real? It makes you wonder, considering the Kamloops Blazers have not won a playoff series since 1999, the year that Marc Habscheid was behind the Blazers bench. Habscheid was surprisingly relieved of his duties following a tremendous season and successful playoff run to the WHL final. A few years later he landed the coaching job with the hated Kelowna Rockets, and led them to a Memorial Cup.
  • I am not suggesting Habscheid has put any type of hex on his former team, but can you explain why the Blazers have failed to make it out of the first round since his departure? The hockey god's obviously did not approve of his dismissal. Some Blazer fans agree.
  • Colin Long is again making his mark with the Kelowna Rockets franchise. Long became just the second player in franchise history to lead the team in scoring in back-to-back seasons. The only other player to match that feat was Allan Egeland, who won back-to-back team scoring titles in 1992-93 and again in 1993-94.
  • Name the last team the Rockets beat in the playoffs? Answer - Kootenay Ice. The Rockets beat the Ice in an opening round playoff series in 2006.
  • I don't get an overconfident vibe from the Rockets players heading into game one tomorrow night. I do feel a quiet confidence, but the players are well aware that the playoffs are a totally different season. Everyone starts at zero and its a clean slate. Past successes or follies can be erased in just seven short games.
  • Mikael Backlund and Kyle St. Denis did not skate with the team Thursday, giving you the feeling those two players are game time decisions. I anticipate those two seeing action in this series, but you'll have to be in the building to see if they are taking the pre-game skate Friday night.
  • About a thousand tickets are available for game one and two of the opening round playoff series between the Rockets and Blazers. Often times fringe hockey fans stay away in the hopes that better times are ahead, and will opt out in watching the first round, in the hope for a more entertaining match-up in rounds two or three. In Kelowna, the slow ticket sales are often the snowbirds that are spending the winter South of the border in a hot climate. Some of these hockey fans are Rockets season ticket holders who won't be returning to the Okanagan until their winter vacation is over in April.
  • The four radio broadcasters from the BC Division competing in the WHL playoffs were part of Dan Russell's radio program last night. Russell asked all four of us who we thought would win the opening round playoff series between the Rockets and Blazers. Three of the four picked Kelowna. The exception? Blazers radio caller Kirk Fraser. I think it was a good call on Fraser's behalf. As the broadcaster of the team you represent, do you not believe they have a chance to win every night, no matter who the opponent? I know I do.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Things That Make Me Go Hmm....

