nick merkley

Rockets Looking For Seventh Heaven Against Thunderbirds

Before this series started, many would have seen the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds extending the matchup to seven games. Well, it’s Game Six so Kelowna will need to put some pucks in the net if they want to book another bus trip to Kent, Washington on Tuesday. Seattle took Game Five in somewhat convincing fashion after the Rockets couldn’t capitalize on their own power play chances and let the T-Birds execute on theirs.

Expect more of the same tonight.

The series has been pretty even with both teams splitting games in each city but it was the Thunderbirds that took the extra home game back on Friday to put their team ahead 3 games to 2. The power play has been hot for Seattle this post-season and they currently hold the top-ranked unit by a whopping 4.2% over the next closest, now eliminated Red Deer Rebels, at 37.5%.

The Rockets are trailing in that category by about 10% and in the playoffs, that’s huge. Sticking with special teams, Kelowna leads the WHL playoffs with 216 PIM and if they continue that trend this evening, it will be hard for Jason Smith’s team to force a seventh game.

Mid-season addition, Carson Twarysnki, hasn’t scored since April 12 when he had one of Kelowna’s seven goals against the Portland Winterhawks. With Seattle bringing a physical game each and every night, T-Dub will need to get back to the dirty areas and power his way to a few chances. Twarynski was great in the first two rounds but has been quiet in the Western Final. Kelowna will need his contributions if they are going to advance.

Nick Merkley has been a light show in his last 11 games putting points up in 10 of them. His stat line is a dream with 6 goals and 11 assists in that time. Merkley is the Rocket’s all-time leader in playoff production and when he’s on his game, he’s the catalyst on the team. Suffering a freak ACL tear last year, Nick has rebounded well and has brought renewed hope to both his current WHL team and the Arizona Coyotes who drafted him 30th overall in 2015.

Providing Kelowna can stay out of the box and play a disciplined game, they should be able to stay ahead of the red-hot Thunderbird squad. Kelowna has averaged 35 shots against Seattle this series so the opportunity is there to strike. Keegan Kolesar, Ryan Gropp, and Alexander True all have three goals against Kelowna so keeping them in check will no doubt be on the gameplan.

Don’t expect a blowout this evening but considering this series has been played down a man on either side, someone is due to open it up. Let’s all hope the Rockets send their fans home awaiting the AM1150 call on Tuesday night.

photo – kelownacapnews.com

Rockets’ Nick Merkley Turning Heads Again After Surgery

Almost a year ago, Nick Merkley was dealt a pretty devastating blow after being drafted by the Arizona Coyotes that past June and then tearing his ACL in February in a game against the Spokane Chiefs. It was the kind of injury that couldn’t have come at a worse time as his team was gearing up for another run in the playoffs and having been drafted, it was a chance to show what he could be to the Coyotes.

Life throws some interesting curves.

Fast forward to this year and Merkley’s rehab from his injury was slow going. He was getting the proper conditioning and treatment down in Arizona and when it was time to come back to Kelowna, everyone felt he was good to go. The thing is, ACL’s don’t just “heal”. It’s a pretty significant injury that can affect how a player in any sport reacts going forward.

Unless you happen to be Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings (a superhuman, basically) you probably will have a longer healing period to get back to the point you were producing, if at all.

Upon returning to Kelowna, Merkley had a slow start which should have been expected. In his first 10 games this season, Nick racked up a paltry goal and 4 assists, with his first goal coming in his 10th game back. Including that 10th game, Merkley went on to score 6 times and added 2 assists in his next 6 games.

It wasn’t just the production on the score sheet, but the way in which he got back to what he did best. Merkley fought the puck a lot to start the year and it was pretty visible that his frustration caused him to clinch the stick a bit tighter and get away from the thinking game he dominated so much. You no doubt have heard me sing his praises since his rookie campaign, and for good reason: he’s amazingly talented.

As this season has gone forward, Nick has put the team on his back many nights and just when opponents tried to get on his, he brought “the swivel” back into his game and quite frankly, there aren’t many players that I’ve watched in any league that can execute that shake like he can.

Maybe not one of his best, but the success rate he has with that move is almost 100%.

