Friday, May 22, 2015

Whistle solid in teams shaky start

Joe Gatenby battles in front of Zach Fucale - CHL Images

  • The Kelowna Rockets wasted a great effort from goaltender Jackson Whistle. The 19 year-old was the best player on the ice for the Western Hockey League champions Friday night in a 4-3 loss to the Quebec Remparts. The West Kelowna resident made timely stops against Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair in the one goal loss. The poke check against Duclair was brilliant early in the third period when the Remparts were holding a 2-1 lead, but a lazy back check allowed Ryan Graves to score a shorthanded goal to give the home team a 3-1 advantage. Whistle was so good, even leading Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Playoff MVP Adam Erne couldn't get a puck past Whistle until the undrafted goalie was on the bench for the extra attacker. It was only then that the Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick scored into an empty net for the eventual game winner. Whistle's effort mirrored that of first star Zach Fucale, who made 26 saves in the victory.
  • The Rockets looked rusty. No surprise considering they hadn't played after having eight full days off after a series sweep over Brandon. The team wasn't sharp and the Remparts had strong looks in the offensive zone in the opening period specifically. It could have been 2-0 for Quebec after the opening period had Anthony Duclair failed to finish off a gift wrapped turnover by Rockets captain Madison Bowey in front of his own net. The Arizona Coyotes product skated in all alone from the hash marks and beat Whistle with a wicked move but couldn't finish off the play on the forehand deke. Duclair ended the game with only one assist, but the 19 year-old was awfully dangerous all night and was the scariest Remparts forward. In my opinion, Duclair was a smidgen better than teammate Vladimir Tkachev, who was pretty darn crafty with the puck too.
  • The Rockets played from behind all night, which is tough to do when playing against elite competition. Down 3-1 early in the third period, Gage Quinney made it a one goal game before the Rockets again went down by two with Adam Erne's empty netter. Leon Draisaitl made it a one goal game again with a power play goal with 36 seconds left in the game. 
  • Leon Draisaitl had a really good game. I thought he made an impact every time he was on the ice. That said, the 19 year-old took a costly ten minute misconduct at the twenty minute mark of the second period, which meant he was lost to his team for the first half of the third period when they needed him the most. Draisaitl, including a four game sweep against Brandon in the WHL final, has now found the back of the net in five straight games.
  • The loss snapped a seven game winning streak for the WHL champions, who hadn't lost since game three of the Western Conference semi finals.
  • Positives? The power play went 2 for 6, but did give up a costly shorthanded goal. The unit has been quiet in the playoffs, but had some good looks in the Memorial Cup opener.
  • Negatives? Discipline. It has to be better in a tournament like this. If the other team wants to yap, let them and keep your mouth shut.     

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Back to where it all began


  • Arriving at the Colisee in Quebec City brought back great memories for Kelowna Rockets head coach Dan Lambert. Like a familiar friend, Lambert spoke glowingly about his time in the 15 thousand seat stadium that was once the home of the NHL's Quebec Nordiques from 1972 to 1995. Lambert made his debut in the Colisee after being drafted by the team in the 6th round in 1989. The iconic building, which is showing its age, will be demolished in September. The Quebec Remparts, who make the Colisee their home now, will move over to a brand new 18 thousand seat facility called the Videotron Centre. The hope in Quebec City is the 400 million dollar arena will find a new tenant in the way of an NHL team. It is a matter of when not if.  
  • While the memories were not quite as vivid for me when I entered the Colisee, many things looked similar after my last visit in 2003. It was the Kelowna Rockets first Memorial Cup appearance against teams like Kitchener, the Quebec Remparts and Hull in 03. Very little has changed in 12 years. The broadcast location is the same. The entrance is no different. The arena has a certain charm to it despite a tired appearance. The building reeks of great battles won and lost on the ice and the vastness of the facility from high above still has that feeling of a pro venue without the pro amenities that teams are now accustomed too. To think, outside of a rock concert with Metallica before its demolition, this is the last major event at the Colisee. It is a privilege to be here for major junior hockey's ultimate prize.
  • The flight directly to Quebec City was without incident which is always good to report. The most eventful part of the flight was seeing another jet flying past us in the other direction cruising at 37 thousand feet. Seeing the other jet in the distance, I had a better appreciation for how fast we were moving. The flight from Kelowna to Quebec City took 4 and a half hours.
  • After checking into the hotel in Quebec City, the Kelowna media core quickly took a shuttle to the Colisee where the coaches of all four teams were involved in a media conference. To be honest, little is ever said by the coaches but it is an official 'kick-off' to the 10 day tournament. As expected, many of the questions and answers were in French with Rockets head coach Dan Lambert speaking frequently over the 10 minute event. Quebec Remparts coach Philippe Boucher is fluent in English, having played in the NHL with Buffalo, LA, Dallas and Pittsburgh. Boucher is a 1st round NHL pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 1991.     
  • The Rockets were on the ice for a brief workout Thursday afternoon, but they were unable to skate at the Colisee. The reason? The new Memorial Cup logos were painted into place after Monday's conclusion of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final, so they needed to dry. That meant all on-ice workouts took place at an adjacent arena. I think it is important though that the Rockets get one quick skate in at the Colisee before puck drop tomorrow to get used to the boards, which in a building of that age, could create some odd bounces that the visitors need to be aware of.
  • Leon Draisaitl met with the media today in Quebec City. Much of the questioning revolved around him playing 37 games with the Edmonton Oilers. We have covered this story to nauseum on our broadcasts, but it is obviously of interest to visiting media, which is understandable. Draisaitl is one of two players at the Memorial Cup to play in an NHL game. The other is Quebec Remparts forward Anthony Duclair. Duclair played 18 games with the New York Rangers before being send back to junior hockey. Draisaitl and Duclair played against each other November 9th at Madison Square Garden. The Oilers won that game 3-1.
  • A great quote from Rockets head coach Dan Lambert at today's media conference. A member of the media asked him if Joe Sakic was a teammate of his when Lambert won the Memorial Cup in 1989 with the Swift Current Broncos. Lambert said, "No. We had to trade him away in order to win it". The comment gathered a large laugh from the assembled media who watched Sakic become a NHL super star in his seven seasons with the Quebec Nordiques.
  • It is only day two, but the shuttle services provided at the Memorial Cup is outstanding. The shuttle service allows teams and media to essentially move about the city without the use of a cab. A van is typically waiting outside a hotel where a driver will take you where you desire. I am so glad I didn't rent a vehicle. It really isn't necessary.
  • If you live in Quebec City, you speak French. It is the common language shared in these parts. That shouldn't come as a surprise. What has changed since my last visit in 2003 is the number of business people that do have a good grasp of the English language though. An increase in tourism may be a factor into why this city seems to be a little easier to get around in as a Western Canadian this time around.   
  • This is the third time the Rockets have competed for the Memorial Cup in the province of Quebec. It marks the first time the hotel that the team is staying at could be considered above average. I don't know this for fact, but I am assuming the WHL did a greater job in making sure the league representative was taken care of with a higher level of accommodation than what we witnessed in 2003 and again in 2009. Not like the hotels were poor, but they weren't exactly the Crown Plaza in Portland or the Delta Bow Valley in Calgary. 
  • A media scrum often provides some interesting questions. One reporter asked Dan Lambert why his team has no players numbers that exceed 31. Thirty one is worn by Jake Morrissey. The answer? Owner Bruce Hamilton is a traditionalist. The highest sweater number worn at the Memorial Cup is #96, fashioned by Quebec Remparts forward Zachery Moody.
  • Wednesday, May 20, 2015

    Rockets day in pictures

    Rookie Jordan Borstmayer doing grade 12 Calculus at 37,000 feet
    Gage Quinney getting some rest on the charter.
    Dan Lambert doing video work on aircraft.
    This is what they play for - the Memorial Cup!
    Centre ice at Colisee

    A high shot of the ice surface from the nose bleeds
    Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey has made the trip.
    Captain Madison Bowey heading onto aircraft bound for QC.

    High over the wing of the Rockets charter.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Martin reflects/neck guards/Lambert and Frey hope to create more magic at MC.