  • Mikael Backlund played 28 regular season games with the Rockets this season. Was it worth the pick in the 2007 CHL European Draft? Maybe I should ask that question after the playoffs? Would you take Luke Moffatt for one season if he decided to join the Rockets after being drafted by an NHL team - as per Chuck Kobasew. My opinion is landing a player like Backlund, even for a short period, was worth rolling the dice. Even when he plays a quiet game, he continuely is on the mind of the opposition as a scoring threat. Outside of his point totals, Backlund's presence and influence on his teammates is of great value.
  • Offensive depth is hard to play against when the opposition is attempting to have their top defensive pairings out on the ice to match up against the Rockets #1 line. And if your top two defenseman are also your leaders in generating offense from the back end, how much energy do they have after chasing the puck all night long?
  • Some of the most entertaining playoff series are often found in the opening round. The WHL this season is no exception. How about picking a winner between Lethbridge and Saskatoon? How about Seattle and Spokane? Swift Current and Medicine Hat won't be a cake walk either. If you can find an underdog in those three series, let me know.
  • I am not sure how to react to the Edmonton Oil Kings inclusion into the WHL playoffs. Credit the Oil Kings for earning the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with last night's 2-1 overtime-tie breaking victory, but the loss ended the junior career of Justin Bernhardt. The former Rocket had an exceptional 20 year-old season, racking up 92 points, good for 5th in league scoring. Let's hope 'Bernie' can catch on with a pro team next season after gaining some confidence with a solid overage season.
  • So while I hate to see Bernhardt's junior career come to an abrupt halt, former Rockets Torrie Jung and Brett Breitkriuez will play another day. While those two have junior eligibility next season, its nice to see those two rewarded with a birth in the post season. Unless Jung stands on his held though, the post season will be a short one against the best team in the WHL. That said, teams like Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina, Portland, Chilliwack and Red Deer would give up their left skate to be where the Oil Kings are today.
  • Would Torrie Jung have been able to put up the impressive numbers he did this season had he remained with the Kelowna Rockets? Jung proved this season that he is a solid number one goaltender, and the environment he was placed had something to do with that. In Edmonton he had to be at his very best every night, not occasion, for the Oil Kings to have success, something that would have not been the case had he remained in Kelowna Rockets colours. I am just glad that things worked out for both parties. Jung went to Edmonton and the Rockets landed Mark Guggenberger. How odd is it that Guggenberger had the 5th best goals against average in the league, just slightly better than Jung's?
  • Most often a change of scenery is what's best for a player. Just ask Jung, Bernhardt and Milan Kytnar, three former Rockets who had exceptional seasons.
  • Gregg Drinnan did some solid work on his WHL Power Poll, naming Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton as top dog among those that guide this great league of ours. Drinnan's name on that Power Poll should also be included. He does a great job of informing the public on the going-ons in the WHL, yet always keeps a critical eye on what's happening, and isn't afraid to say it.
  • Speaking of Drinnan, it's a shame I won't see his smiling face at Prospera Place for the opening round series between the Rockets and the Blazers. The Kamloops Daily News - Drinnan's employer - is tightening up the purse strings by not allowing Drinnan to travel with the team. Drinnan will still be able to cover the series by phone when the Blazers are on the road, but it's simply not the same as physically being in the building.
  • What does that say when four of your award winners are American born players? Colin Long (California), Collin Bowman (Colorado), Adam Brown (California) and Mitchell Callahan (California) all picked up team awards at the Kelowna Rockets banquet Tuesday night. Throw in Tyler Myers, who was born in Texas, and technically five players born in the great U-S-A took home hardware. Times are a changing, and for all the right reasons.
  • Last night the Rockets recognized the careers of 20 year-olds Tysen Dowzak, Ryley Grantham and Ian Duval. Here is a video of Dowzak at the podium.
video

Three Rockets Named All-Stars

FIRST ALL-STAR TEAM
Goaltender – Chet Pickard (Winnipeg, MB), Tri-City Americans
Defenceman – Jonathon Blum (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA), Vancouver Giants *
Defenceman – Thomas Hickey (Calgary, AB), Seattle Thunderbirds
Forward – Casey Pierro-Zabotel (Kamloops, BC), Vancouver Giants *
Forward – Jamie Benn (Victoria, BC), Kelowna Rockets
Forward – Evander Kane (Vancouver, BC), Vancouver Giants

SECOND ALL-STAR TEAM
Goaltender – Dustin Tokarski (Watson, SK), Spokane Chiefs
Defenceman – Tyler Myers (DeWinton, AB), Kelowna Rockets
Defenceman – Brent Regner (Newbrook, AB), Vancouver Giants
Forward – Drayson Bowman (Littleton, CO), Spokane Chiefs
Forward – Colin Long (Santa Ana, CA), Kelowna Rockets
Forward – Taylor Procyshen (Emerald Park, SK), Tri-City Americans

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Honoring Their Own With Team Awards

video

Colin Long started the evening off with the captain's speech.
video

Rookie Mitchell Callahan was named the most improved.
video

Long was named the most sportsmanlike player and top scorer. video
The big winner was Jamie Benn, who was named the MVP.

Other notes:

  • Tyler Myers had the best comment when accepting his defenseman of the year award. "I want to thank Luke Schenn for staying with the Toronto Maple Leafs".

  • Colin Long had this to say about winning the sportsmanlike player of the year. "I am glad we have Mitchell Callahan. He can fight so I don't have too."

