Sunday, September 28, 2014

Rockets spoil Cougars opening weekend


video
  • What a weekend in Prince George!! I don't think I've utter that phrase before, but it was a weekend to remember for so many reasons.  The Rockets won back-to-back games against the Cougars. A near sell out crowd greeted the two teams Friday night as 5 thousand 659 fans jammed into CN Centre to watch the visitors earn a 7-2 win. A night later, the Cougars tried to bully the Rockets out of the building and ended up losing 8-2. More on the rough reception a little later. The Rockets out-scored the Cougars 15-4 on the weekend while scoring seven power play goals in the process. The team is now 3-0-0-0 in the early stages of the 2014-2015 season.
  • After handing the Cougars a 7-2 loss in their home opener, the Cougars attempted to set the tone physically in game two. A fight nine seconds into the game, spearheaded by Cougars forward Aaron Macklin was a sign of things to come. Just 2:24 later, another fight involving Prince George's Tyler Mrkonjic and Kelowna's Dalton Yorke. The fight that had Rockets head coach Dan Lambert steaming was when Cougars Jordan Ross got involved with Rockets forward Justin Kirkland. The game was just 8 and a half minutes old and three fights were already recorded on the score-sheet. Lambert began shouting at Cougars bench boss Mark Holick over the plexi glass over the liberties the home team was taking on his players. The Rockets promptly retaliated by scoring five power play goals in the 8-2 victory.
  • The Rockets scored seven power play goals against the Cougars in the two games and now own the best unit in the WHL with an efficiency rate of 40.9%.      
  • The Cougars played near the edge and some times went over the line in both lopsided games. Two kneeing incidents had Carter Rigby grimacing in pain in game one before Tyson Baillie also felt the wrath of a knee in game two. Fortunately both players were uninjured.
  • Speaking of Baillie, the 19 year-old had a solid weekend with three goals and two assists in the two games. Baillie is now tied for the WHL leading in scoring with 8 points.
  • Jackson Whistle stopped 85 of 89 shots on the weekend and now boasts a goals against average of 1.67 after three consecutive starts. The Rockets were able to chase Cougars goaltender Ty Edmonds in game one and rookie Tavin Grant in game two.
  • Madison Bowey returned to the line up Saturday night and promptly earned three assists. Bowey was named the games first star. 
  • Five different Rockets enjoyed multiple goal games on the weekend. Colton Heffley, Rourke Chartier, Riley Stadel, Tyson Baillie and Justin Kirkland all enjoyed two goal games. 
  • The weekend was highlighted by the near sell-out crowd Friday night. Hockey thirsty fans lined up when the ticket office opened in an effort to purchase the hottest ticket in town. Under new ownership, the organization is putting its money where its mouth is. New offices, dressing room and improvements to the bus are just a few items the 'New Ice Age' has implemented since they took over the team this summer. The video at the top of this post is an example of what type of effort was put towards the opening pre-game ceremonies. The Cougars ownership got it right at every turn.
  • Cougars President and Governor Greg Pocock was clearly visible over the weekend. Pocock was making sure it went right, from the tailgate party outside the arena to the opening ceremonies and the in-game experience. I spoke to Pocock several times over the two days and he was willing to make my experience the best it could be. I even suggested a PA feed in the visitors broadcast booth would be a nice touch. I can't see why Pocock won't make it happen. The only thing Pocock couldn't control over the weekend was the result on the ice. 
  • The crowd Friday night was outstanding. You could feel the energy in the building as the 56 hundred patrons began stomping in unison. The sound was intimidating. I am told it was common place when the Cougars played in the mid 90's. 
  • The crowd Saturday night was significantly smaller than opening night. Three thousand 78 fewer people were in the building.  
  • I loved the use of live organist. Old school and brilliant.I thought it was great to bring back former captain Tyler Bouck for the ceremonial face-off. Bouck now makes Kelowna his home and works as a salesman at Shaw.  
  • The new 50/50 ticket system paid dividends on opening night. The winner walked away with just under 12 grand.
  • Small detail, but a variety of soft drinks in the press box was duly noted. Tap water was the norm in prior visits.  
  • The Rockets host the Vancouver Giants Wednesday  before playing back-to-back road games in Everett Friday and in Seattle Saturday night. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A one night stand in PG or a long lasting love affair?