    Josh Morrissey and teammates wearing neck guards
    • Cole Martin was taking it all in. The 21 year-old defenceman was smelling the roses one final time as the Kelowna Rockets practiced for the final time this morning at Prospera Place. The WHL Champions will leave on a charter tomorrow morning for the 2015 Master Card Memorial Cup in Quebec City. It was the last time the Arlington, Texas resident will skate in Kelowna. In a week and half, Martin's time in the Western Hockey League will be over. Martin spent four great seasons in Kelowna and transformed into a player that only Rockets fans truly appreciated. Showing his maturity, Martin took in every moment in his final season of junior hockey and will leave with no regrets. Martin can go out his way. A WHL Champion and potentially a Memorial Cup Champion. Former team-mates Carter Rigby and Colton Heffley, who would love to be in Martin's skates, were not afforded the same luxury. 
    • It was an upbeat practice at Prospera Place this morning as the coaches kept the players sharp heading into the biggest tournament of their lives. The pace was quick. The smiles were evident and the mood seems lite with the Western Hockey League Champions. But don't be fooled into thinking the 'Angry Ogopogo's' are not a focused bunch. When the puck drops Friday night at the Colisee, look for the Western representative to be ready to prove that they are worthy champions. They have a massive goal in front of them. The 2015 Kelowna Rockets will try to win the Memorial Cup in the province of Quebec for the first time since the 1994 Kamloops Blazers accomplished the feat. The 1994 Blazers included former Kelowna Rockets head coach Ryan Huska.
    • The one thing that stood out for me at practice today was the neck guards the players were wearing. It is mandatory equipment at the Memorial Cup. I spoke to defenceman Josh Morrissey about them (pictured right) and the 20 year-old says they don't bother him. "We had to wear them at the World Juniors the last couple of years so it is no big deal to me. The last time we wore them full time was in our last year in midget. We have worn them all this week so we are used to them".
    • Watch Josh Morrissey's active stick. Is anyone better at defending with it than the Winnipeg Jets 1st round pick. 
    • Head Coach Dan Lambert is looking forward to returning to Quebec City, the starting point of his NHL career. Lambert made his Quebec Nordiques debut in the final home game at the Colisee in 1991, the last game that Guy Lafleur played in the NHL. Oddly enough, Lambert's first NHL game came against the Montreal Canadiens, the team Lafleur was with for 14 seasons.
    • Kelowna Rockets Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey will be in Quebec City for the Memorial Cup. Frey was unsure if he would attend until Lambert personally asked Frey to be there. Frey was an assistant coach to Lambert when the two were part of the Swift Current Broncos organization in 1989, the year they won the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon. Now the two are attempting to win the Cup as members of the coaching/management staff. 
    • I will be rooming in Quebec City with fellow media colleague Doyle Potenteau of the Kelowna Daily Courier. If everything goes according to plan, we will be spending the next 12 days with one another. Wish us luck that we don't tear each other's eyes out at tournaments end.  
    • The Rockets are making their fifth appearance at the Memorial Cup, with three of them played in the province of Quebec. At the 2003 tournament, oddly enough in Quebec City, the team had a record of 1 and 3 and were 2 and 2 at the 2009 Memorial Cup in Rimouski. Add those two tournament records together and the Rockets are 3 and 5 in eight games in Province de Quebec.
    • The French media attending the tournament in Quebec City are going to love Lambert. How many times do you have a French speaking coach from the Western Hockey League representative? At the 2009 tournament in Rimouski, the only Rockets representative with a good grasp of the language was forward Spencer Main. Main was often seen doing interviews with French language television.

    Friday, May 15, 2015

    Quick thoughts


    • Have you come down from that high after the Kelowna Rockets WHL Championship win Wednesday night over the Brandon Wheat Kings? People are still talking about it, and rightfully so. It was a six year wait between championships and people in these parts were hoping that the regular season success in 2013-2014 wouldn't end up in playoff failure this time around. Thankfully it didn't. 
    • Dan Lambert delivered the goods in his first season behind the Rockets bench, but he didn't hesitate in thanking Ryan Huska. I thought it was cool when Lambert thanked 'Husk' on the TV broadcast following the game. Lambert and Huska were inseparable when they worked together and the two had many conversations during the season, even though Huska was miles away in Adirondack. It shows no disrespect towards Lambert's current coaching staff, who did a fantastic job as a support to the first year head coach. Huska knew many of the current roster players so it only made sense for Lambert to get an outside opinion. You need to use outside resources if they are a phone call away. Lambert exercised that option and should be applauded for that.  
    • What role did Dan Bylsma play in all of this? Remember when the NHL coach spent time with the team in early March? Was he at anyway responsible for the turnaround in the penalty killing unit, which was just average during the regular season? At first I thought he had done some damage as the team didn't play very well upon his departure. I am sure the 'tweaks' he made were another reason why the Rockets are now WHL Champs!
    • My good friend Doyle Potenteau of the Kelowna Daily Courier mentioned this and I wanted to repeat it here on my blog. The Brandon Wheat Kings showed great class in the final 30 odd seconds of game four by simply allowing the Rockets to run out the clock and enjoy the celebration. No late hits. No pushing and shoving at the buzzer. The Wheat Kings lost with class/dignity. That all starts from the top with one man - Kelly McCrimmon.
    • It was awfully amazing to see this team win without having several key players in the line up for the long run through the playoffs. The team played without Josh Morrissey, Rourke Chartier, Gage Quinney and Tyrell Goulbourne for significant stretches and still won. These four players are not secondary citizens. They are first or second line contributors that would seriously handcuff any team if they were out of the line up. Depth prevailed and was clearly on display over the 19 game playoff run.
    • How about the officiating in the WHL final? How about the officiating in game four? Sure, the odd call was missed but I thought they did a terrific job. Again, they kept the whistles in the pockets and let the two teams play. Excellent work in my opinion.  How many penalties were called in a scoreless tie in the third period? One. A slash. Jeff Ingram and Brett Iverson....terrific work gentlemen by not being the focal point.  
    • Cole Linaker had one point in this series. The 19 year-old, who was a horse on the penalty killing unit, collected an assist on Leon Draisaitl's game winner shorthanded. I love the way he plays. No flash and dash in his game. 
    • Does anyone hunt down pucks better than Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley? Quit is not in their vocabulary.
    • I think the talk about the Rockets inside job to obtain Leon Draisaitl is bogus. It is all about contacts and connections in the hockey world. If you have those relationships you use them. Does Portland have connections and a pipeline to European born players? Does Kelly McCrimmon have an inside edge on Manitoba born players that allows him to make smart, calculated moves at the bantam draft table? Do the Calgary Hitmen have inroads to obtain solid Russian born players? The Oilers wanted Draisaitl in a good spot. They were familar with Bruce Hamilton and felt comfortable that Draisaitl would prosper here. Was Matt Dumba shopped around the WHL when the Minnesota Wild wanted to send him back to junior? Likely not. The Wild wanted him to go to a contender and the Rebels and Winterhawks made it happen.
    • The last WHL team to win the Memorial Cup when it was hosted in Quebec was the 1994 Kamloops Blazers. Who was on that team? An 18 year-old by the name of Ryan Huska.

    Thursday, May 14, 2015

    16 and 3 adds up to Ed Chynoweth Cup!!!