  • Spencer Main is taking five - grade 11 classes at Kelowna Senior Secondary. Main has an average of 90.

  • Adam Brown was named the rookie of the year.

  • Lucas Bloodoff was the humanitarian of the year and top defensive forward.

  • Cody Almond was the unsung hero award winner.

  • Collin Bowman was the top plus/minus winner with a +32.

  • Mikael Backlund's father was in attendance at Tuesday's banquet.

  • Colin Long's dad Steve took in the banquet from California.

Final Regular Season Game Has Playoff Feel


  • The Kelowna Rockets won for the 8th straight time Monday night with a hard fought 1-0 shutout win in Spokane. The victory clinches third place in the Western Conference and results in an opening round playoff series with 6th seed Kamloops.
  • Mark Guggenberger was acquired at the trade deadline to produce in the 'big game', and the 20 year-old hasn't disappointed. He was just steady Monday night, recording his first of what is hoped to be many shutouts in his time in a Rockets uniform. Their is no question that when Guggenberger is on his game, he can be a game breaker or a decision maker.
  • The key to the win was likely a 5 on 3 penalty kill early in the second period. With the Rockets holding a 1-0 lead, the Chiefs were given a tremendous chance to tie the game, yet Colin Long, Tysen Dowzak and Tyler Myers were tremendous in keeping the 4th best power play in the league off the board.
  • The game winning goal came on a weak wrist shot from Brandon McMillan at the blue-line that hit a Chiefs defenseman and popped over the shoulder of goaltender Dustin Tokarski. It was that simple shot on goal that produced results, yet I thought the Chiefs often made too many passes in an effort to get a quality shot on goal.
  • Any questions over the Rockets lack of ability defensively is being muted. Tyler Myers, Tysen Dowzak, Tyson Barrie, Brandon McMillan and Collin Bowman have put in some tremendous efforts against the top end teams, showing that the team isn't as inept as many had thought following the trade deadline. Do I wish the Rockets had more veteran depth back there? Absolutely. But Kyle Verdino and Aaron Borejko have had to hurry their development in an effort to spell off the top five d-men.
  • Who gets credit for moving Brandon McMillan back to defense? Coach Huska, coach Finley? You all deserve a pat on the back for putting McMillan back there and only strengthening that area. Who deserves the most credit? Brandon McMillan. McMillan has made a smooth transition to the position and appears to be getting better the more he plays.
  • I was impressed with the Rockets ability to play a solid defensive game against the Chiefs, looking for key times to create offensive chances. The Rockets were able to beat the Chiefs in four games in the seasonal series on the strength of not playing into their hands. That meant being patient, rather than trading chances. It shows that the Rockets are not a one trick pony. For offensively gifted forwards to buy into a 'wait and see approach' just tells you that each player on this team will do whatever is needed for the betterment of the team.
  • If the Spokane Chiefs were deathly ill late Friday night, the road to recovery was a quick one. The Chiefs appeared to have incredible jump, and looked nothing like a team that was tossing their cookies just 48 hours earlier.
  • The Chiefs were taking all kinds of precautions following the illness that hit them Friday night. Each player was given their own water bottle and hand sanitizer was found on the Chiefs bench. I almost felt like I was in my sons kindergarten class.
  • It will be interesting to hear the results of the medical test on several Spokane players after Friday's outbreak. Brady Calla was one player who had a blood test and gave a urine and stool sample. My question is, was it indeed food poisoning or just a bad flu bug? If it is anything other than food poisoning, which the Chiefs believe it was, my guess is that results of those tests will be kept behind closed doors.
  • The Rockets end off the regular season with 47 wins, yet could have been a team that won 50 games had it not been for losses to Red Deer, Portland and Chilliwack on two occasions.
  • After playing the Kamloops Blazers nine times this season, in a best care scenario we will see them an additional four times in a best of seven opening round playoff series. It marks the first time since the 2002 playoffs that the Rockets have faced the Blazers in round one. That season the Rockets had home ice advantage and eliminated them in four straight.