Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Road woes continue

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Devante Stephens hit the goal post in the opening minute of the game and it was all downhill from there for the Kelowna Rockets. Mathew Barzal scored three times and collected an assist Tuesday night in the Seattle Thunderbirds 6-0 win, snapping a three game losing streak. The T-Birds scored two goals :44 seconds apart late in the first period and then erupted for three-third period goals in a span of 1:29 in the lopsided win. It was the fourth time this season the Rockets have been shut out and marked the second in the last four games that the team has trailed 6-0. Against Spokane last Friday, the Rockets trailed 6-0 before scoring three-third period goals to make it respectable.
  • Regardless of the teams play over the opening 40 minutes, they were still in a decent position to mount a comeback in the third period only trailing 2-0. That was snuffed out though, when Mathew Barzal scored his second goal of the game just 1:19 into the period and Tyson Baillie took an unsportsmanlike penalty following the goal. With Baillie helplessly watching in the penalty box, Barzal netted his third of the game on the ensuing power play and it was essentially lights out from there.
  • Much like a January 31st game at ShoWare Center when the T-Birds earned a 2-0 win, goaltender Logan Flodell had a relatively easy night. While facing 31 shots, the best stop likely came in the third period when Tate Coughlin found Riley Stadel down the middle of the slot, but Flodell calmly stopped the tremendous scoring chance with a nice blocker save.
  • Positives? How about captain Rodney Southam going out of his weight class to fight 6’5, 225 pound T-Birds defenceman Jared Hauf? Southam held his own in an attempt to defend a teammate after Hauf flattened Dillon Dube with a solid hit in the second period.  In a 2-0 game, you would think the tilt would have jump started the visitors.
  • The 6-0 loss was the worse regular season road loss since a 7-0 setback in Vancouver on February 11/2007. That season the team was shut-out 13 times, including ten on the road.
  • Goal scoring has been hard to come by with 13 goals in the team’s last nine road games. The last road goal was scored by Justin Kirkland in a 2-1 overtime victory in Victoria on January 16th.
  • The Rockets have just two wins in their last 8 road games heading into a two game set in Prince George Friday and Saturday night.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Best players make impact

Stadel scraps with Uhrich - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Like a sour carton of milk in the fridge, Kelowna Rockets forward Cole Linaker was overdue. The 20 year-old forward scored his first goal in 24 games in a 7-4 win Monday afternoon against the Seattle Thunderbirds. Linaker scored on a wrap-around chance in the third period as part of a five goal third period which broke open a 2-2 tie. Linaker was all smiles after the goal, his first since mid-December in a game in Regina. The win solidified the Rockets hold on first place in the WHL standings, two points up on the second place Victoria Royals and three up on the third place Lethbridge Hurricanes. 
  • It is amazing what happens when your best players indeed make an impact on the game. Rourke Chartier earned his second hat trick of the season while Tyson Baillie and Justin Kirkland each had four point outings. Tomas Soustal collected three assists in a game where the Rockets out-shot the T-Birds 21-4 in the second period alone. At times in the third period, the Rockets had sustained pressure inside the T-Birds zone.
  • Chartier is now one goal shy of 100 for his career.
  • The Rockets power play scored twice on five chances. It was a good sign considering the team hadn't scored a power play goal in five games. The fact that the Rockets scored twice on a Seattle penalty killing unit which is number one in the WHL is even more impressive.
  • Justin Kirkland scored twice in the win. The 19 year-old is probably playing at the best pace we have seen all season long and the Hockey God’s are rewarding him. Kirkland’s empty netter was his 22nd of the season, which is a new career high. If Kirkland keeps playing with pace, at both ends of the ice, I can’t see why 30 goals isn't a possibility.
  • A spirited fight between Rockets forward Riley Stadel and Seattle’s Josh Uhrich. Uhrich threw some landing rights to the side of Stadel's face before the 20 year-old retaliated with some significant lefts to the right side of Uhrich jaw in an effort to return the favour. I liked the end of the fight where Uhrich tapped Stadel on the back in a sign of ‘well done’.
  • Despite giving up four goals, Michael Herringer made several timely stops. Herringer had the misfortune of a bad bounce on a Mathew Barzal goal, when the T-Birds leading scorer’s point shot on the power play hit Cole Linaker’s stick and fluttered past his glove hand side.
  • Nick Merkley took the pre-game warm up but did not play. It is a good sign after being helped off the ice by teammates after a player landed on him last Friday in a 6-3 loss to Spokane.  Merkley made the trip with the team to Seattle which means he will play either tonight in the rematch at ShoWare Center or this weekend when the team travels to Prince George to face the Cougars.
  • The Rockets have scored seven goals at home three times this season. 
  • The Rockets out-shot the opponent for the first time in six games. The final shots were 41-31.
  • I don’t often speak ill about the officiating, but I thought this was the worst officiated game I have seen, maybe all season. It was bad both ways with soft calls and several inconsistencies where a marginal cross check was called on T-Birds Ryan Gropp and then almost a carbon copy cross check wasn’t called against Rockets d-man Gordie Ballhorn.    
  • The team's close out the seasonal series Tuesday night in Kent. No excuses this time for the Rockets, who lost 2-0 at ShoWare Center back on January 31st after busing through the night after playing the previous evening at home. Both teams will be playing their 4th game in 5 night's and both made the trek from Kelowna to Kent, arriving at 12:30 am to unload their wet gear.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Character win against high powered Hitmen

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Tyson Baillie was in a goal scoring slump that your average WHL player would welcome with open arms. Baillie, if you haven't already noticed, isn't your average, run of the mill, junior hockey player. The 20 year-old snapped a season high five game goal scoring slump by finding the back of the net with :50 second left in regulation time, helping the Kelowna Rockets to a come-from-behind 3-2 shootout win over the visiting Calgary Hitmen. With Michael Herringer on the bench for the extra attacker and a face-off inside in the Hitmen's zone, Cole Linaker essentially won the face-off by pushing the puck forward, not backwards which allowed it to sit against the end boards. Justin Kirkland raced to the loose puck, sent it out in front to an awaiting Baillie who buried it past Hitmen goaltender Cody Porter.
  • While Linaker assisted on the game tying goal, the 20 year-old was almost the goat when he took a delay of game minor penalty with one second left in regulation time. Linaker took the puck behind his own net to kill off the final seconds of the third period, but instead of gently rimming the puck against the left boards, the dependable defensive forward saw the puck go off his stick and into the crowd. It was almost comical how it happened, yet few Rockets supporters were laughing at the time. It gave the Hitmen a power play in overtime, and without Michael Herringer's heroics, the Rockets would have walked away with one point not two.
  • I thought Cal Foote was terrific. In maybe his best game of the season, the 17 year-old logged a ton of ice time and made smart decisions with the puck, shot it and made strong defensive decisions against a Calgary team that is tough to handle with so many offensive weapons. The Hitmen have nine players with 10 or more goals. So do the Rockets, who many suggest have the most dynamic forwards in the Western Conference. 
  • While ending the night with a minus 1 rating, I thought Devante Stephens also had a solid game on the blue line. Why? Stephens, while still slight physically, played a physical game and was often seen skating the puck up the ice in an effort to relieve pressure. Stephens had two nice hits on Pavel Karnaukhov and Beck Malenstyn. The hit on Malenstyn is a clear message to others that the 18 year-old isn't afraid to throw caution to the wind in order to get a piece of an upcoming forward. I thought Stephens had a better than average game for a defender who has struggled for a good portion of the season.
  • Michael Herringer was terrific, which is a good and bad thing. It is great for the goaltender to be razor sharp, but does he need to be that spectacular in order for his team to win? The team is still giving up far to many quality scoring chances in my opinion. If Herringer is only average, the Rockets likely lose.   
  • The Rockets again moved past Lethbridge into first place in the WHL standing heading into Monday afternoon's home game against the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tough night on home ice