    2015 WHL Champions - Marissa Baecker


  • Shocked. Amazed. Elated. Those are just some of the feelings after the Kelowna Rockets series sweep of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League final. I believed the Rockets would win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, but like all of you, not in a four game sweep. The team just got better as time moved along. Credit to the coaches and players for coming together for the common good and peaking at just the right time. I remember all of the struggles that went on following the acquisition of Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey in January. Did the trades upset the apple cart? Was all team chemistry lost? I was thinking it. Maybe even the players were questioning it too? Regardless, they came together, put ego's aside and turned into a powerhouse team that wouldn't be derailed, even against their playoff nemesis, the Portland Winterhawks.
  • A quick thought on what that playoff series win over the Winterhawks meant. It meant a ton for the players and for the entire organization. In fact, some thanks must be given to the Winterhawks for pushing the Rockets the way they did in the six game series. By playing with pace and skating with a high degree of tempo, the Western Conference Championship series prepared the eventually Western Conference Champions for the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Rockets confidence sky-rocketed as a result of that series win and the mental edge of feeling unstoppable was clearly evident in the league final.
  • Leon. Oh, Leon. The German greeted me in the dressing room when I walked in after our broadcast concluded. I am not sure he expected me to hug him, but I did. Not one to often smile, Draisaitl was genuinely excited about winning the WHL title and celebrating with teammates who he had to get to know in a hurry when he made his Rockets debut on January 7th against the Vancouver Giants. Sure, Draisaitl got my vote for playoff MVP, but wasn't it obvious? He was a stud. A horse. A go-to-guy. Leon Draisaitl is what we thought he would be. Draisaitl did not disappoint and despite his small body of work (51 games regular season/playoffs), the 'Squirm'n German' will go down as one of the greats of all time wearing Kelowna Rockets colours. 
  • I thought one of the special moments on the night was when I entered the Rockets dressing room and the number of former players were gathered inside congratulating the current team. Shea Weber, Josh Gorges, Chris Ray, Cam Paddock, Simon Ferguson, Michal Blanar and Brett Palin to name just a few. It was also nice to hug some of my favourite players that have been with the team for years and were unable to see their season end appropriately. Cole Martin is one such player who thanked me for what I've done. I haven't done anything outside of telling those who would listen how valuable the Texan was to the overall scope of the team. It was a great moment on a personal level as we then had a photo with my radio partner Gord McGarva holding the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Thanks to 'Tyson Time', Tyson Baillie for being the official photographer.
  • Who am I most happy for? Dan Lambert. It is an easy choice. Like Ryan Huska, as personable as they come, Lambo had pressure to deliver a winner after GM Bruce Hamilton stacked the deck with the acquisition of Draisaitl, Morrissey, Braid and Quinney. Lambert did a great job guiding the ship and undoubtedly would give credit to former coach Ryan Huska for helping shape the team for its successful playoff run. The St. Malo, Manitoba resident now has won the WHL title in four straight games as a player (1989 sweep vs. Portland) and now as a head coach (2015 sweep vs. Brandon).
  • Did Nick Merkley impressed NHL scouts in this WHL Championship series? The 17 year-old proved a point that he can take the rough going and can deliver with excellent play making and a tenacious forecheck. I am not sure if Merkley improved his stock for June's draft, but he didn't hurt it. Only Leon Draisaitl had more playoff points (28) than Merkley (27).
  • Nine shorthanded goals in the playoffs! What is that all about? The team had 13 during the course of 72 regular season games. Those nine (9) shorthanded goals in the playoffs are the most in over 20 years. The Calgary Hitmen had 8 in 1999 and Red Deer had 7 in 2001.
  • Jackson Whistle made 19 saves for his 4th shutout of the 2015 playoffs. That ties a team record set by Kelly Guard (2003) and repeated by Derek Yeomans (2005).    
  • Rourke Chartier's 13 goals scored in the 2015 playoffs, matches the club record for goals in the playoffs. Jamie Benn and Mikael Backlund had 13 apiece in 2009.
  • Now on to Quebec City for the 2015 Memorial Cup. Funny how the Colisee (built in 1949) is where it all began for this franchise when they debuted there in the spring of 2003. Oh, Dan Lambert also played in that building in the early 90's as a member of the Quebec Nordiques. 
  • Champions!!

    Madison Bowey in pure ecstasy - Shoot the Breeze Photography 
    Billy Joel said it best - oh what a night! More later.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2015

    Game four. You ready?

    Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to game four of the Western Hockey League Championship series. The Kelowna Rockets lead the Brandon Wheat Kings three games to none in the best of seven series after a 4-3 win in game one, a 5-3 victory in game two and a 5-3 victory in game three. Game four (Tonight) and if necessary game five (Friday) will be played at Prospera Place. If a game six is also needed, it will be played in Brandon on Sunday night. These two teams met only once this season, October 22nd in Kelowna, with the Rockets earning a 6-1 win. The Rockets advanced with series wins over Tri City, Victoria and Portland. This is the Rockets fourth appearance in the finals since relocating from Tacoma to Kelowna for the start of the 1995-1996 season. The team has won every time they have appeared in the championship series including wins over Red Deer (2003), Brandon (2005) and Calgary (2009).

    What we’ve learned so far: The Wheat Kings have opened the scoring in two of the three games…The Rockets have out-scored Brandon 14-9 in the first three games…The Rockets have out-scored the Wheat Kings 6-3 in the second period and 5-3 in the first frame…How close is this series? Kelowna has out-shot Brandon 103-98…The Rockets are 1 for 9 on the power play in the first three games and have scored two shorthanded goal while the Wheat Kings are 4 for 10 with the extra man…Madison Bowey is a +7 rating in the series, tops among Rockets players. Josh Morrissey is +7.   

    Scoring in the series:
    Period:             1    2    3  Total
    Rockets:          5    6    3    14
    Wheat Kings:  3    3    3     9

    Big night for Baillie? Nineteen year-old Tyson Baillie is two points shy of tying Tyler Mosienko for the most career playoff points by a Kelowna Rockets player. Baillie has 23+30=53, while Mosienko is the franchise leader with 20+35=55. Nick Merkley moved into third spot all time with three assists in game three. Merkley has 46 points in 39 playoff games, surpassing Tyson Barrie and Jamie Benn, with both players collecting 44 points in their careers. (Benn:16+28=44 in 26 games) (Barrie 10+34=44 in 51 games).

    Hot to Trot: Dillon Dube has 3+4=7 in his last five games…Leon Draisaitl has a seven game point streak. The 19 year-old has 5+5=10 over that period. Draisaitl has points in 16 of the 18 playoff games in 2015…Tyson Baillie has a seven game point streak. Baillie has 3+8=11 over that period….Baillie has a point in 17 of the 18 playoff games in 2015. The only game where he didn’t record a point was in game two of the Western Conference final vs. Portland….Nick Merkley has two goals and nine assists in his last six games. Merkley has points in 15 of the 18 playoff games the Rockets have been involved in.

    This and That: Who was the last Kelowna Rockets rookie head coach to lead his team to a WHL title? Jeff Truitt took over for the departed Marc Habscheid following the 2003-2004 season and promptly led the Rockets to a WHL Championship victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2005…The team record for shutouts in a playoff is four. Kelly Guard had four shutouts in the 2003 post season while Derek Yeomans also had four in 2005. Current goalie Jackson Whistle has three shutouts in the 2015 post season….The Kelowna Rockets are riding a six game winning streak. The last loss was game three of the Western Conference final against the Portland Winterhawks….Nick Merkley is the WHL Player of the Week. Merkley collected two goals and one assists in back-to-back wins in Brandon in game one and two of the WHL Championship series…Sixteen year-old Cal Foote has signed a player contract with the Kelowna Rockets. Foote was the team’s second round pick in the 2013 WHL bantam draft. Foote is the son of former NHLer Adam Foote. Foote resides in Engelwood, Colorado….Outside of Dan Lambert, name the last Western Hockey League rookie coach to lead his team to the league final? The answer is Kevin Constantine of the Everett Silvertips. Constantine led the Tips to a birth in the WHL final where they were swept in four straight games by the Medicine Hat Tigers…Nick Merkley’s two goals in game two snapped a nine game goal scoring drought. Merkley’s last goal prior to Saturday was April 14th in a second round series against Victoria…Rourke Chartier has goals in six of his last eight playoff games…What a year of experience makes. Gage Quinney had 0+0=0 in four playoff games last season with the Prince Albert Raiders. In the 2015 post season, the Las Vegas product has 6+7=13 in 14 games…This is the 91st game of the season for the Rockets this evening. That includes 72 regular season games and now its 18th playoff game…Rourke Chartier was named the Western Hockey League Sportsmanlike Player of the Year at the WHL awards banquet last Wednesday. Chartier had 18 penalty minutes in 51 regular season games…The Kelowna Rockets were given the Marketing and Business Award at Wednesday’s luncheon in Calgary…Madison Bowey has 48 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season …Cole Martin has 48 playoff games on his resume….In total, the Rockets have 624 games of playoff experience in the lineup this evening…Rourke Chartier had 6 goals in 14 games in last year’s playoffs. In this year’s post season, the now 19 year-old (turned 19 April 3rd) has twelve goals in fifteen games….Only two Rockets celebrate birthdays in May. Joe Gatenby turns 18 on May 15th while Nick Merkley blows out the same number of candles on May 23rd….The Rockets are 15 and 3 in post season…This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history…The Rockets have been involved in eight-one goal games in this year’s playoffs. They are 6-2 in those eight games…Leon Draisaitl has played 50 games with the Kelowna Rockets (regular season/playoff). The 19 year-old has 28+51=79.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    Are they the most dangerous line in junior hockey?