Watching Merkley perfect the little things is what excites me the most, his shot seems to be more on point and his passing game is once again becoming a strong suit. He still is a little choosy when dishing the puck but he rarely disappoints when the puck hits his team mate’s stick, maybe you’ve seen this one already?

Despite the losses his Kelowna Rockets team has endured lately, Merkley has put up 8 points in his last 10 and with rookie Nolan Foote being out for an extended amount of time, Dillon Dube, Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf being away at the World Juniors and now Kole Lind and Cal Foote strutting their stuff at the Top Prospects Game, there have been many nights where Merkley has had to step up and represent the “A” on his shoulder.

Many of these players have been getting more publicity in the media lately as they have their own stories to be told but Nick has been evermore the continual beast on the ice and looks to prove his doubters wrong (if there are even any) that an ACL can’t hold him back. His late first round spot also serves as a chip to show the rest of the NHL what they are missing out on.

In his rookie season, I stated he had the hockey mind of Wayne Gretzky. Super, bold statement, I know. I am not comparing the two as equals as a whole and there will definitely be someone that will want to destroy me for even uttering those words but watching him think out the game in real-time is amazing to watch.

You can tell he knows where the puck will end up because either he’s there shooting it or another Rocket has the puck creating a scoring chance off his pass. It’s a shame that Nick wasn’t able to showcase himself at the World Junior tournament the last two years but it only serves to motivate him in his quest to be an NHLer.

Breaking down his distribution of points, of his 22 assists this year, Merkley’s has 18 primary assists, 1 back of first on the team. He accounts for 7.87% of the Kelowna Rockets’ total team points which ranks 4th on the team and his percentage of total goals created is 4th with 21.94%.Β As far as the power play goes, 75% of his goals are produced on the man advantage, which is tops on the Rockets this season. Shame to see him out of the lineup, although with the staggering amount of penalties the Rockets take, 812 total PIM and 16.2 PIM/GM (both tops in the WHL), the power play isn’t exactly out that much.

No longer having Rourke Chartier as his linemate, Merkley’s rediscovered how to be self-sufficient and at the same time put his stick in a position to help the rest of his team out. Having Thurkauf on his line is a treat as they just know how to feed off of each other. The open ice hits have come back as well to Merk’s arsenal and he’s proving he isn’t a one-trick pony.

Kelowna will have to get their problems figured out if they’re going to have any kind of success this postseason and Nick Merkley will once again be a major reason they achieve extended success. Surgery hasn’t silenced Merkley, in fact, it’s awoken the beast.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – kelownarockets.com

The Jim Benning Effect And Why We MIGHT Need To Chill Out

The title alone will probably make many a person mad and I’m cool with that. On Friday night, round one of the NHL Entry Draft completed and the Canucks picked Olli Juolevi at the 5 spot.

It probably wasn’t the exact guy everyone wanted and many feel Jim Benning reached to get him at 5 when he could have landed him at 9; moot now. Anyways, what basically happened was the Canucks didn’t lose any roster players, he didn’t give up any current prospects and he still has the minimal stash of picks he started with on Friday. Many of us would consider this a win.

Jim Benning has definitely divided the Canucks fans and media alike with his consistent inconsistency. The funny thing is, that is pretty much the Canucks in a nutshell. They never fully deliver on really anything but they never slump out to the point where the absolute bottom falls out. This is where we’re kind of caught in the middle with Jimbo.

We’ve blasted his every move as they’ve happened including at the draft this year. I know I was pretty steamed last year when my personal fav, Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets, was passed over and Brock Boeser was taken at 23. Looking ahead, it was a phenomenal pick! A future star in the making for sure. His handling of young prospects and what we deem as bogus talent has been ever questioned but somehow, he’s slowly turned this team around.

Hear me out; the Canucks aren’t winning any trophies any time soon (team ones) and the building process takes time. Benning has put his stamp on this team and there are days where I’m sure Trevor Linden has to show Jim what stamp to use but he’s doing it. As a GM, Benning looks like he’s still learning on the job which is scary but as a scout he’s drafted some of our best talent.

So why do we continue to kick this guy out the door?

This is where the message boards blow up but is he really that awful? I actually feel like he might be on to something. Remember the episode of Seinfeld called “The Opposite”? George did everything the opposite and his whole world turned around. Maybe we need to start just accepting what Jim is doing (not completely though) and see some of this out.

