myles bell

Kelowna Rockets Grounded For Now

After a record setting season, the Kelowna Rockets are grounded until the fall. Despite losing to the Portland Winterhawks in 5 games, the Rockets will not hang their heads in shame; a handful of awards will keep the team motivated to better themselves next year.

Watching first hand how the Kelowna Rockets dismantled both the Tri City Americans and Seattle Thunderbirds, it sure was a humbling experience seeing the Portland Winterhawks make quick work of them. A thrilling game one contest looked to have set the tone for the series, but it turned out the Hawks were the ones that just needed to get comfortable.

Missing key forward Myles Bell to injury in the first round forced the Rockets to alter their game plan and rely on a few others to keep the powerplay legit and create a presence 5 on 5. It’s a shame Bell was in his final year of WHL play because he could be just as valuable next year.

As one door closed for Kelowna, another opened with the WHL Awards ceremony. Not really a surprise to anyone, goaltender Jordan Cooke in my mind, ran away with the WHL’s Top Goalie award. Kelowna scored in bunches this year, but it was the other worldly play of Cooke that kept them in games, stole them a few and some nights single handedly was the star. By far the Kelowna Rockets best goalie they have ever had, “Cookie” as he is also known earned every right to be that guy.

Not to be outdone, the WHL realized that it was fitting to name a true rookie, 16 years old, as the top freshman. My man crush was validated when the WHL named forward NickPillow handsMerkley as the leagues top rookie. @merkdaddy4 put up 58 points in 66 regular season games and also was the Rockets top scorer in the post season. He’s 16 folks! I’m guessing a few more years in the Dub will only help his future NHL career.

So it’s over now. The Rockets will have quite a different look next year with 5 players leaving the team because of age and NHL status: Jordan Cooke, Myles Bell, Marek Tvrdon, Ryan Olsen and Damon Severson are all heading to the next stage. Key players for sure, but the beauty of the WHL is there is always someone new to take their spot and prove their worth.

What a great season it was in Kelowna; hopefully it will have a better ending in 2015. No one is disappointed, just hungry for the next faceoff.

Follow me on twitter @hankthetank10

Kelowna Rockets Set Sights On Memorial Cup

Its March and in the WHL, that means its playoff time! Small town western Canada amps up from Vancouver Island to the prairies for the road to one of the hardest trophies to win in sports: The Memorial Cup. The Kelowna Rockets have been there before, they’ve tasted glory and now they want another drink from the epic chalice.

What has really been 2 years in the making for Bruce Hamilton’s Rockets is finally coming to fruition. A team known for savvy drafting, developing talent and embracing success, the Kelowna Rockets have been a machine in the WHL for years. Just take a look around today’s NHL and you will instantly notice world class talent: Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Josh Gorges, Jamie Benn, Alex Edler, Tyler Myers, Vern Fiddler, Chuck Kobasew, Luke Schenn, Scott Hannan and Mikael Backlund, all these players have made their mark in the show.

Take a look at that list, its beyond impressive that ONE major junior team has produced that talent so far. Stanley Cup Champions, Olympic Gold Medalists and numerous NHL awards drape over this group of players and that list will only grow as the years go by. It might not take long either; this year’s Rockets are primed to do something special.

However this season finishes for Kelowna, the Rockets have set team records for most franchise wins (55 and counting) and most points (114 and counting). How fitting it is that these records were just broken last season as well? Sounds like a recipe for success already. Coach Ryan Huska has led this group of young men to territory that is not easily reached. The WHL is a tough league to win and Huska’s boys are looking to make some history this spring.

Led by Captain and 2013 Washington Capitals 2nd round draft pick, Madison Bowey, the Rockets have put together a season that has made Canada take notice. The BMO Mastercard CHL Rankings have named Kelowna #1 in the country for almost 3 months, as well as being ranked in the top 10 this season for 20 weeks and one week to go. Is it something in the water? Is it the instant buy in?

They aren’t a group with a superstar player that leads the charge, they run 4 lines deep and when goaltending is brought up, they have two more than capable tenders to block the mesh. Myles Bell, 2013 6th rounder of the New Jersey Devils, is the leading scorer with 41 goals and 74 points. He is flanked in points by forward Ryan Olsen and dmanĀ Damon Severson, both with 60 points. Nothing overly mind blowing but this roster boasts 8 players over 45 points. Starting to think to yourself, wow, that’s impressive. These guys must have quite a veteran group of players, this will probably be restocked next year when all the old guys move on after their WHL career; you would be wrong.

Most of this team will stay intact next season with a handful of players moving on, Bell included. One player the Rockets are more than happy to have for the next 4 years or so is true rookie sensation, Nick Merkley. This kid JUST turned 16 earlier this season. He played for Kelowna in 7 playoff games last year and managed 3 points in that time. He instantly showed he was destined for greatness when he played his first game. Merks just has that gift. He sees the game the way the greats do. His hockey IQ just exudes brilliance. Nick makes plays that NHL veterans would be proud of.

Rookie sensation Nick Merkley @merkdaddy4 Photo courtesy of CHL.CA

Rookie sensation Nick Merkley @merkdaddy4
Photo courtesy of CHL.CA

The puck just seems to find Nick Merkley and when it hits his stick, he knows EXACTLY what to do with it. He didn’t score in the playoffs last year but he didn’t miss a beat when he debuted as a rookie this year; 64 GP 24 G 55 PTS +/- 24 and 42 PIM. This kid is unreal! CHL Rookie of the week in October 2013, Merkley is no joke; he just plays to win.

Between the pipes, Jordan Cooke and Jackson Whistle backstop this sensational Rockets team night in and night out. Cooke boasts a 2.27 GAA .922 SA % 38 Wins and 4 SO through 50 GP. Whistle is no slouch either, 21 GP 2.54 GAA .920 SA % 17 Wins and 1 SO, he doesn’t like giving up the net. Jackson will inherit the net next season when Cooke moves on from the WHL being too old to play. It’s not just the stats that are in lights, its the timely saves and game breaking stops that makes Kelowna lethal to play. From top to bottom this team is built to win and should make a healthy run to the May showcase that is the Mem Cup.

Sure, the scoring and stingy defense keep this team on the board and their opponents off of it, but are they tough enough? I would ask Tyrell Goulbourne but I probably would regret the physical answer I would get. Goulby leads the charge on the aggressive meter. His hands are hard when they are knocking out unfortunate contenders and soft as pillows…or kittens, they’re soft too, when he’s potting pucks in the twine. Tyrell has 109 PIM this season to go with his 36 points. A 3rd round choice in 2013 by the Philadelphia Flyers, Tyrell will be a fan favorite the day he suits up in the city of Brotherly Love.

With Bell being able to play both defense on the PP and forward at 5 on 5, Merkley contributing more than any 16 year old should in his first season, saves for days in Cooke and Whistle and a defense led by Bowey and Severson, the Kelowna Rockets can beat you any way you want. Just don’t expect them to say sorry.

Kelowna plays the Tri-City Americans in the first round and I would expect them to make quick work of them, worst case scenario 5 games. The Rockets are poised to win it all this year, so get on board while you can. The next wave of NHL superstars are playing in your backyard.

Follow me on twitter @hankthetank10

All stats courtesy of whl.ca and kelownarockets.com