    • Is it the best line in junior hockey? In game two, Kelowna Rockets head coach Dan Lambert decided to put Leon Draisaitl with Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley. The trio were reunited in game three and what was the end result? They combined for eight points in a 5-3 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings Monday night and a three games to none lead in the Western Hockey League Championship series. Chartier had two goals and an assist, Draisaitl had a goal and an assist while Merkey had three helpers before the largest crowd of the season (6,271).
    • Rockets head coach Dan Lambert on putting those three together. "We put them together in the first period of game two because we needed a spark. We were down 1-0 at the time and they went out and scored on their first shift together".
    • This was the most wide open game of the series. This was the type of track meet the Wheat Kings want to be involved in. The first ten minutes was amazing to watch as the two teams traded blows like championship boxers. The Wheat Kings likely have a stronger skill set, as a team, but I think it is safe to say the ability to execute at opportune times favours the Rockets. Just when you thought the Wheat Kings were coming on, a veteran Rockets player would make a significant play to douse any hope of the visitors coming back in the game.
    • The Rockets never trailed in this one. Leon Draisaitl opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal and helped the home team to a 2-1 lead after twenty minutes and a 4-2 advantage after 40 minutes. Unlike what we saw in the Western Conference final where the Rockets were always chasing the game against the Winterhawks, the Western Conference Champions are making the Wheat Kings play from behind.
    • Which goal was the biggest in game three? Leon Draisaitl's shorthanded goal was massive as the Rockets opened up the scoring for the first time in this series. Or was it Dillon Dube's goal to make the score 3-1 in the second period? I thought relief came in the third period when Rourke Chartier scored his second goal of the game to make it a two goal differential, especially considering Brandon was really coming on at that point of the game.
    • Jackson Whistle out-goaltended (is that a word?) Wheat Kings netminder Jordan Papirny. Papriny fought the puck in game three. 
    • This series is being won with the two teams skating at even strength. The Rockets have fourteen (14) goals in this series. Of those fourteen, a remarkable ten (10) of them have been scored when the two teams have the same number of skaters on the ice. Brandon has scored nine goals (9) in this series, with only four coming while playing five-on-five.
    • This is how the Rockets goals have been scored in this series. Ten have come even strength or when the two teams are playing the same number of players on the ice. Two have come shorthanded with one being a power play goal and one coming into an empty net.   
    • This was also the most physical game of the series. The Wheat Kings attempted to up the physical play, with no better of a body check applied than the one Jayce Hawryluk had on Rockets d-man Josh Morrissey in the second period. Unfortunately for Hawryluk, he is a series worst -9 in the first three games.
    • It marked the first time this season the Wheat Kings have dropped three straight games.  
    • The Rockets have won 6 straight games and are clearly peaking at the right time. Props to the players and coaches for making that happen. Playing with confidence/moxie and a certain cockiness, which all champions tend to have is awfully fun to watch.
    • It was nice to see Shea Weber, Josh Gorges, Wade Redden and Jordin Tootoo all in the building last night. All four make Kelowna their off season home.
    • Congratulations to Cal Foote for signing with the Kelowna Rockets. The 16 year-old (December 16th, 1998) was the teams second round puck in 2013. The entire Foote family, including ex-NHLer Adam Foote, took in last night's game.  
    • The last four game sweep in the WHL final was in 2008 when the Spokane Chiefs, led by Tyler Johnson, eliminated the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

    Monday, May 11, 2015

    You ready?

    Jackson Whistle fist bumps Rourke Chartier 
    Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to game three of the Western Hockey League Championship series. The Kelowna Rockets lead the Brandon Wheat Kings two games to none in the best of seven series after a 4-3 win in game one and a 5-3 victory in game two. Game three (tonight), four (Wednesday) and if necessary five (Friday) will be played at Prospera Place. If a game six is also needed, it will be played in Brandon on Sunday night. These two teams met only once this season, October 22nd in Kelowna, with the Rockets earning a 6-1 win. The Rockets advanced with series wins over Tri City, Victoria and Portland. This is the Rockets fourth appearance in the finals since relocating from Tacoma to Kelowna for the start of the 1995-1996 season. The team has won every time they have appeared in the championship series including wins over Red Deer (2003), Brandon (2005) and Calgary (2009).

    What we’ve learned so far: The Wheat Kings have opened the scoring in both games…The Rockets have out-scored Brandon 9-6 in the first two games…The Rockets have out-scored the Wheat Kings 4-2 in the second period and 3-2 in the first frame…How close is this series? Kelowna has out-shot Brandon 71-69…The Rockets are 1 for 4 on the power play in the first two games and have scored a shorthanded goal while the Wheat Kings are 3 for 7 with the extra man…Madison Bowey is a +6 rating in the series, tops among Rockets players. Josh Morrissey is +4.  

    Scoring in the series:
    Period:             1    2    3  Total
    Rockets:          3    4    2     9
    Wheat Kings:  2    2    2     6

    Hot to Trot: Dillon Dube has 2+4=6 in his last four games…Leon Draisaitl has a six game point streak. The 19 year-old has 4+4=8 over that period. Draisaitl has points in 15 of the 17 playoff games in 2015…Tyson Baillie has a six game point streak. Baillie has 3+7=10 over that period….Baillie has a point in 16 of the 17 playoff games in 2015. The only game where he didn’t record a point was in game two of the Western Conference final vs. Portland….Nick Merkley has two goals and six assists in his last five games. Merkley has points in 14 of the 17 playoff games the Rockets have been involved in.

    So Good All Season: The Kelowna Rockets and Brandon Wheat Kings each earned 53 wins this season. The Rockets had one more win on the road than the Wheat Kings, who had one more victory on home ice. If you combined their regular season records, they accumulated 106 wins and only 24 losses in 144 games. The two teams were 1-2 in scoring with Brandon finding the back of the net 340 times and Kelowna scoring 305 goals. The Rockets owned the best power play during the regular season (26.2%) while the Wheat Kings were a close second (25.7%). What are the chances that the teams would have identical playoff records heading into this series? Obviously, very good. The Rockets longest losing streak this season was two games. How about the Wheat Kings? One!  


    This and That: The Kelowna Rockets are riding a five game winning streak. The last loss was game three of the Western Conference final against the Portland Winterhawks….Outside of Dan Lambert, name the last Western Hockey League rookie coach to lead his team to the league final? The answer is Kevin Constantine of the Everett Silvertips. Constantine led the Tips to a birth in the WHL final where they were swept in four straight games by the Medicine Hat Tigers…Why is game four in this series slated for Wednesday night and not Tuesday? Canadian jazz pianist Diana Krall will be performing at Prospera Place Tuesday evening…Nick Merkley’s two goals in game two snapped a nine game goal scoring drought. Merkley’s last goal prior to Saturday was April 14th in a second round series against Victoria….Merkley has 43 points in 38 career playoff games…Rourke Chartier has goals in five of his last seven playoff games…What a year of experience makes. Gage Quinney had 0+0=0 in four playoff games last season with the Prince Albert Raiders. In the 2015 post season, the Las Vegas product has 5+6=11 in 13 games….Tyson Baillie was named the WHL Player of the Week last week. Baillie collected seven points (2+5=7) in four games to help the Rockets beat the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Conference Championship series…This is the 90th game of the season for the Rockets this evening. That includes 72 regular season games and now its 17th playoff game…Rourke Chartier was named the Western Hockey League Sportsmanlike Player of the Year at the WHL awards banquet last Wednesday. Chartier had 18 penalty minutes in 51 regular season games…The Kelowna Rockets were given the Marketing and Business Award at Wednesday’s luncheon in Calgary…Madison Bowey has 47 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season …Cole Martin has 47 playoff games on his resume….In total, the Rockets have 605 games of playoff experience in the lineup this evening…Rourke Chartier had 6 goals in 14 games in last year’s playoffs. In this year’s post season, the now 19 year-old (turned 19 April 3rd) has ten goals in fourteen games….Only two Rockets celebrate birthdays in May. Joe Gatenby turns 18 on May 15th while Nick Merkley blows out the same number of candles on May 23rd….The Rockets are 14 and 3 in post season…This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history….These two teams are meeting for the second time in the playoffs. In the 2005 final, the Rockets won the series in five games. That season the Rockets had home ice advantage under the same 2-3-2 format…The Rockets have been involved in eight-one goal games in this year’s playoffs. They are 6-2 in those eight games…In the 2005 WHL final, the Rockets beat the Wheat Kings in game one and two at Prospers Place by scores of 3-0 and 4-1….After beating the Calgary Hitmen twice in the 2009 WHL Championship series as the road team, the Rockets returned to Prospera Place and won game three 2-0 with Mark Guggenberger making 21 saves in the victory.