Erik Gudbranson for Jared McCann and the pick maybe wasn’t the best deal to make but Florida always has Benning in his Fab 5 contacts. It is a shame the pick had to leave as I think that trade happens straight up but it happened, it’s over. Gubby (pronounced GOOBY) hasn’t played in a Canucks uniform and depending on who he’s paired with, he could become a stud on the back end; we just don’t know.

I’m willing to see how he pans out. At the very least, he HAS to be better than Luca Sbisa. I mean, he just has to right?

Back to the opposite theory, Benning seems to befuddle us with his dealings and he hasn’t exactly been flat out wrong on much. He got Sven Baertschi for a 2nd and they just re-signed the guy. He’s had some big misses don’t get me wrong and we all know which ones those are but his current stop gaps on the big club might just put the Canucks in the position to blow up at both the July 1 Free Agent frenzy and next season’s decision days.

I think we all just assume the Canucks will go FULL JIM BENNING on every move and we all know you never go full Jim Benning. It just feels weird that despite his glaring ineffectiveness to make a proper REAL trade, he is building this team from the ground up. It feels like his focus is 5 years from now and so what if there are problems today?

The Jim Benning Effect hovers on every move that’s made and unless its a home run every time, its considered a failure. This might not be all Jimbos fault. Weisbrod isn’t exactly a prince. The Assistant GM is just as important as the big guy, which is why when Benning was #2, when Nonis was #2 and when Gilman was #2, the GM could have the final say (kinda like a dentist when he walks in to finish up) and as a “team” proper deals were made.

Benning still operates IMO as an Assistant GM and his assistant does as well. No one is really in charge. So is he the one to blame? We would all love to be in charge of a team and have access to the resources and secret GM message board websites but you’d still have to pull the trigger. We have no clue what deals have fallen through, which ones never got offered and the like but we just assume that what we see as obvious…actually is.

It may all end up burning to the ground and that’s entirely possible but for now The Benning Effect has actually made the Canucks a slightly better team, even if we don’t want to believe it.

I found it tough to even type those words. He’s not Rain Man, he’s not a genius but he hasn’t lost his job so something must be going right.

Right?

photo – vancouversun.com

Canucks Disastrous Season Is Oddly Gratifying

With the first pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Vancouver Canucks select…..

It has been a long, long time since the Canucks were in a position to potentially pick the best player available; the 2016 season has afforded them with that possibility. The #tank or rebuild or whatever you want to call it has been relatively successful if you think about it. Through injuries, trades and waivers, the Canucks have the chance to draft 1st overall for the first time ever!

Oddly enough, the real fans haven’t been happier.

Makes you think. As bad as this franchise has ever been, it’s never been THAT bad. The Sedins were taken 2nd and 3rd, Bo Horvat was taken 9th, Virtanen 6th; but no one was ever a 1st overall pick in VAN. The woes of the whale have never been so dreadful and yet so satisfying. We’ve asked to see this team blown up, we’ve asked for the younger players to get their time and we asked for cheaper ticket prices – all of those things happened.

Well, the only blowing up is Twitter when Benning makes an apparent stupid decision. It’s looking like a handful of his stupid decisions are panning out quite well though.

In the 2015 Draft, there were a handful of players Benning could have chosen: Travis Konecny, Noah Juulsen and my personal man crush, Nick Merkley. I don’t follow the US high school/college circuit at all so when he went with 6’1 190 Brock Boeser straight outta high school, I had no clue who this dude was and figured Jimbo swung and missed.

Kid’s tearing up the college circuit this year, he’s a freshman! He won the NCHC Rookie of the year award and his next goal ties him with Zach Parise for most goals by a UND freshman. Fellow 2015 pick Adam Gaudette who was also selected out of the USHL is having a great year as well for Northeastern making it to the NCAA big dance.

It’s no secret Jim is a great scout and he may very well have stocked the cupboards for years to come but when you come into a culture where everyone wants to win right now, both fans, players and management, you have to sell the journey. Canucks fans thought they had it all figured out when Boston was announced as the East Champs to face Vancouver in the 2011 Final. It was the dream run we all talked about, how could anything derail destiny?

Apparently, there were a few things that made that possible.