Brodan Salmond - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Too bad Michael Herringer's teammates couldn't pick up the veteran goaltender when he stumbled. Herringer was looking for a return favour after doing the same thing for his 19 closest friends over the past four weeks. Herringer, making his 14th straight start with an injury to Jackson Whistle, had a rough evening allowing two long distance goals in a 6-3 home ice loss last night to the visiting Spokane Chiefs. That said, I won't hang the loss on his shoulders. The players in front of him showed no spark, no emotion and didn't want to put in the work, which resulted in the top team in the WHL (up until last night) trailing 3-0 and 6-0 by the period breaks. Herringer was yanked after allowing four goals on 20 shots and in came 17 year-old rookie Brodan Salmond for his first taste of WHL action.
  • Herringer's night started off strong. The 20 year-old made a nice glove hand save on a grade 'A' scoring chance less than two minutes into the game and appeared to be mentally engaged in the game. The goal that likely had him second guessing himself was a long slap shot from Chiefs forward Keanu Yamamoto that appeared to glance off a stick of defenceman Gordie Ballhorn at centre ice. The contact on Ballhorn's stick either changing the speed or direction of the puck, or both, and beat Herringer to the blocker side. A second period goal, again from Yamamoto, saw the Chiefs forward fire the puck from just outside the blue line that Herringer attempted to catch across his body and it trickled into the net. That goal make it 4-0 and Herringer was pulled. What I liked most about his exit was the fans appreciation with applause, recognizing how good he has been during Jackson Whistle's absence. It also was a sign that he has backing from the home town crowd that they have faith in him on being a solid force as long as Whistle is on the injury list.
  • So, have I made it perfectly clear that Michael Herringer is not at fault in the 6-3 loss? Ok, let's move on. A power play 7 minutes into the game in a scoreless tie was a clear indication that the Rockets skaters were going through the motions. The unit didn't even manufacture a shot on goal on the Chiefs back up goaltender. The power play unit has come up empty handed now in four straight games.
  • Coaches can make the players aware of the oppositions tendencies, can write up a solid game plan on the white board, but it is the players that have to preform and execute on the ice. Where was the effort? It is never a good sign when your top seven forwards fail to lead your team in shots on goal. Instead the defencemen, led by Cal Foote, Gordie Ballhorn and Jonathan Smart each had three shots to lead the Rockets in that category. Tomas Soustal was the most proactive forward, firing three pucks on net. Leading scorer Tyson Baillie didn't have a single shot. That can't happen.
  • It should be pointed out that the team did show some resilience in the third period, by outscoring the Chiefs 3-0 and out-shooting them 11-4. It is a small positive that needs to be taken from a game where the team was flat for the opening 40 minutes.
  • Enough with the negatives. Rookie Jonathan Smart scored his first career goal last night in only his 26th regular season game. Smart's point shot beat the Chiefs goaltender high to the glove hand side in one of three goals the Rockets would score in the third period. I like Smart, both on and off the ice. Smart has a outgoing personality and isn't afraid to engage with me in conversation whether it is hanging around the rink or on the bus. I have probably had longer conversations with Smart than I have had with several veteran players who have been around for two to three years. What that tells me is Smart is a confident 16 year-old, isn't intimidated by others and that personality will serve him well as he matures into a solid WHL defenceman. 
  • It was the first chance to see back up goaltender Brodan Salmond in action. Salmond was put in a tough position when he faced a 5 on 3 Spokane power play only moments after entering the game. While surrendering two goals on 12 shots, I thought he performed well under the circumstances.
  • Since the Christmas break, the Rockets are 10-5-2-0. A rough patch of late with the team having won only one of their last four games.
  • Up next is a date with the Calgary Hitmen at Prospera Place Saturday night. These two teams met earlier this season with Jackson Whistle earning the shut-out in a 3-0 win.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Rockets game notes vs. Chiefs

Chiefs HC Don Nachbaur
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open a stretch of playing four games in five nights when they welcome the Spokane Chiefs this evening to Prospera Place. The team hosts Calgary tomorrow, Seattle on Monday and travel to Kent to face the T-Birds on Tuesday night. The Rockets are coming off a 2-1 win Tuesday night over the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes. Tomas Soustal snapped out of a 14 game goal scoring drought with two goals in the one goal win. Michael Herringer was named the first star with yet another terrific performance. The Rockets were 0 for 2 on the power play and killed off both Hurricane power play chances. In the big picture, the Rockets have won 31 of their last 43 games overall and are 20-3-2-0 on home ice and 15-10-1-0 on the road. The Rockets have points in 29 of 37 games (26-8-3-0). The team has won 16 of its last 25 games.

Seasonal Series vs Spokane: These two teams are meeting for only the second time this season. Back on November 14th, in Spokane, the Chiefs were a 4-3 winner in overtime. The Chiefs make a return visit on February 27th before the seasonal series concludes March 12th in Spokane.  In the last 17 regular season games between these two teams, the Rockets are 10-5-1-1. Gordie Ballhorm leads the Rockets in scoring against the Chiefs in the seasonal series with 1+1=2.

Number Crunching: The Rockets are 18-2-1-0 when Tyson Baillie scores. The only regulation losses when the 20 year-old finds the back of the net were against Red Deer and Saskatoon….The Rockets have lost 13 games in regular time this season. That is the exact same number of losses from all of last season….The Rockets are attempting to become the first team to reach the 50 win plateau in four straight seasons. For that to happen, the team must win 15 of their final 21 games or they can suffer only six more regular losses in order to hit the 50 win mark…Did you know rookie Kole Lind has not earned a power play point this season?…Did you know that Devante Stephens and rookie Gordie Ballhorn are the only two Rockets to play in all 51 games this season? The last rookie to play in all 72 games was Zach Franko in 2010-2011….The Rockets have only trailed heading into the third period 13 times this season. They are 2-11-0-0 in those games…. Michael Herringer is making his 14th straight start tonight…Torrie Jung started 19 straight games in 2006-2007…Kevin Swanson started 38 straight games in 1999-2000…The Rockets have scored the first goal in 30 of 51 games this season. When they accomplish that goal, they are an impressive 24-3-3-0…The Rockets have 21 games left in the regular season. Of those 21 games, 11 will be played on home ice. Of those 21 games, 12 are against BC Division rivals…The Rockets have been out-shot in 34 of 51 games this season…The Rockets are the only team in the WHL without a 20 or 19 year-old defenceman and only one of four teams without an average defenceman…The Rockets have not lost three straight games this season. 

This and That: The Rockets added 17 year-old goaltender Brody Salmond for the remainder of the season. Salmond was the Rockets 10th round bantam pick in the 2010 WHL draft and was playing this season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Camrose Kodiaks. Salmond is the son of Hockey Canada’s Scott Salmond. Scott Salmond had a brief stint with the Kelowna Spartans in 1990-91…The Rockets are rated this week as the 6th best team in the CHL Top 10 rankings. Last week they were also rated 7th …Five of the team’s next eight games are on home ice. The only road games over that stretch are in Seattle next Tuesday, in Prince George for back-to-back games February 12th and 13th and in Vancouver on February 20th…The Rockets play 13 games in 25 nights in the month of February…Only one birthday to celebrate in February. Tomas Soustal turns 19 on February 15th… The Kelowna Rockets named 19 year-old Rodney Southam as the franchises 22nd captain on January 25th. Southam was acquired in November, 2014 from the Tri City Americans for a 5th round bantam draft pick.

Who’s Hot: Calvin Thurkauf has points in 9 of his last 13 games. The rookie has 4+10=14 over that period…Rourke Chartier has points in 11 of his last 15 games. Over that period, the 19 year-old has 9+9=18…Chartier has 96 career goals and 95 career assists...Dillon Dube has 20 goals this season which is a career high….Dube has 6+7=13 in his last 15 games… Nick Merkley has 6+13=19 in his last 13 games…Tyson Baillie has 5+4=9 in his last 10 games….Tyson Baillie has points in 31 of his last 39 games and has been held off the score-sheet 12 times this season…Justin Kirkland has points in 6 of his last 10 games. Kirkland has 7+5=12 over that period.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The 'fight' for first

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Two men enter, one man leaves. It is the famous line from the 1985 movie Mad Max - Beyond Thunderdome. I don't think it was a fight to the death last night at Prospera Place, but it clearly was a battle between the two top teams (statistically) in the Western Hockey League. Tomas Soustal erased a 14 game goal scoring drought with two goals and Michael Herringer was terrific in the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 win over the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes. The 20th home ice win of the season allowed the Rockets to leapfrog over the Hurricanes and into first place in the overall standings (one point up) with 21 games left in the regular season. The Rockets sweep the season series 3-0-0-0, but this was clearly the most entertaining game of the three. 
  • Both teams didn't disappoint. For a Tuesday night game in early February that can be humdrum, this one had sizzle with two fights, numerous scoring chances and great saves. The Rockets were the better team in the first period with the Hurricanes holding the slight edge in the second. The third period was up for grabs with the home town team holding a slim one goal lead. The room for error was slim against the top scoring team in the WHL, but 20 year-old Michael Herringer saved his best work for the final 20 minutes. Herringer made three sensational 'five alarm saves' on Hurricanes forward Tyler Wong, Jordy Bellerive and a game saving glove hand stop off Ryan Vandervlis that had the 17 year-old shaking his head in amazement. At games end it was no surprise Herringer was named the 1st star.
  • The Rockets had several great chances to score at the other end of the ice. Nick Merkley had a wide open net with Hurricanes goaltender Stuart Skinner down and out, yet worked it wide with a sharp angle backhand attempt. Rourke Chartier hit the goal post in the third period too. At times the game opened up with scoring chances traded both ways. It is hard to imagine, but WHL leading scorer Brayden Burke and Rockets leading point producer Tyson Baillie were both held off the score-sheet when the buzzer sounded.
  • The Rockets were playing their fourth game in five night's while the Hurricanes were playing their third game in five night's to conclude a BC Division road trip. The Eastern Conference leaders failed to win a game against Victoria, Vancouver and Kelowna.
  • It was tough to watch when Hurricanes forward Giorgio Estephan crashed into the end boards in the first period and appeared to hurt his  ankle. Estephan immediately grabbed the ankle which had everyone guessing in the building that it was either a deep sprain, or in a worse case scenario, a broken ankle. 
  • Rockets rookie Kole Lind was reunited with linemates Tyson Baillie and Dillon Dube.
  • The Rockets are an impressive 11-1-0-0 against the Central Division this season. The Calgary Hitmen are in Kelowna Saturday night with the Red Deer Rebels paying a visit on February 16th.     
  • Up next is a home game with the Spokane Chiefs Friday night in game two of a four game home stand. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Game Notes vs. Hurricanes