    Sunday, May 10, 2015

    Back with two wins and next three on home soil

    The charter flight the two teams were on landing in Kelowna on Sunday
    • Up, up and away. The Kelowna Rockets are headed home with two wins in their back pocket after 4-3 and 5-3 triumphs in game one and two of the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Am I surprised? I am and I am not. When two teams meet in a playoff series where they know little about each other outside of one game and watching hours and hours of video, the element of surprise is always present. That element of surprise likely came into play more so in game one than in game two. One team under their breath was likely saying after game one, “They compete harder or play with more pace than we anticipated”. After game two, the seed of doubt can creep in for one team while the confidence grows with the other.
    • Nick Merkley showed how clutch he is with a game winning shorthanded goal in Saturday’s 5-3 win. Top end players make that play. Merkley made no mistake as he calmly took a pass from Rourke Chartier and made a nice forehand deek to beat Jordon Papirny through the legs. NHL scouts in attendance must have liked that move and the way he absorbed a hit with fellow draft eligible defenceman Ivan Provorov. Provorov attempted to lay the boom on Merkley, who niftily took the check and stayed on his feet.
    • The two teams are more of a contrast in styles than I originally believed. Brandon seems to be all or nothing with their play. It is peddle to the floor fast hockey. When that happens, look out! The Rockets play more of a calculated, tactical style of game where they wait for the opportunity to pounce. They can trade chances with you but it isn’t a 100 meter sprint to the finish line with the Western Conference Champions.  It is a hard sprint at times but it is followed by a brisk jog.
    • What this series comes down to is execution. Who executes the best in a particular moment can dictate the outcome of the game. Right now, after two games, the Rockets are clearly executing better. Both teams have had missed chances offensively, but I think it would be safe to say that the ‘Angry Ogopogos’ have had better finish.
    • Bounces always play a factor in a team’s success, or lack thereof. The bad bounce the Rockets received in game two was when a Wheat Kings defenceman’s shot from the blue line hit a shin pad, went right on the stick of forward John Quennville, who promptly delivered it to the net. You can’t defend that. The shooting lane is covered but a wicked bounce on an awaiting stick and the game is tied at three.
    • The goaltending battle has been an interesting one in this series. Jordon Papirny stole the show in game one with two terrific glove hand saves, yet also allowed two questionable goals in a game one loss. Jackson Whistle was clearly the better goaltender in game two, and had to be considering he was facing a great number of quality shots. Whistle made several solid stops in game two and used his size perfectly on a Rihard Bukarts in-tight chance in the second period to keep the score 3-1.  
    • Again, the crowds in Brandon were outstanding. Over 55 hundred strong took in game two of this epic series. It was not only fun hockey to watch but the electrifying crowd also made it quite the spectacle.
    • Silent killer? Gage Quinney. I think the 19 year-old has had a heck of a series. Not one to find the score sheet on a regular basis, I think his contribution in this series has been immense. Quinney is dangerous with the puck and makes great passes to set up linemates.
    • Game three is massive. You may scoff at that notion from the Kelowna Rockets standpoint, but you are playing with fire here. You have to respect fire. You have to respect the Wheat Kings.  You can’t give a marquee team any life….not even a single breath. Yes, the Rockets are in the driver’s seat but things can change quickly in a series. Remember, the Rockets in 2009 won game one and two on the road and earned a 2-0 win in game three at home. Eventually Kelowna would lose back-to-back games (6-1 and 6-2) and momentum was moving to the Hitmen's side. After being out-scored 12-3 in games four and five, the Rockets squeezed out a 3-2 home ice win in overtime to advance to the Memorial Cup.

    Saturday, May 9, 2015

    Scattered thoughts on game one

    Best beard on the team? Sixteen year-old Dillon 'Hairy' Dube

    • Big win last night. They are all big wins at this time of the year but capturing game one in this 2-3-2 format in the WHL final is huge. I thought the Kelowna Rockets played like a team that hadn't been in a competitive situation in four days. They started slow, which is typical, but were better as the game went along. Leon Draisaitl really stood out for me and frankly should have received third star recognition for his efforts. You have to remember though, in a one goal game, the chances of the home team picking up two of the three stars are awfully slim.
    • While the Wheat Kings will look at the two shaky goals Jordan Papirny allowed in game one, how about the two massive saves he made on Rourke Chartier and Dillon Dube? I thought the Rockets had numerous chances to score...more than I anticipated. And to be honest with you, I didn't think Brandon created that many. Seriously, the golden chances they did get they scored on. Did Jackson Whistle make one big save? Did he steal a goal away from the Wheat Kings? If so, name it.
    • I thought the officiating crew did a great job in call game one. The Brandon fans won't like it because it doesn't allow their power play to dictate the outcome of the game. Nit picky calls aren't necessary when two clean, highly skilled teams are competing in this championship series. Little pushing or shoving was witnessed after the play. The officiating in the entire playoffs - for the most part - has been above average because they have allowed the teams to decide the game on the ice.
    • High five to the Brandon crowd. Game one was outstanding. Over 55 hundred strong took in game one and were loud and loving it. Great job Brandon!!
    • The only problem I see with the strong crowds is the washroom access in Westman Place. Crazy lines can been seen throughout the building as people patiently stand and wait for the use of the 'facilities'. Beer consumption is high in the building, or it appeared to be as I walked through the concourse attempting to find a washroom. I may have to bring a Slurpy cup up to the broadcast booth!! Kidding. For those who have no idea what that means...please move on.
    • I loved Bruce Hamilton's comment at the Friday press conference before the puck was dropped to start the Ed Chynoweth Cup. "Honestly it gets tiring hearing that he (Lambert) inherited such a good team.  (Lambert) has been hands on for four or five years with learning how to coach. (Lambert) has come along with a lot of these players.  He was tutored by a really good head coach and I think there is a lot of Ryan Huska in him".   
    • I ran into David Schulz' uncle in the hotel lobby. I was informed Schulz is now an RCMP officer in Manitoba. Schulz, who is from Winkler, was a member of the Kelowna Rockets during the 2006-2007 season.    
    • Nice running into WHL referee Jeff Ingram this morning. The embarrassing part was I didn't even know who he was as we made small talk in the elevator. The WHL really should have photos of these guys who do thankless work of calling games at this elite level. Two minutes in the box for 'no photo recognition'!
    • Great quote from Wheat Kings Head Coach Kelly McCrimmon before game one Friday night when explaining his teams confidence in scoring goals. They found the back of the net a league high 340 times this season. "We have to focus on defending their top end guys and they have to do the same. We always prepare in the playoffs for a 3-2 win. That's how we try to play. The confidence we have is that we have a lot of guys that can get us to three".
    • Gas in Brandon today? 97.9 cents a litre. Hello!!!
    • The sun is shining in Brandon. It is the first time it has been out and we are entering day four. It was rainy when we arrived and windy. Oh the wind. As a kid growing up in Saskatchewan windy days were a normal part of life. You didn't think about it. It was always present. Then I moved to BC, where windy days are rare. 
    • It was nice to bump into Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun at the morning skate. Wiebe will join me in the first intermission of tonight's broadcast. We will talk about Winnipeg Jets prospect Josh Morrissey and his impressions of Winnipeg born Madison Bowey. Wiebe told me he was listed by the Swift Current Broncos in the 90's.  
    • Does the ice at Westman Place not benefit the team holding the lead in the third period? It snows up so bad for the team attempting to find the equalizer, it is tough to execute when the ice is that bad. It looks snowy from the press box. Maybe it isn't so bad for those who are playing on it?  
    • Talk to you on the radio at 5 o'clock BC time. Kris Westblom will join me again as my special colour commentator. 'Westy' got his feet wet last night. Looking forward to having him on the airwaves for game two. 