When Benning got to Vancouver he made it known he wanted guys who wanted to be here, Ryan Kesler didn’t so he moved him. Shocking to some but the writing was on the wall, you’re a Canuck because you want to be one 100%. If you aren’t going to work, you’re gone.

Differing opinions come up when Frank Corrado is mentioned, Hunter Shinkaruk, Zack Kassian and Eddie Lack. JB is building the Canucks the way he sees fit and even when we all cry bloody murder and demand his head on a stick (have we done that yet?), he continues to give us flashes of confidence.

Thatcher Demko is yet another prospect that is making waves and will most definitely be the goalie of the future for the Canucks and if it was possible, they’d sign him long term right now. He will give the Canucks what they had in Luongo and Schneider but hopefully this time they don’t screw it up. Once he’s in the lineup I doubt Vancouver is worried about picking anywhere near the bottom 5 picks.

Over the next week, the Canucks play the Jets, Predators, Blues and Blackhawks. Conceivably, they could be dead last or knocking on the door by next Sunday night; the crazy thing is I don’t see any diehards frowning upon this.

Have you ever been so enthralled with defeat that you look forward to the games just to see if they can come up on the losing end by the final buzzer? It’s unreal! We have waited for that next player to take us up the mountain and with the Sedins at Amen Corner, there isn’t much left for them to do before they hand off this team to the next leaders.

Every loss feels redeeming and as the rest of the garbage at the bottom of the league wins and Vancouver loses, the feeling of new life in an organization that hasn’t breathed in what seems like years is fresh.

All in all, the losses have piled up but the hope that this team will get a chance to turn it around with a combination of the top pick and maybe a splash signing July 1st is worth it. Even if Steven Stamkos signs elsewhere (totally likely) there is still many a dollar to spend and get this team competitive again.

Starting all over next season with a healthy roster and some new stars might be just what this team needed; no Cup right away but the belief it can get back to that level is really all most of us want. The Cup may elude forever but that’s nothing new.

So lose Canucks, lose a lot. Give us Auston Matthews and make America Vancouver great again!

Ben Hutton Is My Nike AIR MAG (You know the one)

Its never too early to start criticizing coaching decisions, GM decisions or anything resembling doom and gloom for the Vancouver Canucks. It’s also never too early to award praise to a player that is better than he should be, bang on what we want him to be or just the next player we all can’t wait to draw hearts around in third period history. Ben Hutton is not a bad coaching decision, Ben Hutton is not a bad GM decision; Ben Hutton is my cover of Canucks Teen Beat magazine, he is my Nike AIR MAG with self tying laces.

Ben Hutton is the coolest kind of awesome!

Is this too much praise? Is it a verbal love affair for a defenseman yet again? I mean there was Willie Mitchell (dreamy), Alex Edler (currently dreamy as well), Chris Tanev (cooler than craft beer, ya that’s right) and now Hutton too? This is all too sudden. Frankie Corrado was supposed to be that next guy and then Ben Hutton just shows up and says its his job?

That’s what has basically happened.

Drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Ben Hutton did the college thing and honed his craft. Through 6 games this year he has racked up 3 helpers and 6 shots. Hutton’s ice time is in the 18:00 min/gm mark and he’s averaging close to 25 shifts a game. He’s trusted to make important decisions and I think like Alex Edler, he eventually is one of the go to guys on the power play; a power play that right now has a problem.

I stated before either on twitter or on here as well that BH reminds me of the blue line version of my favourite future NHLer Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets. They have eerily similar styles of play albeit one is a winger/centre and ones a defenseman but the way they both move the puck and hold on to the puck is a thing of beauty.

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Not to make this too much about Merkley but he has the talent to carry the puck a little bit longer than most without being a puck hog. He can make a timely pivot or pass he has no business making and it instantly changes the course of the shift. His hockey IQ is beautiful. Ben Hutton has those same characteristics.

Being a star on defense for the Canucks is no easy task, in fact playing for the Canucks is no easy task. As the famous line from The Dark Knight goes “you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. Right now, BH is the hero and he is far from dying off this roster, that takes at least 10 years on the blue line; less in net.

When the Nike AIR MAG shoe released on Wednesday to the world with self tying laces, the world stood still. This shoe is the holy grail of shoes. Ben Hutton is my Nike AIR MAG. Slight exaggeration maybe. He is developing a shot that will put his name on the marquee, he has confidence with the puck that rivals the Sedins and his decision making skills are already NHL veteran status.