Hurricanes HC Brent Kisio - Shoot the Breeze
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open the month of February with a home game against the Lethbridge Hurrricanes. This is the third and final meeting of the season between the two teams. They met October 4th in Lethbridge with the Rockets earning a 6-3 win. Gage Quinney had 2+1=3 and Tomas Soustal had 1+2=3 in the victory. Jackson Whistle was named the first star with a 39 save performance. The Rockets were then a 5-3 winner at Prospera Place on October 31st. This game features the top two teams (statistically) in the WHL with the Hurricanes holding a slim one point lead for first place in the overall standings. The Rockets are coming off a 2-0 shutout loss Sunday in Seattle. Michael Herringer made 41 saves and was named the third star. The Rockets were 0 for 4 on the power play. In the big picture, the Rockets have won 30 of their last 42 games overall and are 19-3-2-0 on home ice and 15-10-1-0 on the road. The Rockets have points in 28 of 36 games (25-8-3-0). The team has won 15 of its last 24 games. Following tonight’s game, the Rockets host Spokane Friday and Calgary Saturday night. The team welcomes Seattle BC Family Day Monday before facing the T-Birds in Kent on Tuesday night for the third meeting between the two teams in the last 10 days.

Dare to Compare: The Hurricanes have two more wins (36/34) but the Rockets have one fewer loss (13/14)…The Rockets have allowed one fewer goal against yet the Hurricanes have scored 30 more goals. The Hurricanes have scored the most goals in the WHL. The Rockets are 5th.  The Rockets have allowed the 4th fewest goals against in the WHL while the Hurricanes are 5th….Combined; these two teams have a record of 70-27-3-0 in 100 regular season games this season…The Rockets are 11-2-0-0 in their last 13 regular season meetings between the two teams including 6-1-0-0 in their last 7 home dates with the Hurricanes.

Number Crunching: The Rockets have lost 13 games in regular time this season. That is the exact same number of losses from all of last season….The Rockets are attempting to become the first team to reach the 50 win plateau in four straight seasons. For that to happen, the team must win 16 of their final 22 games or they can suffer only six more regular losses in order to hit the 50 win mark…Did you know the Rockets have taken the 4th most minor penalties in the WHL? The team has been to the penalty box for a minor penalty 274 times…The Rockets have only trailed heading into the third period 13 times this season. They are 2-11-0-0 in those games….The Rockets have scored the 7th most power play goals in the WHL (44) while the Hurricanes have scored the most in the WHL (60)…Michael Herringer is making his 13th straight start tonight….Adam Brown started 13 straight games to start the season in 2009-2010…Torrie Jung started 19 straight games in 2006-2007…Kevin Swanson started 38 straight games in 1999-2000…The Rockets have scored the first goal in 29 of 50 games this season. When they accomplish that goal, they are an impressive 23-3-3-0…The Rockets have 22 games left in the regular season. Of those 22 games, 12 will be played on home ice. Of those 22 games, 12 are against BC Division rivals…The Rockets have been out-shot in 33 of 50 games this season…The Rockets are 34-12-3-0 after 50 games this season. Last season the team was 38-8-3-0 after 50 games…The team has scored 180 goals after 50 games this season after scoring 217 times at the same point last season.….The team has allowed 142 goals against, only 14 more than at the same time last season…The Rockets are the only team in the WHL without a 20 or 19 year-old defenceman and only one of four teams without an average defenceman…The Rockets have not lost three straight games this season.  

This and That: The Rockets added 17 year-old goaltender Brody Salmond for the remainder of the season. Salmond was the Rockets 10th round bantam pick in the 2010 WHL draft and was playing this season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Camrose Kodiaks. Salmond is the son of Hockey Canada’s Scott Salmond. Scott Salmond had a brief stint as a goalie with the Kelowna Spartans in 1990-91…The Rockets are rated this week as the 7th best team in the CHL Top 10 rankings. Last week they were also rated 7th …This is game one of a four game home stand for the Rockets, who host Spokane Friday and Calgary Saturday night. The team welcomes Seattle on BC Family Day on Monday February 8th for a special 2:05 start…Six of the teams next nine games are on home ice. The only road games over that stretch are in Seattle next Tuesday, in Prince George for back-to-back games February 12th and 13th and in Vancouver on February 20th…The Rockets play 13 games in 25 nights in the month of February…Only one birthday to celebrate in February. Tomas Soustal turns 19 on February 15th… The Kelowna Rockets named 19 year-old Rodney Southam as the franchises 22nd captain on January 25th. Southam was acquired in November, 2014 from the Tri City Americans for a 5th round bantam draft pick.


Who’s Hot: Calvin Thurkauf has points in 9 of his last 12 games. The rookie has 4+10=14 over that period…Rourke Chartier has points in 11 of his last 14 games. Over that period, the 19 year-old has 9+9=18…Chartier has 96 career goals and 95 career assists...Dillon Dube has 20 goals this season which is a career high….Dube has 6+7=13 in his last 14 games… Nick Merkley has 6+13=19 in his last 12 games…Tyson Baillie has 5+4=9 in his last 9 games….Tyson Baillie has points in 31 of his last 38 games and has been held off the score-sheet 11 times this season…Justin Kirkland has points in 6 of his last 9 games. Kirkland has 7+5=12 over that period.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Power play problems?

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Power play problems? What power play problems? Last night the power play struck for three goals in the Kelowna Rockets 5-3 home ice win over the visiting Portland Winterhawks. The power play, which is rated as the fifth best unit in the WHL, hasn't exactly been a constant threat this season, but it sure was Friday night against the Winterhawks. I anticipate it making a greater impact now that all of the key elements are in place. With Rourke Chartier at the right face-off circle (left hand shot), Nick Merkley at the left face-off dot (right hand shot) and Calvin Thurkauf provided a net front presence, how can this unit not create nightmares for the opposition? All it really needs is a bomb from the blue-line and Cal Foot can provide that if he isn't hesitant in shooting the puck. Oh, then the second power play unit comes on the ice with Justin Kirkland at the right face-off circle (as a left hand shooter), Tyson Baillie is at the left dot (right handed shooter) and Tomas Soustal providing a net front presence. Get the idea? No excuses for a power play that has six lethal forwards on two separate units that can change a game in an instant.   
  • The Rockets, traditionally a quick starter, were slow out the gates in this one and trailed 2-1 after one period. In saying that, Winterhawks goaltender Adin Hill stopped Cole Linaker, Tomas Soustal and Dillon Dube on breakaways, so the Rockets could have been up by a goal going into the intermission instead of trailing by one. I thought Hill was really good early and his play, like the Winterhawks, trailed off as the game went along.
  • Michael Herringer, making his 10th straight start was solid in the win. I think he would have liked Dominic Turgeon's wrap around goal late in the third period back, but Herringer was full marks for helping his team win it's fifth consecutive game.
  • After playing the night before at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, I thought both Lucas Johansen and Dillon Dube played quiet games. The coaching staff attempted to pull back the minutes that they played in an effort to keep them fresh for essentially three games in four night's against Victoria (Sat), Seattle (Sun) and Lethbridge on Tuesday night. That said, Johansen played a team high 24 minutes in the win. 
  • The win enabled the Rockets to move within a single point of first place Lethbridge in the WHL standings. The Hurricanes fell 3-1 in Victoria. The Rockets do have one game in hand on the Hurricanes, which will be made up Sunday in Seattle. The Rockets host the Hurricanes Tuesday night with what could be first place showdown.
  • Why does Rourke Chartier score goals? His shot is extremely accurate, but the reason why he finds the back of the net is his no hesitation mindset in shooting it. Chartier had a team high 6 shots on net last night and is always among the team leaders in that category. Winterhawks captain Dominic Turgeon lead all shooters with 7 shots on goal. 
  • Great discipline shown by forward Nick Merkley last night when he was hit against the boards by Turgeon with seven minutes to play in the third period. Merkley, instead of retaliating, simply let the official make the call (roughing) and allowed his team to go on the power play for the 7th time. It is that type of composure that will be needed to win games when the playoffs roll around. It is better to make the adjustment now and suck it up, rather than attempt to make the change when the puck drops on the 2016 WHL playoffs.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Rockets/Winterhawks game notes

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets play game four of a five game home stand tonight against the visiting Portland Winterhawks. The Rockets have a busy weekend ahead of them, hosting Victoria tomorrow night before traveling to Seattle Sunday afternoon.  This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Rockets and Winterhawks. The Rockets are 3-0-0-0 in the seasonal series after 4-2, 5-2 and 8-5 wins. Overall, the Rockets have out-scored the Winterhawks 17-11. The Rockets are coming off a 4-0 home ice win against the Medicine Hat Saturday night. Michael Herringer made 16 saves for his third career shutout. Braydyn Chizen was named the 1st star with a goal and an assist. In the big picture, the Rockets have won 29 of their last 39 games overall and are 18-2-2-0 on home ice and 15-9-1-0 on the road. Overall; the Rockets have points in 27 of 33 games (24-6-3-0). The team has won 14 of its last 21 games.