    Friday, May 8, 2015

    Rockets ready themselves for battle with Brandon


    Tonight’s Preview: Welcome to the Western Hockey League Championship series. The Kelowna Rockets are meeting the Brandon Wheat Kings in a seven game series featuring the top two teams in the league during the regular season. The Wheat Kings had two more points than the Rockets to earn home ice advantage in this epic battle. Game two is tomorrow night in Brandon before the series shifts back to Kelowna for games next Monday, Wednesday and Friday night. These two teams met only once this season, October 22nd in Kelowna, with the Rockets earning a 6-1 win. The Rockets advanced with series wins over Tri City, Victoria and Portland. This is the Rockets fourth appearance in the finals since relocating from Tacoma to Kelowna for the start of the 1995-1996 season. The team has won every time they have appeared in the championship series including wins over Red Deer (2003), Brandon (2005) and Calgary (2009).

    So Good All Season: The Kelowna Rockets and Brandon Wheat Kings each earned 53 wins this season. The Rockets had one more win on the road than the Wheat Kings, who had one more victory on home ice. If you combined their regular season records, they accumulated 106 wins and only 24 losses in 144 games. The two teams were 1-2 in scoring with Brandon finding the back of the net 340 times and Kelowna scoring 305 goals. The Rockets owned the best power play during the regular season (26.2%) while the Wheat Kings were a close second (25.7%). What are the chances that the teams would have identical playoff records heading into this series? Obviously, very good. The Rockets longest losing streak this season was two games. How about the Wheat Kings? One!   

    Rockets–Winterhawks Recap: The Rockets advanced to the league final with a six game series win over the four time defending Western Conference champion Portland Winterhawks. The Rockets won games one, four, five and six. Three of the four wins were by a single goal with one going into overtime. The only lopsided victory was an 8-4 triumph in the series clinching game six.

    Hot to Trot: Dillon Dube has 2+2=4 in his last two games…Leon Draisaitl has a four game point streak. The 19 year-old has 2+3=5 over that period. Draisaitl has points in 13 of the 15 playoff games in 2015…Tyson Baillie has a four game point streak. Baillie has 2+5=7 over that period….Baillie has a point in 14 of the 15 playoff games in 2015. The only game where he didn’t record a point was in game two of the Western Conference final vs. Portland….Nick Merkley has five assists in his last three games. Merkley has points in 13 of the 15 playoff games the Rockets have been involved in.


    This and That: Tyson Baillie is the WHL Player of the Week. Baillie collected seven points (2+5=7) in four games to help the Rockets beat the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Conference Championship series…This is the 88th game of the season for the Rockets this evening. That includes 72 regular season games and now its 16th playoff game…Rourke Chartier was named the Western Hockey League Sportsmanlike Player of the Year at the WHL awards banquet on Wednesday. Chartier had 18 penalty minutes in 51 regular season games…The Kelowna Rockets were given the Marketing and Business Award at Wednesday’s luncheon in Calgary…Madison Bowey has 45 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season …Cole Martin has 45 playoff games on his resume….In total, the Rockets have 567 games of playoff experience in the lineup this evening…Rourke Chartier had 6 goals in 14 games in last year’s playoffs. In this year’s post season, the now 19 year-old (turned 19 April 3rd) has nine goals in twelve games….Only two Rockets celebrate birthdays in May. Joe Gatenby turns 18 on May 15th while Nick Merkley blows out the same number of candles on May 23rd….The Rockets are 12 and 3 in post season. This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history….These two teams are meeting for the second time in the playoffs. In the 2005 final, the Rockets won the series in five games. That season the Rockets had home ice advantage under the same 2-3-2 format…The Rockets have been involved in seven-one goal games in this year’s playoffs. They are 5-2 in those seven games…In the 2005 WHL final between the Rockets and Wheat Kings, Derek Yeomans and Kristofer Westblom earned the shutout in a game one 3-0 victory….Rockets head coach Dan Lambert and Wheat Kings forward Nolan Patrick were on the same team at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in Sarnia, Ontario in November…Leon Draisaitl had 3+4=7 in three games last season – in Brandon – as a member of the Prince Albert Raiders…A crazy game at Westman Place the last time the Rockets visited on December 13, 2013. The Wheat Kings had a 5-3 lead with 2:20 left in regulation time. Ryan Olsen would score with 38 seconds remaining in regulation time to make it a one goal game. Myles Bell would score with nine seconds remaining to tie it before Bell found the back of the net at the 2:52 mark over overtime in a shocking 6-5 win.   

    Thursday, May 7, 2015

    Welcome to Brandon!!


    Josh Morrissey at practice in Brandon
    • Welcome to Friendly Manitoba!! We've arrived in the land of 'milk and honey' according to Kelowna Rockets head coach Dan Lambert. Lambert is from nearby St. Malo, which means his dad and mom and likely a few siblings will be in attendance at one or both games at Westman Place.
    • It is great to be here. Twenty other teams can only wish for the chance to compete for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. It is a hard trophy to win. In my opinion the hardest. I still believe it is the greatest prize despite those that feel the Memorial Cup holds that honour. The Memorial Cup is a crap shoot and it is essentially a one game showdown. Hockey turns into football where the best team on that day wins. In the Ed Chynoweth Cup, the best team is decided over a seven game series. If a team can beat another four times, I think that is a pretty good indication of who is better.
    • It is raining here. When the Rockets landed Wednesday afternoon at Brandon's 'air field', it was raining fairly significantly. As one local told me, "We need the rain. It has been very dry here. The farmers need it". I have heard that phrase a thousand times growing up in Saskatchewan. We never had enough rain and then when it was raining they would say "we have too much". 
    • Rourke Chartier practiced Thursday at Westman Place. Does he ever look good. Can skate. Can shoot. Looked fresh to be honest with you. Will we see him in this series? Oh, the element of surprise.
    • A nice vibe around the city for the WHL final. That is why the league must never look away at the smaller market teams. Is Brandon a smaller market? Probably not, but the hype in this city for the junior team is wide spread. Nothing against Edmonton, but isn't it nice that another team in the Eastern Conference can be involved in the championship final? Edmonton and Portland have owned this time of the year for what feels like years. Oh ya, for the Winterhawks it has been four straight appearance in the league final.
    • A high five to the Brandon Sun. The local newspaper is all about the Wheat Kings this week and rightfully so. An excellent read in the morning as we have breakfast at the hotel. Who reads the newspaper anymore? I do!! Speaking of media, this series is getting a lot of attention from those in nearby Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Sun is covering this series and I understand a solid TV contingent will also be here. Josh Morrissey is a first round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, so a story on him playing in the WHL Championship is enough to persuade those in the Manitoba capital.
    • Like the Canucks, the Kelowna Rockets again have two brother's that could potentially play on the team in the near future. Nolan Foote, the son of ex-NHLer Adam Foote, was drafted in the second round by Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey. The Rockets picked Cal Foote in the second round last summer. The sense is the two will play with the Rockets. This is not a gamble on Frey's behalf. Both are American born players who appear to be committed to the Kelowna Rockets program. Cal attended camp this past fall but has not signed a player contract. My belief is now that both brothers are Rockets property, that will happen.
    • The ice at Westman Place is interesting. It reacts the same way outdoor ice would. It is extremely hard and quick but snows up easily. Wayne Pansegrau, Okanagan's version of the 'Ice Whisperer', would suggest that if the ice snows up easily the arena is too cold. If it was melting snow, that is bad news obviously. Pansegrau is an authority on ice after being part of the ice making crew at several NHL outdoor classic games. New logo's on the ice for the WHL final also means new ice has had to form over top of it, which could also factor in it snowing up easily. The more it's skated on, the better it will get.
    • Westman Place is an older facility but has a certain old school charm about it. The training staff like the relatively new visitors dressing room (it is the second time we've used it) which allows extra locker room seating for the 'Black Aces'. Who are the 'Black Aces'? They are considered the players that practice with the team but don't play. That would include Tate Coughlin, Jake Morrissey, Jordan Bortsmayer and Cole Lind.   