    These t-shirts were handed out at Friday's game.
  • I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it with my own two eyes. A near sell out crowd last night at CN Centre in Prince George. In short, it was amazing to be in the middle of it. Oh sure, I had heard the hype about the 'New Ice Age' and that new ownership would attract disgruntled hockey fans back to the arena as long as long time owner Rick Brodsky wasn't a part of the picture. On Friday night, the support of 5 thousand 659 spoke volumes that the change 'up top' is enough to persuade disinterested fans to open their wallets and spend hard earned dollars on junior hockey. Despite the score, which saw the Rockets earn a 7-2 victory, the city of Prince George indeed was a winner last night. In fact, I think it is fair to say the Western Hockey League was a winner last night. It doesn't look good when a franchise struggles. It looks bad when no one shows up to watch. Let's hope that what we witnessed last night is a sign that junior hockey isn't dead in the city of 72 thousand. Is it a one night love affair with the team or is it a relationship where its fans are committed ‘long term’ whether the Cougars win or lose? If opening night was any indication, as Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross sung it best, let's hope its 'Endless Love'.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Audio interview with Prince Cougars ownership - Greg Pocock

video

Rockets face Cougars



Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open the road portion of their 2014-2015 schedule with a stop in Prince George to face the Cougars. This is the first of four games at CN Centre for the defending BC Division champions. The Rockets make a return visit November 14th and 15th. Last season the Rockets were 3-1-0-0 in Prince George, out-scoring the Cougars 16-11. Overall, the Rockets are 11-1-0-0 in their last 12 appearances at the CN Centre dating back to the start of the 2011-2012 campaign. The Cougars make four separate visits to Kelowna on December 5th, December 30th, January 3rd and February 9th. The Rockets next home game is Wednesday October 1st against the Vancouver Giants. The Rockets opened the season last Saturday with a 6-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers. Kris Schmidli and Tyson Baillie each had a goal and two assists in the win. Jackson Whistle made 32 saves and was named the first star.       

This and That: This is the first time since the 2001-2002 season that the Rockets have been the opposition in the Cougars home opener. The date was September 25th, 2001 when the two teams skated to a 2-2 tie…Did you know that the first ever goal scored in Kelowna’s arena, known now as Prospera Place, came against the Prince George Cougars? Nolan Yonkman scored the goal on opening night in September of 1999…The Rockets are playing ten of their first 16 games on the road….The Rockets are playing back-to-back games this weekend for the first time this season. The team will play on back-to-back night’s 22 times this season… Last season the team missed the services of Damon Severson for the first two games of the regular season. Severson was attending the training camp of the New Jersey Devils…Kris Schmidli scored his first goal of the season Saturday night in the team’s home opener. Last season it took him 13 games to score his first goal of the season. …Last season Colton Heffley had just 1 goal in his fist 15 games…  The Rockets season opening crowd at Prospera Place was 5 thousand 235. Last season the team drew 5 thousand 384 patrons to its home opener. 

NHL Central Scouting Speaks: Kelowna Rockets Nick Merkley, Joe Gatenby and Tomas Soustal have made NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary list of ‘players to watch’ for next June’s NHL draft. Merkley is rated an ‘A’ prospect, which means scouts believe he will be taken in the opening round. Gatenby and Soustal are ‘C’ rated prospects meaning they could be chosen anywhere from the 4th to 6th round. The NHL draft is next summer in Philadelphia.        

Banner Raiser: The Kelowna Rockets raised two banners high to the rafters at Prospera Place Saturday night. The team won the Western Conference regular season title with 118 points last season, which was five points better than the Portland Winterhawks. It is the Rockets first WHL regular season banner since 2003-2004. The team also won the BC Division title last season with an 18 point advantage over the Victoria Royals. It is the third BC Division banner in four years. The team has won BC Division banners in 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.   