Southam’s C: The Kelowna Rockets announced this week they have named 19 year-old Rodney Southam as the franchises 22nd captain. Southam was acquired in November, 2014 from the Tri City Americans for a 5th round bantam draft pick. Southam played in his 150th career WHL game last Saturday against the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Home Ice is Nice: Dillon Dube has scored the most goals on home ice of any player on the roster. Dube has 13 of his 20 goals at Prospera Place. Tyson Baillie is a close second with 12 of his 28 goals coming in front of the home town crowd. Nick Merkley has 10 home goals while Kole Lind has 7 goals on home ice.

Number Crunching: The Rockets have scored the first goal in 28 of 47 games this season. When they accomplish that goal, they are an impressive 23-2-3-0…The Rockets, as a team, have 26 fighting majors this season. That is rated as 10th highest among the 22 teams. Prince George leads the league with 56 fighting majors…The Rockets are tied with Edmonton for the fourth most minor penalties in the WHL. The Rockets have taken 255 minor penalties this season. League leading Prince George has taken 298…The Rockets have 25 games left in the regular season. Of those 25 games, 14 will be played on home ice. Of those 25 games, 13 are against BC Division rivals…The Rockets have been out-shot in 32 of 47 games this season…Seven of the team’s last 12 games have been decided by a single goal. The Rockets are 4-1-2-0 in those one goal games…The Rockets are 33-11-3-0 after 47 games this season. Last season the team was 36-8-3-0 after 47 games…The team has scored 174 goals after 47 games this season after scoring 206 goals at the same time last season.….The team has allowed 133 goals against, only 13 more than at the same time last season…These two teams (Rockets-Winterhawks) are a combined 40-0-2-0 when leading after 40 minutes of action.

This and That: NHL Central Scouting has released its mid-term rankings. Dillon Dube, Lucas Johansen and Tomas Soustal have made the grade….The Rockets are rated this week as the 7th best team in the CHL Top 10 rankings. Last week they were also rated 7th…Michael Herringer is making his 10th consecutive start tonight, which is a first for the soft spoken netminder…The 19 year-old has a career record of 26-7-1-0…Rourke Chartier has 56 goals in his last 75 regular season games….The Rockets have lost three straight overtime games on home ice…6 of the Rockets next 7 games are on home ice…Two former members of the Kelowna Rockets have made the NHL All-Star team. Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators is making his 5th appearance while Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars is making his second trip (NHL All-Star games was cancelled on lockout year and wasn’t played in Olympic year). Benn was first named an all-star in 2011-2012…January is a busy month for birthdays. Devante Stephens turned 19 (Jan 2), Jordan Borstmayer turned 18 (Jan 9), Travis Crickard turned 29 (Jan 11), Riley Stadel turned 20 (Jan 16), Kris Mallette turned 37 (Jan 19), Michael Herringer turned 20 (Jan 26), Tanner Wishnowski turned 19 (Jan 28).


Who’s Hot: Calvin Thurkauf has points in 8 of his last 9 games. The rookie has 4+7=11 over that period…Rourke Chartier has points in 10 of his last 11 games. Over that period, the 19 year-old has 7+9=16 over that period…Chartier has 94 career goals and 95 career assists...Dillon Dube has 20 goals this season which is a career high….Dube has 6+5=11 in his last 11 games… Nick Merkley has 5+11=16 in his last 9 games…Tyson Baillie has 4+4=8 in his last 6 games….Tyson Baillie has points in 30 of his last 35 games and has been held off the score-sheet only 9 times this season…Justin Kirkland has points in four of his last six games. Kirkland has 5+4=9 over that period.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Notes, quotes and anecdotes

Rodney Southam answers the bell - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • Captain Southam. Has a nice ring to it doesn't it? I think it was the right choice to name Rodney Southam the captain when I evaluate all of the likely candidates. The fact that 20 year-old Tyson Baillie will wear a 'A' on home ice and overager Cole Linaker is an associate captain on the road is a nice touch. Baillie has been with the team for five years while Linaker has spent four seasons in Kelowna.    
  • What Southam's appointment does within the dressing room is clear the air if indeed a captain would be named this season. Was it the white elephant in the room? I wouldn't go that far, but I think many players were wondering of the 22 teams in the league, why did they not appoint a captain? Now that question is answered and we can move on. Did it affect the team's play without a captain? Look at the record. It clearly did not, which shows either that having a captain is overrated or the leadership in the Rockets dressing room is indeed a shared responsibility. I'm guessing a bit of both.
  • It isn't often that a WHL rookie is leading his team in plus/minus. Kelowna Rockets defenceman Gordie Ballhorn finds himself leading the team with an impressive +23 rating. That means the 18 year-old defenceman is on the ice more times when his team scores than when they allow a goal against. "It was a lot tougher in the beginning of the year, coming in here in the first five to ten games. I was getting used to it with little ice time and feeling it out. Once I got more comfortable...it is like a mini NHL. It is professional. You are playing in sold out barns. What more can you ask for?" Ballhorn has 9 points in 47 games this season. The Wetaskawin, Alberta resident is one of only three players on the Rockets roster to play in all 47 games this season.
  • Fifteen. That is the number of players that the Kelowna Rockets have sent to participate in the CHL Top Prospects game. The first Rockets player to ever take part in the game was Luke Curtin in 1996. Curtin would eventually be selected in the 5th round of the 1996 NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche.  
  • Five of those 15 players that have played in the CHL Top Prospects game are now in the NHL. Tyler Myers (Winnipeg), Luke Schenn (LA), Blake Comeau (Colorado), Damon Severson (New Jersey) and Tyson Barrie (Colorado) now all earn a pay-check in the league after playing in the prospects game. Yes, four of the five are defenceman.
  • Hasn't Michael Herringer been a great story? To be thrown into the fire by playing nine consecutive games with an injury to starter Jackson Whistle was a tough position to be put into. The fact that Herringer, who turned 20 this week, has earned points in 7 of those 9 starts is impressive. Herringer has dealt with the immense pressure like a pro, considering he doesn't exactly have a quality back-up to rely on if he struggled. Nothing against 19 year-old Brady Lenardon, who was brought in to be Herringer's back-up, but Lenardon likely isn't ready to see even a small workload at the WHL level. Could he eventually be ready if Whistle is unable to return? Probably, but stopping pucks at the major junior level in comparison to the KIJHL shooters he would face are on two completely different levels.    
  • With 25 games left in the regular season, 20 year-old Kelowna Rockets forward Riley Stadel knows what area of his team's game needs to improve. Stadel says they need to implement a consistent work ethic. 
    "Ever since I have been here with Huska and Lambert and now Ralph, that has been the main key that we need each night is to work hard and win your battles and you are working harder than the other team. That will never change. That is what the Rockets are known for. We are known for our waves of offence and good defence and outworking teams and making Prospera Place a hard place to play in".   
    Stadel leads the Rockets in penalty minutes (with 65) and in fighting majors with six. 
  • Going through scoring slumps is never fun. Especially for those that are expected to score. Gordie Ballhorn is not expected to score, so we shouldn't be surprised that he hasn't found the back of the net in 27 games. The good news is he is shooting the puck. Cole Linaker is without a goal in 17 games and Tomas Soustal hasn't found the back of the net in 11 games. If Linaker and Soustal can contribute a bit more, look out! 
  • The most confusing team in the Western Conference for me to evaluate are the Prince George Cougars. I think they have an excellent squad. They seem to be able to compete against the best in the WHL but often struggle against those they should easily skate away with a victory. How the Cougars lost to the Medicine Hat Tigers Monday night had me scratching my head. The Tigers were winless on a BC Division road trip with losses in Victoria, Vancouver and Kelowna, yet on the last game of the road trip, likely with little to no confidence and fatigue setting in, the Tigers managed a 6-4 win. Despite that confusing result, whoever faces the Cougars in the opening round is in a heap of trouble.  
  • I want to thank the Kelowna Rockets analytics's team for supplying our broadcast with interesting data for us to share with you on our AM 1150 broadcasters. The data includes ice time totals for every player, face-offs won and lost and shots taken per player. It is an awesome resource that we will use from now on until the end of the playoffs.     
  • The Rockets play three games in three night's this weekend. While that is a daunting task, what makes it ever harder is playing in Seattle Sunday afternoon with a 5 pm start after playing the night before against the visiting Victoria Royals. But it could be worse. The Everett Silvertips just finished a stretch of 10 games in 15 days, so you won't get much sympathy from those across the WHL with the Rockets scheduling woes this weekend.
  • One of the highlites of the season for me was Braydyn Chizen's naming of the first star Saturday night against Medicine Hat.  It was such a cool moment to see the rookie being recognized in that way. It may go down as one of my favourite moments of the regular season.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Big night for the 'Big Man'