Chris Tanev once received this treatment and really, he hasn’t let up. He isn’t our #1 dman but take him out of the lineup and we have serious problems. Hutton hasn’t even been here a month and you could poll Canucks nation and I’d bet he’s on the list of guys you cannot be without. Tanbir from Surrey knows what’s up:

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In a recent article on Vancity Buzz by Ryan Biech regarding Hutton, you’ll see a clip of Ben going away from his defender on a zone exit and its subtle but its such a pro move that any coach would love to teach that all day long. Im not a coach, I can barely skate but I know an amazing move when I see one.

Marty McFly had the Nike’s and the hoverboard and he traveled through time, we don’t need to travel through time though; The Canucks have Ben Hutton right now and he just might be that find other teams wish they had. Thats been our position on every eligible player we could have taken and now its Vancouver’s turn to enjoy some talent.

It could be argued this is a fluff piece on BH (it basically is) but even Chris Tanev would admit that Hutton brings the Canucks game to another level, you know if Willie would allow better players to be on the ice with him instead of Prust and Dorsett for entire periods at a time.

#Huttonmania is runnin wild in Vancouver and its gonna run wild all over you.

Follow my twitter: @always90four

Canucks Draft Weekend Resembles Dumb and Dumber To

As many of you know, I was quite excited for this year’s NHL Entry Draft. The Canucks had a chance to draft WHL superstar Nick Merkley from the Kelowna Rockets and all would be right…in my eyes anyways. That didn’t happen. Everyone had somewhat high hopes as well that GM Jim Benning could potentially right the ship with trades involving Bieksa and Lack and a solid first round choice. What we all expected was what we hoped Dumb and Dumber To to be; we all forgot that sequels rarely deliver and in true Canucks fashion, Vancouver followed suit with that theory; It might be a long summer.

 

Jimbo didn’t have many picks to work with this year after trading away rounds 2 and 3 for Sven Baertschi and the pick that went with Ryan Kesler. One could assume a decent trade would be made for goalie Eddie Lack and a 2nd seemed feasible. Early Saturday morning the hammer dropped and Lack was sent to Carolina for their 3rd and 7th round picks.

The Bieksa trade hit a snag with San Jose over what is to be believed an extension after the move would occur as well as what year the 2nd rounder coming back would be (2016 apparently, not this year’s). A pick that may have done some damage, who knows.

Benning had 8 teams that were putting in offers for Lack but Carolina had the firmest. Harry and Lloyd are even losing interest here.

So why move him at all? I understand the market dictated the price and that is fine, maybe not fair but fine. If the buying price is too low, walk away. Every deal that you get low balled you should walk away. Pretty sure Lack’s value only increases here on out and quite frankly what if Markstrom is a bust?
We all know Lack basically had the most value but once again they make the move for the guy they probably should have kept. If Ryan Miller somehow is traded, unlikely, this fan base will implode. As far as the 2nd we moved to get Baertschi, that can still end up being a good play and I don’t mind waiting there.

Again, why make this move. If he could have been signed long term to a team friendly deal, it just doesn’t make sense.

Even with new blood at the top, it seems the same decisions continue to be made; you all know the ones. What irks me is that they fail to value the WHL which is right in their backyard. In a loaded first round, a guy like Nick Merkley seemed like an easy choice for a team many of us see boat loads of highlights from and know his immediate value.
Benning picked Brock Boesner as our latest star  and although I do not know a ton on him, it sounds like he could be OK. Personal feeling: disappointed, People that know’s feeling: we’ll be alright.

Still not excited yet and after last season’s tortoise like climb I don’t think I will be for awhile.

The Oilers and Flames have clearly gotten better over the last year with the draft culminating what Edmonton and Connor McDavid are about to do and what once was a prime destination for players to come to is now only prime if the money is right. How Vancouver has changed. 

The Canucks can’t rest on their laurels of yesteryear and assume the best is yet to come. They have zero Cups to show for their efforts and at some point this rabid fan base will want to see the return.

Everyone wants the new out of the box thinking GM that has analytics and fancy words, sleep doctors and the like; to me out of the box means refurbished. I don’t want a refurbished GM. I want an ACTUAL GM. We are starting to see Benning was left out of the big boy meetings when it came to final say on players in Boston.