Rockets Review: The Rockets set franchise records for wins (57) points (118) and road wins (29) last season. The teams overall record was 57-11-4-0. The club was able to score 310 goals which was one of only two teams to accomplish that feat. The Rockets were 28-4-0-0 on home ice. After a successful regular season, the Rockets eliminated the Tri City Americans in five games in round one before dispatching of Seattle in four games in round two. In the Western Conference final against Portland, the Rockets were eliminated in five games. Myles Bell led the team in goals (42) and points (77) while Damon Severson led the team in assists (46). Madison Bowey set a new team record for goals by a defenceman (21). Cole Martin led the WHL in +/- with a plus 61.

Back for More: The Rockets return 18 players from last year’s team. Captain Madison Bowey anchors the blue line while Justin Kirkland, Nick Merkley, Tyson Baillie and Rourke Chartier return to put the puck in the net. The team does lose its top three point getters in Bell (77), Ryan Olsen (64) and Damon Severson (61). Marek Tvrdon also graduated after a deadline deal in January. Jordon Cooke is now attending the U of S and will play with the Huskies. Jackson Whistle returns after playing a back-up role to the CHL goalie of the year. Whistle played in 22 games last season and won 18 times. Tyrell Goulbourne, Colton Heffley, Cole Martin and Carter Rigby are fighting for three overage spots.   


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Short staffed but Rockets don't stumble

'A banner night' - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Jackson Whistle has likely heard the critics. Many WHL observers question if he can be a full time starting goaltender. Saturday night, the West Kelowna resident proved the Kelowna Rockets are in good hands with a first star performance from the 19 year-old veteran. Whistle made 32 saves in a 6-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers in a game that featured the home team minus four key players that are attending NHL training camps and another who was at camp but came back with bumps and bruises and was unable to play.
  • Whistle made several solid stops after little work in the first period. The veteran goaltenders best saves came against Blazers forward Cole Ully. Whistle stopped the visitors best shooter with two nice glove hand stops, one in the second period and another in the third. Whistle also robbed Blazers forward Jesse Shynkaruk late in the third when the game was out of reach.
  • Kris Schmidli and Tyson Baillie had success playing on a line with Colton Heffley. The three combined for eight points with Baillie and Schmidli each putting up a goal and two assists. Heffley, who is fighting for an overage spot, had a goal and an assist.    
  • It was nice to see Austin Glover and Riley Stadel score. Both players had early offensive success last season but unfortunately it came crashing to a halt. Glover broke his leg and Stadel couldn't find the back of the net after scoring nine goals in the first 13 games of the 2013-2014 campaign. My belief is Stadel may have gone to a pro camp had he not cooled off so dramatically in the offensive zone. He had just one goal in the final 50 games of the regular season. My greatest concern is with Glover, who needs to bring more to the table as a 18 year-old. If he doesn't, younger players are nipping at his heels and will push him down the depth chart if he doesn't 'bring it' consistently. It was a nice start for one of the most personable players on the team. I am hoping for the best for him this season. Plus, Glover is one of my favourites because he is from Saskatchewan.
  • I thought Cole Martin had a strong game. He is a keeper. The 20 year-old has to be a lock on the blue line. Teams trade for this type of player that can shutdown the oppositions most lethal players. Martin didn't score a goal all of last season but came close last night when he hit the crossbar in the first period. 
  • Martin was wearing an 'A' on his jersey last night and it looked good on him. I don't know what the leadership group of this team will look like this season, but can he be excluded from being one of the team leaders? I can't see it. You win with a player of Cole Martin's ilk. Unselfish, a team player and a compete level that doesn't fluctuate no matter if his team is up by three goals or down by three, Martin is a valuable commodity. If he doesn't wear a letter this season it doesn't mean he can't lead. But for my money, he deserves it. It is an honour and a privilege to wear a letter. Some take it fore-granted. I know Martin's character enough to know that wouldn't be the case with this fourth year player.  
  • I am all about heart and soul players in the leadership group. Tyson Baillie also falls into that category. Everyone wants to win, but some players want it more than others. Baillie is as competitive as they come. The 'A' on his jersey looks right to me. 
  • Let's give some props to assistant coach Kris Mallette for running the d-core. I thought Mallette did a good job of bench management with the teams younger d-men. Rookie Lucas Johansen didn't miss a beat in his WHL debut and newcomer Devante Stephens, who is a little rough around the edges, found more ice time in the third period when the game was out of reach.
  • I liked Tate Coughlin last night. The rookie was involved physically and possesses a quick release when the puck is on his stick. He sure reminds me of  a young Brett Bulmer. I can see why the coaches are intrigued by him. I thought he struggled in the final pre-season game and looked like he might be on his way back home but the coaches kept him around. After what I saw last night, Coughlin is worth a closer look. 
  • The Rockets were ripe for the picking last night. As I mentioned, four veteran were at NHL training camps. Without captain Madison Bowey, Tyrell Goulbourne, Mitch Wheaton and Justin Kirkland, the Blazers had a tremendous chance to steal a game on the road. The credit goes to the veteran players for not allowing that to happen.  
  • The Rockets now have 16 championship banners raised high into the rafters at Prospera Place.While they wished all of them were white in colour, emblematic of Memorial Cup success, the red banners are still a sign of on ice success.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Game notes vs. Blazers



Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open their 20th season in the Okanagan when they welcome the Kamloops Blazers. The team came to Kelowna in time for the start of the 1995-96 campaign after four short seasons (1991-1994) in Tacoma Washington. The Rockets are entering their 24th season in the WHL and will celebrate its silver anniversary in 2015-2016. This is the first of 10 meetings between the Rockets and Blazers this season. The Rockets visit the Blazers on October 15th. After playing the Blazers twice in the first 9 games, the two teams won’t see each other until December 27th. Last season the Rockets were 8-0-0-0 vs. their BC Division rivals, out-scoring Kamloops 38-15. The Blazers last win in Kelowna was February 16/2013 in a 3-1 victory. Following tonight’s game the Rockets are on the road where they will face the Prince George Cougars in back-to-back games next Friday and Saturday night. The Rockets next home game following this evenings contest is Wednesday October 1st against the Vancouver Giants.          

Banner Raiser: The Kelowna Rockets raise two banners high to the rafters at Prospera Place this evening. The team won the Western Conference regular season title with 118 points last season, which was five points better than the Portland Winterhawks. It is the Rockets first WHL regular season banner since 2003-2004. The team also won the BC Division title last season with an 18 point advantage over the Victoria Royals. It is the third BC Division banner in four years. The team has won BC Division banners in 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.   

Rockets Review: The Rockets set franchise records for wins (57) points (118) and road wins (29) last season. The teams overall record was 57-11-4-0. The club was able to score 310 goals which was one of only two teams to accomplish that feat. The Rockets were 28-4-0-0 on home ice. After a successful regular season, the Rockets eliminated the Tri City Americans in five games in round one before dispatching of Seattle in four games in round two. In the Western Conference final against Portland, the Rockets were eliminated in five games. Myles Bell led the team in goals (42) and points (77) while Damon Severson led the team in assists (46). Madison Bowey set a new team record for goals by a defenceman (21). Cole Martin led the WHL in +/- with a plus 61.

Back for More: The Rockets return 18 players from last year’s team. Captain Madison Bowey anchors the blue line while Justin Kirkland, Nick Merkley, Tyson Baillie and Rourke Chartier return to put the puck in the net. The team does lose its top three point getters in Bell (77), Ryan Olsen (64) and Damon Severson (61). Marek Tvrdon also graduated after a deadline deal in January. Jordon Cooke is now attending the U of S and will play with the Huskies. Jackson Whistle returns after playing a back-up role to the CHL goalie of the year. Whistle played in 22 games last season and won 18 times. Tyrell Goulbourne, Colton Heffley, Cole Martin and Carter Rigby are fighting for three overage spots.   