Braydyn Chizen - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • Western Hockey League games in late January are often times forgettable. Not so for Kelowna Rockets rookie defenceman Braydyn Chizen. A game against the Medicine Hat Tigers in the 'dog days' of the schedule will be one the 17 year-old will never forget. Chizen, playing in only his 22nd career WHL games, scored his first career goal, collected his first career assist and was named the games first star in a 4-0 shut-out win. It was comical as Chizen huddled underneath the bleachers at Prospera Place with fellow team-mates Michael Herringer and Justin Kirkland after the game to accept his post game award. Chizen knew he was a star, but which one? 1-2 or 3? When Bill Barnes, the Rockets public address announcer, came on the microphone and said with his booming voice, "The second star with a goal and an assist", Chizen began to walk towards the ice when he quickly backtracked when he heard Barnes say, "Justin Kirkland". Once Kirkland came off the ice, Chizen knew only then that he indeed was the games first star as he took the ceremonial skate on the ice to the delight to the home town fans. It was a special night for the biggest player on the ice ( Chizen is 6 foot 6) with what appears to be the smallest ego. 
  • This was as dominant a performance by the Rockets as we've seen all season. They owned the puck. They owned the corners. They owned absolutely every aspect of the game. With a season high 82 shot attempts, this was as complete a game the Rockets have had this season. It honestly looked easy. Surprisingly the score didn't reflect how overpowering the home team was and how weak of an effort the Tigers put out. You can't sugar coat this game. The Tigers were severely over-matched.
  • For the record, it only seemed right that Chizen score his first career goal in his 22nd career game. Chizen wears jersey #22.
  • Michael Herringer made 16 saves for his first shut-out of the season and third of his career. Solid when called upon, it was nice to see the 19 year-old have an easy night considering it was his 9th consecutive start.  It was also nice to see his team-mates play hard in front of him to preserve the goose egg. Tyson Baillie was the best example, when the overage forward literally dove on his belly to slid a puck outside of his own zone with the Tigers threatening to score on a late third period power play. 
  • I thought Justin Kirland deserved what he got Saturday night. With a little more jump in his step than normal, the 19 year-old was on pucks and scored a goal and added an assist. The Nashville Predators draft pick almost scored a highlite reel goal in the second period, only to see the puck go off his stick on a great individual rush in an effort to beat Tigers goaltender Nic Schneider. Honestly, I thought Kirkland looked really good playing with Tyson Baillie and Dillon Dube. Rookie Kole Lind, a mainstay on that line for a good portion of the season, was demoted to the fourth line after being a health scratch the night before.
  • Tyson Baillie scored his 28th goal of the season and ended the game with a +2 rating. The 20 year-old is now +100 in his WHL career.  Baillie also has four goals in his last 5 games and is riding a six game point streak.    
  • How is Nick Merkley's game coming along this season? The 18 year-old has 15 points in January (5+10=15).  By comparison, Merkley had 16 points in the month of January one year ago. Merkley still has three games to exceed those totals from a year ago with games next weekend against Portland, Victoria and Seattle.
  • The Rockets are 10-1-0-0 in 11 games against the Central Division this season. The only loss was a setback in Red Deer. 
  • Since returning from the World Juniors, Calvin Thurkauf has points in 6 of 7 games (4+5=9)
  • I usually like to include on my blog recaps one player I liked from the opposition. I have to dig deep here but I thought Caleb Fantillo was the best Tigers skater. The 17 year-old is from Coquitlam, so he may had more jam in his game considering he was playing in his home province.
  • How much better would the Tiger be right now had they not traded away three of their top players? Trevor Cox, Cole Sanford and Dryden Hunt amassed a combined 287 points last season. Sure, it appears all three requested trades, but is the question being asked in Medicine Hat on why the trio wanted so badly out of the organization?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Timely saves/scoring add up to 32nd win!

Shoot the Breeze
  • The reason, often times, why the Kelowna Rockets have had success this season is because of timely saves from veteran goaltender Jackson Whistle. Now back up netminder Michael Herringer is attempting to follow a similar path. The 19 year-old, who has been forced into a starting role due to an injury to Whistle, made several timely saves Friday night in a 4-2 win over the visiting Tri City Americans. Left off the three stars for his 30 saves performance, Herringer's biggest stop came courtesy of his right pad against Americans overage forward Beau McCue. With the Rockets holding a slim one goal-third period lead, and on the power play, McCue intercepted a pass along the near boards inside the offensive zone. McCue skated to the middle of the slot, and against the grain, let a quick wrist shot go that Herringer turned aside deftly with his right leg. Had McCue scored, it not only would have tied the score, it would have given the visitors a truck load of confidence with close to 15 minutes remaining in the game. That solid stop was one of 16 that Herringer would make in the final period as the Rockets earned their 32nd win of the season and moved within a single point of Lethbridge for first place in the WHL standings.
  • Despite only generating 7 shots in the third period, a skilled group of forwards that the Rockets possess need little in the way of chances. Rourke Chartier scored the game winning goal on a tremendous pass from Nick Merkley on an odd man rush. Twenty year-old Tyson Baillie would put the game away when he found himself on a two-on-one with Dillon Dube after blocking a shot at his own blue line. Baillie made the right read on the goal. With Tri City defenceman Brandon Carlo playing the pass the entire way, Baillie saw a gap between the legs of goaltender Evan Sarthou and sent the puck through the five hole to give the home team a 4-2 lead. The Americans would pull Sarthou with 3:30 left in regulation time but were unable to beat Herringer.
  • Both Herringer and Sarthou were solid in the game. Cole Linaker had a breakaway in the second period that Sarthou turned aside and Herringer made numerous timely saves, including a right pad stop in the second period at the left side of the net on Americans forward Vladislav Lukin.  
  • Rodney Southam returned to the line up after missing 12 games with a lower body injury and made an immediate impact. Southam scored the tying goal in the second period to make the score 2-2. 
  • Is anyone paying attention to Americans 16 year-old forward Michael Rasmussen? The 6'5 Surrey kid is having a pretty solid season with 10 goals and 26 points in 37 games. Rasmussen is first round bantam pick from 2014 and played at Okanagan Hockey Academy.
  • Brandon Carlo. Wow! How good is he? I thought he was terrific on the Americans blue line. The second round pick of the NHL's Boston Bruins makes hard outlet passes and plays a steady defensive game. It's a shame I only have a chance to see him play three times a season. Carlo didn't play in the Americans first appearance at Prospera Place in early January as he was sent home to Colorado to rest after playing for the U.S at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
  • Speaking of players to watch, Americans Parker Wotherspoon again did not disappoint. A 4th round pick of the New York Islanders, is he not the best 18 year-old defenceman in the WHL? Some would argue Ethan Bear of Seattle, who I also really like, is more dynamic offensively but he plays on a team which I believe has more skilled forwards to distribute the puck too. Wotherspoon logs massive minutes, is always around the puck and makes smart decisions with it. 
  • I know. I know, enough about the Americans. The Rockets discipline was much better in this game than Tuesday night in a 7-4 win over Prince George. Despite taking three straight penalties in the opening period, the team took only one in the third period when the game was in doubt. The Americans attempted to goat the Rockets into penalties in the third period in an effort to get their second best power play unit in the WHL on the ice to get back in the game, but the Rockets did a good job of containing their emotions.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Game notes vs. Americans

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets play game two of a five game home stand tonight against the visiting Tri City Americans. The Rockets host Medicine Hat tomorrow night before welcoming Portland on January 29th and Victoria on January 30th. The Rockets are coming off a 7-4 win over the visiting Prince George Cougars on Tuesday night. Nick Merkley had two goals and two assists in the win. Dillon Dube had 1+2=3 and Rourke Chartier chipped in with three assists. This is the third of four meetings between the two teams this season. Back on January 9th, the Rockets earned a 7-5 win. The seasonal series closes in Tri City on March 13th.  In the big picture, the Rockets have won 27 of their last 37 games overall and are 16-2-2-0 on home ice and 15-9-1-0 on the road. Overall; the Rockets have points in 25 of 31 games (22-6-3-0). The team has won 12 of its last 19 games.