Alright, alright. That’s a bit harsh. His scouting is great and I love that he cares so passionately about seeing guys first hand, but he’s missing out on the important stuff like I dunno locking up the RIGHT guys and not fringe contributors. Looking back, we really like our gently used, not actually GM’s yet…GMs.

Dave Nonis was the first, Gillis was the second and now Benning is number three. The slippery slope may very well continue and its only a matter of time before we are calling for his head. And at that time, it better be for a current or former GM, no more nonsense.

The Canucks are basically treading water and even though 2011 is a far distant memory….i’ll wait, the current situation is nowhere near the team they used to be. Not sure how this is OK with the Aquillinis as an investment. How long is acceptable to wait for the REAL Vancouver Canucks (whatever that is) to be assembled?

I get the feeling that the Canucks are headed towards the excitement of the NEXT generational player like McDavid when they will have a pick inside the top 3 overall Hate to say it, but prove me wrong.

Sorry for the redundant comments but just read what’s there: the Canucks are in serious trouble! My boy Thomas Drance says it best here.

Free agency is next week, so unless Jimbo can get that briefcase to Aspen (aka deliver the goods), it’s Mary Sw, Swammy, Swan, SAMSONITE all over again. The Canucks have really been Dumb and Dumber lately and after seeing the sequel, I really hope they don’t plan on following that path as well.

The ratings are in at the box office and they don’t look good.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Bowness Coverage – The NHL Draft Hasn’t Been Kind To The Canucks

June has already been a pretty jam packed month and its only half way over. The Stanley Cup went to the Blackhawks (surprise, surprise), the Warriors won the NBA FInals, Jim Benning isn’t trading Ryan Miller and next week the NHL Entry Draft will commence with the next wave of stars finding homes. With all this, I am trying a new feature here at Always90four called Bowness Coverage that is Canucks first, NHL second and then a whole lot of everything else.

Its kind of like Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts over on Sportsnet, but I’ll keep it to about 10. Hopefully it’s worth doing every 2 weeks or so that it becomes a staple. Let me know what you think!

1) So, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup YET AGAIN for the 3rd time in 6 years. Its not a dynasty but its darn close. The group that has managed to stay together is pretty special. Led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa; the Hawks have found a way to keep a very expensive core together and continue to win with new parts each time.

Duncan Keith is a big reason this is even possible. He logs more minutes of play than an 18 year old when the new Call of Duty comes out. He’s gritty, offensively clutch, a pain in the butt to play against and brutally decorated with achievements: 3 Stanley Cups, 2 Olympic Gold Medals, a Conn Smythe, 2 Norris Trophies, etc, etc. He is everything you want in a defenseman and above all else, he wins.

But what if the Canucks were smart enough to have drafted him in 2002 in what largely was a dart board of picks every round? Would Keith have developed into the premier player he has become? The way the Canucks drafted that year and beyond, he would have been frustrated. What really stings is that Vancouver picked well before Chicago in Round 2 and would not have needed to stretch to get him.

Kiril Koltsov was the Canucks first choice at pick 49, with Keith going at 54. Koltsov played all of ZERO games in the NHL so it was a really great pick. Having seen Keith play in Kelowna on a nightly basis, he did all the right things and if the Canucks even bothered to acknowledge the WHL existed, maybe Duncan Keith would have lifted a Conn Smythe for Vancouver, who knows? You want to talk about misses, sometimes its the guy you could have taken that’s the miss instead of who you chose.

2) Speaking of the NHL Draft, there’s another player that I have been bragging about for about 2 seasons now: Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets. This guy is basically the full package of talent. He is only 18 so he can hone is craft and really strengthen his game more than he has already. The Canucks really should be jumping up to get this guy. He is a phenomonal playmaker, a slick goal scorer and his puck possesion reminds me of that guy that played in Edmonton in the 80’s. 

I am not saying Merkley is like Wayne Gretzky but he has similar traits that you just don’t see in every player. Merkley is a hybrid forward that can play both centre and wing and his forecheck is a thing of beauty. Anyone that watched the WHL Playoffs or the Memorial Cup this year knows exactly what he can bring to the table.