    Tuesday, May 5, 2015

    Notes, quotes and anecdotes


    Rockets and Wheat Kings collide in WHL final -Shoot the Breeze Photography
    • The Kelowna Rockets have something in common with the Brandon Wheat Kings and it has nothing to do with both team's successes this season. The Rockets and Wheat Kings were both eliminated in the Memorial Cup in subsequent years by the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires. The Rockets lost 4-1 in the 2009 final to Taylor Hall in Rimouski, Quebec while the Wheat Kings fell victim to Hall again at the 2010 tournament which was hosted in Brandon.
    • I am excited to announce former Kelowna Rockets goaltender Kristopher Westblom will join me in the broadcast booth for both games in Brandon. Westblom will essentially be Gord McGarva...ok not as funny. Westblom is now working in the Brandon area as an accountant, finance and project management. The Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan resident just retired from hockey and should provide an interesting perspective. You may remember he was the starting goaltender in four of the five games for the Rockets in the WHL Championship back in 2005.
    • Injuries. There are no injuries in the playoffs are there? 
    • Name the Wheat Kings defenceman who took out Rockets starting goaltender Derek Yeomans in game one of the 2005 WHL Championship? The answer at the bottom of the page.
    • Cole Linaker has never played for a championship. Now, the 19 year-old is getting his first taste of winning the elusive Ed Chynoweth Cup. "I have never been on any winning team. I never did much growing up. I was always on one of the weaker teams", Linaker told me at practice on Tuesday. "I am really excited to be on this team now and being in the position we are in".
    • The captain of Ryan Huska's American Hockey League's Adirondack Flames split his duties playing junior hockey in Kelowna and Brandon. Thirty-four year-old Nolan Yonkman played a full three seasons in the Okanagan from 1997-2000 before being traded to the Wheat Kings where he played 51 games in 2000-2001.
    • Time change. Is it a factor? It can be. The two hour time difference is small, but the Rockets management recognizes that it would be best to get into Brandon two days in advance of the league final.  BC is two hours behind Manitoba. Make sense?
    • The use of Kevlar socks was up for hot debate after an interview I did with Vice President of Hockey for the WHL, Richard Doerksen, on Sunday night. The issue surfaced after Tyrell Goulbourne was cut by a skate of Keegan Iverson in game five of the Western Conference Championship. Doerksen says it is not mandatory for players to wear them, yet the Spokane Chiefs, Edmonton Oil Kings and Regina Pats all do. I think it is fair to say many of the Kelowna Rockets don't and risk injury. The Kevlar socks are supposedly thick, so players don't like the feel of them in the boot of their skate. What happens if the socks that all WHL teams wear over their shin pads had the Kevlar material on the back of them? It may look slightly bulky, but sounds like an easy fix to me? Seeing Goulbourne injured that way was tough to take.
    • Small thing, but it really tells me what Leon Draisaitl is all about. The 19 year-old's apparent goal in the second period of game six, which looked tipped in from a pass from line-mate Justin Kirkland, was in fact Kirkland's goal. Draisaitl immediately noted to the officials that the puck indeed went off a defenders stick and past Winterhawks goalie Adin Hill. It did not go off Draisaitl and he wasn't afraid to admit it. The German is all about putting up points and loves earning an assist on a play as much as he does scoring a goal. In the end though, that small gesture showed me he is buying in to the team concept all the way.
    • It is slim pickings on the Rockets roster when it comes to Manitoba talent, but the three that do reside from the province are significant. Head Coach Dan Lambert was born in St. Malo, which is three hours East of Brandon. Defenceman Madison Bowey is from Winnipeg. I don't need to explain to you where Winnipeg is do I? Injured forward Tanner Wishnowski, who is cleared for contact, is from Oakbank, Manitoba. Oakbank is just outside of Winnipeg.
    • Air travel is a must in this series. Both centres are separated by just under 18 hours of travel - one way. In the QMJHL final between Rimouski and the host Quebec Remparts, it is just a three hour drive. In the OHL, Erie and Oshawa are fairly close in proximity. The driving distance is three hours and 47 minutes.
    • I love Rourke Chartier's response when I asked him about attempting to win the WHL Sportsmanlike Player of the Year Award. His answer? "It (playing clean) has always been a part of my game. I've never liked to take penalties. When I was little I used to cry when I got one in novice, so maybe that is where it comes from", Chartier said with a chuckle. The 19 year-old had just 18 penalty minutes in 51 regular season games.
    • The answer to the trivia was Steven Later. The 19 year-old, at the time, was the Wheat Kings leading scorer on defense. Later crashed into Derek Yeomans in game one and his season was over. In an emergency, the WHL allowed the Rockets to dress Mike Wall as a back up at the Memorial Cup to Kristopher Westblom. Wall was the Everett Silvertips starting goalie in 2004-2005.