Number Crunching: The Rockets have 27 games left in the regular season. Of those 27 games, 16 will be played on home ice. Of those 27 games, 13 are against BC Division rivals…The Rockets have been out-shot in 32 of 45 games this season…The Rockets have been to overtime in two of their last 5 home games and have been on the losing end of both…Seven of the teams last 10 games have been decided by a single goal. The Rockets are 4-1-2-0 in those one goal games…The Rockets are 31-11-3-0 after 45 games this season. Last season the team was 34-8-3-0 after 45 games…The team has scored 165 goals after 45 games this season, down 27 goals from the same point in 201-4-2015….The team has allowed 131 goals against, only 17 more than at the same time last season.

This and That: The Rockets are 13-5-0-0 in their last 18 games against the Americans including a perfect 9-0-0-0 record at home in the last five seasons…NHL Central Scouting has released its mid-term rankings. Dillon Dube, Lucas Johansen and Tomas Soustal have made the grade….The Rockets are rated this week as the 7th best team in the CHL Top 10 rankings. Last week they were rated 7th…Michael Herringer is making his 8th consecutive start tonight, which is a first for the soft spoken netminder…The 19 year-old has a career record of 24-7-1-0…Rourke Chartier has 55 goals in his last 73 regular season games….The Rockets have lost three straight overtime games on home ice…8 of the Rockets next 9 games are on home ice…Two former members of the Kelowna Rockets have made the NHL All-Star team. Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators is making his 5th appearance while Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars is making his second trip (NHL All-Star games was cancelled on lockout year and wasn’t played in Olympic year). Benn was first named an all-star in 2011-2012…January is a busy month for birthdays. Devante Stephens turned 19 (Jan 2), Jordan Borstmayer turned 18 (Jan 9), Travis Crickard turned 29 (Jan 11), Riley Stadel turned 20 (Jan 16), Kris Mallette turned 37 (Jan 19), Michael Herringer turns 20 (Jan 26), Tanner Wishnowski turns 19 (Jan 28) … Ten of Justin Kirkland’s 16 goals have been scored on the road this season….Jackson Whistle has started 25 of the last 39 games…The Rockets receive relief from the schedule maker when they play 9 of 10 at home from January 19th to February 8th….Cole Linaker recorded his 100th career point with an assist last Friday in Victoria.

Two picked for Top Prospects game: Second year players Lucas Johansen and Dillon Dube have been selected to play in the CHL Top Prospects game this Thursday in Vancouver. Both Johansen and Dube are playing with Team Cherry. It marks the first time since the 2011-2012 season that two members of the Rockets have played in the game after Colton Sissons and Damon Severson were afforded the luxury that season. Nick Merkley played in the game last season and was eventually chosen in the first round of the 2015 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes.


Who’s Hot: Calvin Thurkauf has points in 6 of his last 7 games. The rookie has 2+7=9 over that period…Rourke Chartier has points in 8 of his last 9 games. Over that period, the 19 year-old has 6+7=13 over that period…Chartier has 93 career goals and 93 career assists...Dillon Dube has 20 goals this season which is a career high….Dube has 6+5=11 in his last 9 games… Nick Merkley has 5+7=12 in his last 7 games…Kole Lind has points in 7 of his last 11 games. Lind has 5+5=10 over that stretch…Tyson Baillie has 2+4=6 in his last 4 games….Tyson Baillie has points in 28 of his last 33 games and has been held off the score-sheet only 9 times this season…Justin Kirkland has points in 13 of his last 21 games. Kirkland has 8+13=21 over that period.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Merkley and Rockets mow down Cougars

Nick Merkley - Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • It was vintage Nick Merkley last night against the Prince George Cougars. The Kelowna Rockets third year forward scored twice and added two assists in a 7-4 win over the visiting Prince George Cougars. It was Merkley's second-four point game of the season and fourth of his career. Linemate Rourke Chartier collected three assists while Calvin Thurkauf had a pair of helpers in a game that saw the two teams combine for 35 scoring chances. The win moved the Rockets within a single point of idle Lethbridge for first place in the WHL standings and increased their lead to 7 points over the Victoria Royals for first place in the Western Conference.
  • The best period for the home team was clearly the first. The Rockets did almost everything right including dominating territorial play with good old fashioned hard work. Almost to a man they were around pucks in the opening 10 minutes before the Cougars appeared to find their game. The home team was full marks for a 3-1-first period lead.
  • Six goals were scored in a second period where the two team's combined for 28 shots. The Rockets built up a 6-2 lead and the blow-out was on. Not so fast! The Cougars scored twice before the second frame was through and it was only a two goal lead heading into the third period. 
  • Discipline, or a lack of it again was a problem for the Rockets. The Cougars made good on two of five power play chances and scored a shorthanded goal. Dillon Dube's boarding minor late in the second period which resulted in a power play goal from Prince George Cougars Brad Morrison didn't sit well with Brad Ralph. The Kelowna Rockets head coach did the right thing by stapling Dube's butt on the bench for the entire third period. Look for more of that to happen if disciple continues to be an issue. 
  • Tyson Baillie returned to the line-up Tuesday and recorded one assists. Baillie is only four points shy of Regina's Adam Brooks for the WHL scoring lead. Baillie has played three fewer games.
  • Justin Kirkland had two goals in the game and now has six goals in his last eight games. 
  • Up next? The Rockets play game two of a five game home stand Friday against the Tri City Americans before welcoming the Medicine Hat Tigers Saturday night. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Rockets/Cougars collide in BC Division showdown

Michael Herringer - Shoot the Breeze 
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets open a five game home stand tonight against the visiting Prince George Cougars. The Rockets host Tri City Friday, Medicine Hat Saturday, Portland on January 29th and Victoria on January 30th. The Rockets are coming off a 2-1 overtime win Saturday night in Victoria. Justin Kirkland scored the game winning goal. Dillon Dube scored his 19th goal of the season in regulation time while Michael Herringer, making his 6th consecutive start, was named the first star with a 36 save performance. This is the 5th of eight meetings between the two teams this season. These two teams haven’t played one another since October 30th. Overall, the Rockets are 2-2-0-0 in the seasonal series, having out-scored the Cougars 12-9. In the last 35 regular season meetings, the Rockets have won 28 of those games. In the big picture, the Rockets have won 26 of their last 36 games overall and are 15-2-2-0 on home ice and 15-9-1-0 on the road. Overall; the Rockets have points in 24 of 30 games (21-6-3-0). The team has won 11 of its last 18 games.

Number Crunching: The Rockets have 28 games left in the regular season. Of those 28 games, 17 will be played on home ice. Of those 28 games, 14 are against BC Division rivals….These two teams are a combined 40-1-0-2 when leading after two periods…The Rockets have been out-shot in 31 of 44 games this season….The team hit the 30 win mark Saturday night in a 2-1 overtime victory in Victoria…The Rockets have been to overtime in two of their last four home games and have been on the losing end of both…Seven of the teams last 9 games have been decided by a single goal. The Rockets are 4-1-2-0 in those one goal games…The Rockets are 30-11-3-0 after 44 games this season. Last season the team was 34-7-3-0 after 44 games…The team has scored 159 goals after 44 games this season, down 31 goals from the same point in 201-4-2015….The team has allowed 126 goals against, only 17 more than at the same time last season.

This and That: Tyson Baillie returns to the line-up tonight after missing back-to-back games in Victoria on the weekend because of a death in the family…Dillon Dube has 4+4=8 in four games against the Cougars in the seasonal series…Tyson Baillie has 2+6=8 in four games also against the Cougars….Michael Herringer is making his 7th consecutive start tonight, which is a first for the soft spoken netminder…The 19 year-old has a career record of 23-7-1-0…The Rockets are 15-3-0-0 in their last 18 regular season dates at home against the Cougars…Rourke Chartier has 55 goals in his last 72 regular season games….The Rockets have lost three straight overtime games on home ice…9 of the Rockets next 10 games are on home ice…Two former members of the Kelowna Rockets have made the NHL All-Star team. Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators is making his 5th appearance while Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars is making his second trip (NHL All-Star games was cancelled on lockout year and wasn’t played in Olympic year). Benn was first named an all-star in 2011-2012…January is a busy month for birthdays. Devante Stephens turned 19 (Jan 2), Jordan Borstmayer turned 18 (Jan 9), Travis Crickard turned 29 (Jan 11), Riley Stadel turned 20 (Jan 16), Kris Mallette turned 37 (Jan 19), Michael Herringer turns 20 (Jan 26), Tanner Wishnowski turns 19 (Jan 28) … Ten of Justin Kirkland’s 14 goals have been scored on the road this season….Jackson Whistle has started 25 of the last 38 games…The Rockets receive relief from the schedule maker when they play 9 of 10 at home from January 19th to February 8th….Cole Linaker recorded his 100th career point with an assist last Friday in Victoria.