This and That: Dan Lambert was named the head coach of the Rockets after Ryan Huska resigned June 23rd to take the head coaching job with the Adirondack Flames of the American Hockey League….Lambert has two new assistant coaches. Kris Mallette, a former Rockets defenceman, joins Lambert behind the bench after spending last season as an associate coach with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. Travis Crickard is the team’s new goaltending coach after Kim Dillabaugh took a full time job with the NHL’s LA Kings. Crickard has coaching experience with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s…Kris Mallette played two seasons with the Rockets from 1996-1998 before being traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors….The Rockets had two players drafted this summer by an NHL team. Justin Kirkland was taken by Nashville (3rd rd). Rourke Chartier was selected by San Jose (5th rd.)…Jackson Whistle attended the Vancouver Canucks Young-Stars Classic in Penticton on a tryout and played in one game with the Canucks….Tyson Baillie and second year defenceman Dalton Yorke earned tryouts with the San Jose Sharks….The Rockets have won 50 or more games in back-to-back seasons….The Rockets are rated as the 5th best team in the CHL Top 10 rankings which were released prior to the start of the season…Cole Martin is a +108 in the last two seasons…The Rockets won last season’s home opener with a 5-2 win over the Blazers…Last season the Rockets first game was on the road – @ Kamloops – in a 5-2 victory…This is the third straight season that the team opens the regular season against the Blazers…Dillon Dube (born 1998) is the only 16 year-old on the roster. Rookie Lucas Johansen is still 16, but turns 17 November 16th…Johansen is the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets and former Portland Winterhawks forward Ryan Johansen…Dan Lambert earned his first WHL victory behind the bench December 14, 2011, in Regina, in a overtime victory over the Pats. Ryan Huska was away at the World Junior Hockey Championships where he was an assistant coach…Lambert also coached three games in January of last season when Ryan Huska’s father fell ill.      

New Faces: Devante Stephens is a 17 year-old defenceman who was listed by the team. Stephens, from White Rock, played last season with the BCMMHL’s Valley West Hawks. Dillon Dube was the Rockets first round pick in 2013 and played last season with the Notre Dame Argos of the Saskatchewan Major Midget Hockey League. Jake Morrissey is a 17 year-old goaltender from Calgary. Morrissey will back-up Jackson Whistle this season. Tomas Soustal is a 17 year-old Czech Republic native who was picked in this summer’s CHL Import Draft. Lucas Johansen is a 6th round pick of the Rockets from 2012. Tanner Wishnowski is a listed player who was a member of the BCMMHL champion Okanagan Rockets last season. Tate Coughlin was a listed player who scored 25 goals with the Peninsula Panthers last season.     

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rockets open 20th season in Kelowna this weekend



Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray

With the Kelowna Rockets on the verge of opening their 20th season in the city, its mayor says the organization has been a marvelous addition to the community.

Walter Gray was a city councilor when the team arrived in Kelowna from Tacoma Washington in the summer of 1995.

"I think the Rockets are an incredible brand for the city. People say what is Kelowna known for? We could say it is known for the symphony orchestra, ballet or beautiful lake. But for 20 years now, or for 15 years when they became very prominent in terms of sports and community profile, the Rockets are right in there in the top five list of what comes to your mind when you think of Kelowna".

Gray became the mayor of Kelowna in 1996 and began the quest of finding a new arena for the team to play out of. Unfortunately for the Rockets, that meant four full seasons in a rundown Memorial Arena before Skyreach Place (Name eventually changed to Prospera Place) was built in 1999.

"They worked out of Memorial Arena for three or four seasons. Probably had we been behind schedule on Prospera Place they would have left town for more fertile ground. Happily, they stayed and they prospered and they deserve to prosper because they are just so connected to the community. The Hamilton's are sort of a family Chamber of Commerce for Kelowna. That is my view of them and therefore their hockey club".

Gray says the team provides a greater sense of pride for its resident.

"This community feels that it is their hockey club. It is like the Riders in Regina. The people of Saskatchewan feel that that's their personal football team. The Hamilton's have been smart enough to recognize that the support comes from the greater community. Support can actually also come from people that either don't have time or even an inclination to go to the game, but if they are out there saying, hey we have a great hockey team or did you know the score last night? That is the thing that keeps pumping up the greater community and it also pumps up the core audience that satisfies the business objectives of the owners of the hockey club. It has been magical", Gray added.         

Gray can take some credit for Kelowna winning the right to host the 2004 Memorial Cup. Gray was the only mayor that showed up in a Vancouver hotel in November of 2002 to make a pitch to WHL governors for Kelowna to host the 10 day tournament. 

Gray's passionate speech obviously didn't fall on deaf ears.