    Monday, May 4, 2015

    Satisfying series win


    • Winning a Western Conference Championship and advancing to the Western Hockey League final is always special. It would be safe to say the Kelowna Rockets series win over an arch playoff nemesis like the Portland Winterhawks may have been the most satisfying of the four the franchise has claimed in the last thirteen seasons. The Winterhawks owned the Rockets in the playoffs....until now. After having their season end at the hands of the U.S Division powerhouse in three of the last four years, sending the WHL's only Oregon based franchise into an early summer was a massive accomplishment. In a game six, 8-4 win Sunday afternoon at the Moda Center, the Rockets returned the favour by winning the conference title in front of 85 hundred screaming fans that have seen their team advance to the league final four consecutive seasons. Instead the Winterhawks dreams of a fifth straight appearance were dashed when the Rockets rallied from a 3-0 deficit to score eight of the next nine goals in the series clinching victory. While it is an early exit for the Winterhawks, the Rockets will play on as they face the Eastern Conference Champion Brandon Wheat Kings in a clash of the top two team's during the regular season.
    • This was a strange game considering the Rockets surrendered three goals in the first 13 minutes of action. Starting goaltender Jackson Whistle was replaced for the third time in the playoffs and back up Michael Herringer seamlessly enters the game and leads the team to a series clinching win. Even down 3-0, you could sense the Rockets were in good shape if they stayed the course and stuck to a solid work ethic. Even down by three, the general vibe was the visitors had a chance to pull even. Madison Bowey found the back of the net with a shorthanded goal 12 minutes into the second period to tie the game. At one point they were down 3-0, now it was 3-3. 
    • The loss of leading goal scorer Rourke Chartier obviously did something to the psyche of the team. Tyson Baillie, who didn't make a peep in the first three games of the series by his standards, came alive and showed why the 19 year-old is such a great playoff performer. While Baillie was elevating his play, linemate Dillon Dube also took the opportunity with Chartier out to play a more significant role on the team's second line. Dube was lights-out terrific in both game five and six as the 'Golden Jet' (He was born in Golden BC) showed why Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey hit a home run when he picked the left handed shooting speedster 21st overall in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. Baillie and Dube's strong play in game five and six were possibly one reason why the series didn't go the distance. 
    • Gage Quinney was back in the line up in game six after sitting out four games with an upper body injury. The 19 year-old is a significant upgrade to the forward core, promptly collected two assists and was a +3 on the night.
    • The line I enjoyed watching the most in this series was Cole Linaker with Chance Braid and Tomas Soustal. This trio was hard to play against because of their size, strength and physicality. All three were exceptional. Braid and Soustal played with increased determination. Linaker was his typical no quit self. 
    • Leon. Leon. What more can we say about Leon Draisaitl? The 19 year-old had only one assist in game six, but what a horse in games five and six. Every time Draisaitl was on the ice, it was scary to see how he dominated play. If anyone questioned if Leon Draisaitl cares about winning a WHL title, the big German proved again he wants to win at whatever level he plays at. I thought the only part of his game that suffered was at the face-off dot, but let's be clear, he was massive in a game four win where he won several defensive zone face-offs to preserve a one goal victory. Draisaitl is the best European player this franchise has ever had. I may be going out on a limb, but the Oilers first round draft pick may be one of the best Rockets EVER! Draisaitl can cement that fact with a strong effort in the WHL final against Brandon. I have no doubt Draisaitl will rise to the challenge.
    • Madison Bowey had his best game of the series. The 19 year-old was physical ( how about the hit on Winterhawks 20 year-old Myles Koules in the first period?) and scored two big goals to get his team rolling. That is what you expect from your captain. I didn't think Bowey came alive with his best effort until late in the series, so that will have to change against Brandon. The same can be said for Josh Morrissey, who was as quiet as a field mouse in the first three games of the series. Morrissey did step up in overtime in game five where something seemed to clicked. You could see that Morrissey was playing with more pace and was picking his spots to rush with the puck. When he does that, he is strong at both ends of the ice.  
    • The series win was gratifying on so many levels. The team exorcised a demon and did it without Rourke Chartier and Tyrell Goulbourne. It was a big win for the rookie coaching staff, who must have been feeling the pressure and still have their feet to the fire to win a WHL championship. Winning three straight games over the Winterhawks, including two on the road, was satisfying for everyone involved. Of the four Western Conference Championships, this one is possibly the most gratifying because of the respected opponent that they were forced to take down. 
    • I loved watching head coach Dan Lambert high-fiving his players as they left the Moda Centre ice. 'Lambo' is a players coach and wears his heart on his sleeve. The expression of happiness was so refreshing. 
    • The fact that the Rockets rallied back to win in three of the four games was unbelievable. In game one they trailed 2-0 yet won 3-2. In game four they trailed 2-0 and again won 3-2. In game six they trailed 3-0 only to come back and win 8-4. 
    • Nic Petan will never play in the WHL again. What a sad thought that is. Petan was a treat to watch. You always hear about generational players making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL. Is Nic Petan a generational player from bantam to major junior? I think he is. His skill set was above average. I am so glad I had a chance to see him for so many years.  The 20 year-old is now the WHL leader in playoff games played - with 88. That is an amazing number!!
    • I appreciate all the feedback I received on Twitter over the course of Sunday's broadcast. We had lots of chatter about the game and I appreciate those that listened in. Twitter is a great indicator of how people care about the Rockets and their successes along the way. It is great to be in a city where the team matters and receives front page media attention. I hope the players realize that they are not only playing for their team-mates and families, but they are playing for a city that 15 years ago wasn't exactly known as a 'hockey hungry' centre.   
    • The Rockets now prepare to face the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL final. It is the team that they battled all season long in an effort to win home ice advantage if the indeed met in the final. While falling short in their quest for the Scotty Munro trophy, starting on the road shouldn't play much of a factor for a team that is considered to be better on the road than they are at Prospera Place. In the post season, Dan Lambert's crew has been good no matter where the ice surface is situated.

    Rockets beat playoff nemesis

    The Kelowna Rockets are off to the Western Hockey League final where they will face the Brandon Wheat Kings. Last night, the Rockets earned a 8-4 win, capturing the Western Conference championship in six games.

    Saturday, May 2, 2015

    Tyson Baillie's OT winner

    No time for a recap of the Kelowna Rockets win Friday night in game five of the Western Conference championship. Off to Portland which means all I have to offer you is audio from Tyson Baillie's game winner:

    Friday, May 1, 2015

    Rockets/Winterhawks game notes

    Tonight’s Preview: Playing in May is never a bad thing. The Kelowna Rockets and Portland Winterhawks meet tonight in game five of the Western Conference championship series. This best of seven is tied at two wins apiece with the Rockets winning games one and four while the Winterhawks earned victories in game two and three. Following game five tonight, the series heads back to Portland for game six on Sunday (5 P.M). If a seventh and deciding game is necessary, it will be played Tuesday night in Kelowna.

    Series Scoring by Period:
                           1     2     3   Total
    Rockets         1     8    2      11
    Winterhawks 5     6    3      14

    Game by Game Scores:
    Game one: 3-2 Kelowna      Game three: 7-3 Portland    Game five: ?
    Game two: 3-2 Portland       Game four: 3-2 Kelowna     Game six: ?

    Broadcasters Notebook: The Winterhawks have opened the scoring in three of the four games…The Rockets have out-shot the Winterhawks in three of the four games…The Rockets best period in the series has been the second where they have scored eight of their 11 goals….Of the 25 goals scored between the two teams in the first four games, 14 have been scored in the middle frame….The Rockets have scored a power play goal in three of the four games, the exception being game one when both teams were 0 for 2….The Rockets are 4 for 13 (31%) on the power play in this series….The Winterhawks are 5 for 20 (25%) in the four games…Easy math shows you the Rockets have been shorthanded seven more times than Portland….In all four games, either the Rockets or Winterhawks have generated over 40 shots on net, but neither team has accomplished the feat in the same game…The Rockets had a series high 46 shots on net in game one.

    Hot to Trot: Leon Draisaitl has scored in back-to-back games…Tyson Baillie’s ten game point streak was snapped in game two. Baillie had 7+6=13 over that period…Gage Quinney has goals in four of his last seven playoff games….Nick Merkley had his nine game point streak snapped Tuesday night. Merkley had 1+11=12 over that period....Madison Bowey had his nine game point streak Tuesday night. Bowey had 4+8=12 over that stretch….Leon Draisaitl had his seven game point streak snapped in game two. The 19 year-old had 2+11=13 in those seven games.

    This and That: Nick Merkley has the same number of points (17) as he did in last year’s WHL playoffs, but in one fewer game…This is the 86th game of the season for the Rockets this evening. That includes 72 regular season games and now its 14th playoff game….Tyrell Goulbourne snapped a 10 game goal scoring drought in this year’s playoffs with the game winner in game four….It was Goulbourne’s first goal in 17 playoff games dating back to 2014 when he found the back of the net by scoring in back-to-back games in a second round series against Seattle…Goulbourne has a team high 47 playoff games under his belt…Tyson Baillie hasn’t scored in all four games in this series. Baillie found the back of the net five times in a second round series with Victoria…Madison Bowey has 43 games of playoff experience…The Rockets played in 14 post season games last season …Cole Martin has 43 playoff games on his resume….In total, the Rockets have 526 games of playoff experience in the lineup this evening…Rourke Chartier had 6 goals in 14 games in last year’s playoffs. In this year’s post season, the now 19 year-old (turned 19 April 3rd) has nine goals in twelve games….Only two Rockets celebrate birthdays in May. Joe Gatenby turns 18 on May 15th while Nick Merkley blows out the same number of candles on May 23rd.

    Additional Info: The Rockets are back to the Western Conference final for a second consecutive season against the same team that knocked them out in five games one year ago. The Rockets are 10 and 3 in post season with a four game sweep over Tri City in round one and a five game series win over Victoria in round two. For what it’s worth, the Rockets and Winterhawks met four times this season, but hadn’t seen one another since late November prior to the start of the series. The Rockets were 1-1-2-0 in the four games. This is the eighth consecutive appearance in the post season for the Rockets and 19th time in the franchises 20 year history.

    Playoff history vs. Winterhawks: These two teams are meeting for the fourth time ever in the playoffs. In the 2011 post season, the Winterhawks beat the Rockets in a second round series (4 games to 2). In 2012, the Winterhawks swept the Rockets in an opening round series in four straight games. In the 2014 post season, the Winterhawks eliminated the Rockets in the Western Conference final (4 games to 1).


    Rockets best vs. Winterhawks: Rourke Chartier had 5+2=7 in the four game seasonal series against Portland. Madison Bowey was 1+3=4 while Nick Merkley chipped in with four assists. It should be noted that Cole Martin had two goals against the Winterhawks. Jackson Whistle played in all four games, posting a goals against average of 2.71 with an impressive save percentage of .928. Chase De Leo (3+1=4), Oliver Bjorkstrand (2+2=4) and Alex Schoenborn (2+2=4) paced Portland in the four games. Adin Hill was 2-0-0-0 with a goals against average of 1.78 and a save percentage of .941.