Two picked for Top Prospects game: Second year players Lucas Johansen and Dillon Dube have been selected to play in the CHL Top Prospects game January 28th in Vancouver. Both Johansen and Dube are playing with Team Cherry. It marks the first time since the 2011-2012 season that two members of the Rockets have played in the game after Colton Sissons and Damon Severson were afforded the luxury that season. Nick Merkley played in the game last season and was eventually chosen in the first round of the 2015 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes.


Who’s Hot: Rourke Chartier had his 7 game point streak snapped Saturday night. Chartier had 6+4=10 over that stretch…Chartier has 93 career goals...Dillon Dube has 19 goals this season which is a career high….Dube has 5+3=8 in his last 8 games… Nick Merkley has 3+5=8 in his last 6 games…Kole Lind has points in 7 of his last 10 games. Lind has 5+5=10 over that stretch…Tyson Baillie has 2+3=5 in his last three games….Tyson Baillie has points in 27 of his last 32 games and has been held off the score-sheet only 9 times this season…Justin Kirkland has points in 12 of his last 20 games. Kirkland has 6+13=19 over that period

Monday, January 18, 2016

Herringer has last laugh

Photo courtesy of Kevin Light
  • Michael Herringer had to have cracked a smile when the buzzer sounded in the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 overtime victory over the Victoria Royals Saturday night. That smile likely became even wider when he took the post game on-ice skate as he was introduced as the first star after a 36 save performance. Not only did the 19 year-old goaltender help his team win its 30th game of the season, but the soft spoken netminder beat his old team. Herringer was selected by the Royals in the 9th round of the 2011 WHL bantam draft. After a short stint with them, Herringer was traded from the Royals to the Saskatoon Blades, who then put him on waivers and the Rockets quickly placed him on their 50 man protected list. The victory concluded two games on the Island where Herringer and the Rockets dropped the opening game 4-3. Entering the weekend seven points up on the Royals for first place in the Western Conference, that number has been reduced to six.
  • Justin Kirkland scored the game winner in overtime. Kirkland's innocent wrist shot apparently went off a Royals defenceman's stick before going past goaltender Griffen Outhouse. It was Kirkland's 15th goal of the season and 4th in seven games. The overtime win also snapped a two game losing streak in the three-on-three session after home ice overtime losses to the Everett Silvertips. Both of the Rockets overtime wins this season have been on the road.
  • The Rockets were much sharper in the opening period Saturday night than what they were a night earlier. Despite being scored upon 8 minutes into the game, the visitors were the better team by creating good scoring chances before Dillon Dube netted his 19th goal of the season, allowing the Rockets to head into the first period dressing room in a 1-1 tie.
  • Despite that solid start, the Royals had several quality chances over the final 40 minutes, do impart to more undisciplined play. After taking only one penalty in the first period, the Rockets had to kill off seven more chances shorthanded including three in the third. Thanks to Herringer, the Rockets were able to send the game into overtime. Over the weekend, the penalty killing unit had to kill off 14 power play chances for the Royals and managed to kill all but one of them. In 5 of the last 6 games, the Rockets have taken 5 or more penalties resulting in opposition power plays. In four of those six games, the opponent has had the luxury of six power play chances which is flirting with dangerous.  
  • The seasonal series is now 3-3-0-0 against the Royals. Only Victoria and Everett have beaten the Rockets three times this season.
  • The Rockets again played this game without leading scorer Tyson Baillie. The Royals welcomed defenceman Chaz Reddekop after missing Friday's game with a suspension.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Small but mighty

Matthew Phillips - Shoot the Breeze Photo
  • The smallest guy on the ice surface made the biggest impact. Matthew Phillips, who is all of 5'6 and 137 pounds scored once and set up line-mate Alex Forsberg for two others in the Victoria Royals 4-3 win Friday night over the Kelowna Rockets at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. The second round bantam pick was the best player on the ice as the Royals built up a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes before the visitors rallied with three-third period goals. The game winner would come from Phillips, who received a nice pass from Forsberg, before whiffing on a shot that beat Michael Herringer between the legs. Phillips was named the first star as the Royals moved within five points of the Rockets for first place in the BC Division.
  • This game was clearly won or lost in the second period. Despite a less than ideal start, the Rockets managed to exit the opening frame only down 1-0. The reason behind that was the solid play of goaltender Michael Herringer and the teams inability to get quality shots on Royals netminder Griffen Outhouse. While Outhouse saw 14 shots directed his way in the first period, many were from the outside or long range. When Outhouse was forced to make a save, the Rockets showed no urgency to get to secondary chances. The urgency level took a dramatic turn in the third period though with three goals, but by then the game was essentially out of reach. Had the team played a sharper game earlier, they likely would have in a worst case scenario earned a point in the standings. Instead they come away empty handed and see their lead for first place in the BC Division reduced and see them drop three points out of first place in the WHL standings. 
  • At the end of the day, the Royals best players were simply better. When leading scorer Alex Forsberg and line-mate Matthew Phillips lead the charge offensively, the Rockets need to counter with an equally impressive effort from the likes of Dube, Chartier and Merkley.  Of those three, Merkley scored in the third period while Chartier drew just a lone assist. 
  • Matthew Phillips is an impressive player. Now 23 goals in his first season, the 17 year-old broke the Victoria Royals rookie franchise record for goals in a season and he still has 27 games left to play.  
  • It was clearly evident that the Royals outworked the Rockets for the majority of the game. Joe Hicketts, who doesn't get enough credit for his strong play in his own zone, was a horse on the penalty kill when he essentially ran out the clock in the first period while stapling the puck along the corner boards with three Rockets attempting to poke it free from his skates. It is that type of work ethic, not skill, from an older player that can inspire a team. Hey, if the captain does it, so can I is the subliminal message that must be sent to his team-mates.  
  • I thought the Rockets received a solid contribution for fourth line player Tate Coughlin. Sadly, I don't state that often on this blog because of his indifferent play. But, Coughlin had an increased battle level and had a tremendous hit on Royals forward Ethan Price in the third period. That is what Tate Coughlin needs to do to play at this level and receive a regular shift.
  • A solid fight by Rockets rookie Gordie Ballhorn with Royals forward Ethan Price in the second period. Ballhorn didn't throw as many punches, but in my opinion it was quality over quantity in that spirited tilt. That was the Rockets first fighting major in 12 games. Rookie Brayden Chizen fought Wheat Kings Tyler Coulter back on December 12th.  
  • The Rockets have struggled on the road of late with losses in four of their last five games. The only win over that stretch was a 2-1 victory against Kamloops following the Christmas break.
  • Cole Linaker earned an assist, reaching the 100 point mark in his WHL career.
  • Michael Herringer has allowed 4 or more goals in three of his last four starts. This is uncharted territory for Herringer, who makes his 6th consecutive start in a rematch between the two teams at Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena.
  • The Rockets play both games without forward Tyson Baillie because of a death in his family.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Rockets/Royals game notes

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets make their final visit of the season to the Island as they face the Victoria Royals in back-to-back games. The Rockets were a 3-1 winner on November 27th before falling 5-1 a night later at Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena. Overall, these two teams have met four times with the Rockets owning a 2-2-0-0 record. In the last meeting, January 2nd, Dillon Dube scored twice in a 5-4 home ice win. Following two games this weekend, the seasonal series ends with two games in Kelowna on January 30th and March 16th. The Rockets are coming off a 7-5 win over the Tri City Americans last Saturday. Lucas Johansen was named the first star with a goal and two assists. The Rockets have won 24 of their last 34 games overall (24-7-2-1) and are 15-2-2-0 on home ice and 14-8-1-0 on the road. Overall; the Rockets have points in 23 of 28 games (20-5-3-0). The team has won 10 of its last 16 games. Following these two games in Victoria, the Rockets open a five game home stand hosting the Prince George Cougars Tuesday night and the Tri City Americans on Friday January 22nd.

‘Harry’ has heavy workload: Twenty year-old goaltender Jackson Whistle will spend in the neighbourhood of two weeks on the injury list with a lower body injury. Nineteen year-old Michael Herringer will be forced into full time duty. Last season, when Whistle suffered an appendectomy, Herringer started four consecutive games while sharing duties with third string goaltender Josh Morrissey. Whistle missed a total of 10 games from February 7th to February 27th.     

Two picked for Top Prospects game: Second year players Lucas Johansen and Dillon Dube have been selected to play in the CHL Top Prospects game January 28th in Vancouver. Both Johansen and Dube are playing with Team Cherry. It marks the first time since the 2011-2012 season that two members of the Rockets have played in the game after Colton Sissons and Damon Severson were afforded the luxury that season. Nick Merkley played in the game last season and was eventually chosen in the first round of the 2015 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes.

This and That: The Rockets are 11-5-2-0 in their last 18 regular season appearances in Victoria…Home ice isn’t an advantage when these two teams meet. The Royals are 9-8-0-1 at Prospera Place in their last 18 regular season visits…Michael Herringer is making his fifth consecutive start tonight…Herringer is a former Victoria Royal. Herringer was a 9th round bantam pick of the Royals in 2011…The 19 year-old has a career record of 22-6-1-0… Rourke Chartier played in his 200th career game Saturday night vs. the Americans…Chartier has 55 goals in his last 70 regular season games…Tyson Baillie played in his 300th career game last Friday against Everett….The Rockets are rated as the 6th best team according to the CHL Top 10 junior rankings this week….Two of the Rockets last 5 games have been decided in overtime. The team played three consecutive overtime games on November 11th, 14th and 18th….The Rockets have won only once in overtime with the game winning goal coming from Rodney Southam in Kamloops November 18th….The Rockets have lost three straight overtime games on home ice…11 of the Rockets next 19 games are on home ice…Two former members of the Kelowna Rockets have made the NHL All-Star team. Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators is making his 5th appearance while Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars is making his second trip (NHL All-Star games was cancelled on lockout year and wasn’t played in Olympic year). Benn was first named an all-star in 2011-2012…January is a busy month for birthdays. Devante Stephens turned 19 (Jan 2), Jordan Borstmayer turned 18 (Jan 9), Travis Crickard turned 29 (Jan 11), Riley Stadel turns 20 (Jan 16), Kris Mallette turns 37 (Jan 19), Michael Herringer turns 20 (Jan 26), Tanner Wishnowski turns 19 (Jan 28) … Nine of Justin Kirkland’s 13 goals have been scored on the road this season….Jackson Whistle has started 25 of the last 36 games…The Rockets receive relief from the schedule maker when they play 9 of 10 at home from January 19th to February 8th….Cole Linaker has 99 career points.

Who’s Hot: Rourke Chartier is riding a 6 game point streak. Chartier has 6+3=9 over that stretch…Chartier has 93 career goals...Dillon Dube has 18 goals this season which is a career high….Dube has 4+3=7 in his last 6 games… Nick Merkley has 2+5=7 in his last 4 games…Kole Lind has points in 7 of his last 8 games. Lind has 5+5=10 over that stretch…Tyson Baillie has 2+3=5 in his last three games….Tyson Baillie has points in 27 of his last 32 games and has been held off the score-sheet only 9 times this season…Justin Kirkland has points in 11 of his last 18 games. Kirkland has 5+13=18 over that period.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Thurkauf and Soustal shouldn't accept second fiddle status

Calvin Thurkauf/Tomas Soustal make impact  
A strong European presence on a WHL roster that can make an impact was on display last season when German born Leon Draisaitl joined the Kelowna Rockets at the trade deadline. Draisaitl was the key driver in leading the team to a league championship and within a goal of winning the Master Card Memorial Cup.
This season, GM Bruce Hamilton didn't have to land that big fish because he already had two of them in his back pocket. Fresh off World Junior Hockey experiences with Switzerland and the Czech Republic respectively, Calvin Thurkauf and Tomas Soustal returned to the Rockets this weekend brimming with confidence. How can you not after competing and holding your own against the best players in the world in your age group?
Both imports are no shrinking violets either. Thurkauf and Soustal play an in-your-face game that resembles more of a North American style than a European one. Both are big bodied forwards who are tough to play against. Unlike some players with a big frame but are faint of heart, Thurkauf and Soustal play with both power and a high skill set. The two have combined for 43 points in 59 games this season. While not daunting numbers, the sky is the limit for two players that still, in my opinion, don't realize how much of an impact they can make in their first and second seasons respectively. And let's be honest, sometimes you don't know what you have until its gone, which was the case when the two were in Finland.
With both out of the line-up for ten games, the first thing you noticed was the lack of depth at the forward position. For a good portion of December, the Tyson Baillie, Kole Lind and Dillon Dube line was doing the bulk of the scoring. What was also clearly evident was a lack of size at the forward position, an aspects of great value that can't be overlooked. Size that plays big, which Thurkauf and Soustal do, make them an even greater influence/impact on the game.
Selecting players in the CHL Import Draft has been a weakness for the organization over the years, but clearly the impact that Thurkauf and Soustal have made can't be understated. Both 18, they still have no less than another year ahead of them in Kelowna, which should excite fans considering these two will only get better with age.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Rockets/Tips game notes

Shoot the Breeze Photography
Tonight’s Preview: The Kelowna Rockets play game two of a three game home stand tonight when they host the Everett Silvertips. The Rockets host the Tri City Americans tomorrow night before traveling to the Island for back-to-back games against the Victoria Royals next weekend. This is the third of four meetings between the Rockets and Tips this season. The Rockets are 0-1-1-0 in the first two games, losing last week 2-1 in overtime at home before suffering a 3-1 loss in Everett New Year’s Day. The Rockets are coming off a 5-4 win against the Victoria Royals Saturday night. Dillon Dube scored twice in the win while Nick Merkley had 1+2=3 in the team’s 28th victory of the season. The Rockets have won 23 of their last 32 games overall (23-7-1-1) and are 14-2-1-0 on home ice and 14-8-1-0 on the road. Overall; the Rockets have points in 21 of 26 games (19-5-2-0). The team has won 9 of its last 14 games.

Whistle out – Herringer in: The Kelowna Rockets announced this week that 20 year-old goaltender Jackson Whistle will spend in the neighbourhood of two to three weeks on the injury list with a lower body injury. Nineteen year-old Michael Herringer will be forced into full time duty. Herringer has started back-to-back games for the Rockets and will make a third straight appearance tonight against the Tips. Herringer made three consecutive appearances from September 27th to October 3rd. Last season, when Whistle suffered an appendectomy, Herringer started four consecutive games while sharing duties with third string goaltender Josh Morrissey. Whistle missed a total of 10 games from February 7th to February 27th.     

Baillie in elite company: Twenty year-old Tyson Baillie will play in his 300th career regular season game tonight for the Kelowna Rockets. Baillie is one of nine players to accomplish the feat by playing all five seasons with the organization. Here is a list of the players that dressed in over 300 games, all with the Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets franchise. 

1) Jason Deleurme (1993-1998) 341 games
2) Tyler Mosienko (2000-2005) 338 games
3) Brett Palin (2000-2005) 324 games
4) Cam Paddock (1999-2004) 323 games
5) Gavin McLeod (1996-2001) 321 games
6) Ryan Cuthbert (1998-2003) 319 games
7) Brett McLean (1994-1999) 308 games *
8) Ryan Wade (1994-1999) 304 games
9) Tyson Baillie (2012-2016) 300 games and counting 
*Traded in 20 year-old season yet recorded 300+ games with Rockets before dealt to Brandon

This and That: The line of Tyson Baillie, Kole Lind and Dillon Dube have combined for 133 points this season…Can you name the only arena the Rockets have failed to visit this season? Answer at the bottom of ‘This and That’…13 of the Rockets next 19 games are on home ice…Two former members of the Kelowna Rockets have made the NHL All-Star team. Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators is making his 5th appearance while Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars is making his second trip (NHL All-Star games was cancelled on lockout year and wasn’t played in Olympic year). Benn was first named an all-star in 2011-2012…January is a busy month for birthdays. Devante Stephens turned 19 (Jan 2), Jordan Borstmayer turns 18 (Jan 9), Travis Crickard turns 29 (Jan 11), Riley Stadel turned 20 (Jan 16), Kris Mallette turns 37 (Jan 19), Michael Herringer turns 20 (Jan 26), Tanner Wishnowski turns 19 (Jan 28) … Nine of Justin Kirkland’s 13 goals have been scored on the road this season….Jackson Whistle has started 25 of the last 34 games…The Rockets receive relief from the schedule maker when they play 9 of 10 at home from January 19th to February 8th….Cole Linaker has 98 career points …Answer to trivia: The Rockets have failed to visit the Seattle Thunderbirds. They will do that with games January 31st and February 9th.

Who’s Hot: Dillon Dube has 17 goals this season. The 17 year-old’s next goal will be a career high. Dube had 17 goals last season….Dube has 3+2=5 in his last four games… Nick Merkley has 1+3=4 in his last two games…Kole Lind has 5+3=8 in his last 5 games…Tyson Baillie had his six game point streak snapped last Wednesday night. Baillie had 6+4=10 over that stretch….Tyson Baillie has points in 25 of his last 30 games……Justin Kirkland has points in 10 of his last 16 games. Kirkland has 5+12=17 over that period.