Canucks GM Jim Benning went on TSN 1040 on Wednesday and here is a piece that was taken from it:

I really don’t know who else they want in the first round. They’ll have to make a move to get him but man oh man is he worth the risk. His rookie year he played centre and won Rookie of the Year honours, this past season he was moved to the wing and led the Kelowna Rockets in assists and points (20G, 70A, 90PTS). Nick Merkley will only get better and with the right development he can really boom. 

Benning has had an iffy start so far but this is one player he can win with.

3) Sticking with Kelowna Rockets related players in the draft, a defenseman that will be a steal and can be had in the 4th or 5th round, is defensive defenseman Joe Gatenby. Gatenby’s ability to seperate his man from the puck is scary. The way he just becomes a wedge is something not every blue liner can just do. His speed to chase down forwards when his team has maybe pinched too hard is something to watch. 

The Canucks have been anything but successful in drafting defensive prospects. I mean, they aren’t the worst, but I can name a ton of teams that have done better. Joe Gatenby is a safe pick that will turn into an Alex Edler type player, he’s been ok. OH, and he was a Kelowna Rocket too! See a pattern here? Ranked at 174 by ISS, he’s a smart play.

4) Apparently, Ryan Miller isn’t going anywhere. *Insert frowny shrug* Jim Benning feels when Miller is playing   well he gives the team confidence. I am not by any means an NHL GM but is that not what every goalie does for their team? $6M per could be used in more constructive ways than aging Ryan Miller’s equipment.

There has to be a team for him to go to. We are already overpaying for Sbisa, to a degree Dorsett and we need some Canadian Tire money for Brad Richardson among others. Admitting to mistakes makes you a better person, I do it all the time. Admit that Miller was a safe move and you no longer see the need to keep him.

Canucks fans want a Stanley Cup and with Ryan Miller, thats one burnt year without a real shot. Trade Miller and move on Jimbo. I give you permission.

5) The Arizona Coyotes sure know how to stay relevant. How is this farce not over yet? Figure it out and get back to us. The news of Glendale cancelling the lease on the arena agreement for the Yotes was just a greedy, selfish mess. Grow up desert! You are an absolute joke, so much so you let your local residents tase you for charity.

This makes me sick.

6) The Golden State Warriors are NBA Champions. No exclamation point needed. If you have stayed loyal to me and kept reading this was actually a good series. You know, until the Cavs lost everyone but Lebron James. Cleveland just lost pace at a certain point and it was over. I was bored and I happened to have switched to TSN and the game was on, thats how I know.

I swear.

7) CBC Hockey Night in Canada’s PlayOn! 4 on 4 street hockey tournament is in my hometown of Kelowna this weekend and I’ll be there. Word is there are a few NHL teams in the elite division so I can totally understand if my games don’t get the crowds I’d expect. Riiiiiiiight. Its going to be a blast and getting to play hockey with two ringers makes my dismal skills look ok. You can check it out here.


8) Its still a few weeks away but NHL Free Agency opens July 1 and the Canucks would be smart to look at the defensive market this time around. The forwards are starting to show up on the farm so balancing the defense would seem to be a smart move.

There isn’t a lot to choose from but making a splash and landing at least 2 of these guys would fill a void that is um, very voiding. Christian Ehrhoff, Cody Franson, Mike Green and Johnny Oduya are all guys Vancouver should target while sending aging players Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and ugh, Luca Sbisa is newly signed; packing.

Might Jim Benning do something that BENEFITS the Canucks? Time will tell. Its just…Groundhog Day is getting old.

9) You may have quite a different taste in music than I do but Muse has a new album out and its great. Check this song out, I bet we both like it a lot.

10) Finally, as good as the Toronto Blue Jays are playing right now, and I haven’t seen a lot; if they don’t make a serious push for talented, reliable closing pitching they will just be a team that has fun in the summer. Put up your hand if you’re bored of this repeat issue.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Rockets Fall Short On Dream Season; Still Kelowna’s Heroes

My heart sank in sadness when the puck went in to crown the Oshawa Generals 2015 Memorial Cup Champions. I’ve felt this hurt before when the Vancouver Canucks fell to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup. That pain is never easy to swallow and we all play those hilites back in our heads over and over. This year’s Rockets team was different though, they weren’t supposed to lose. 

It wasn’t being cocky or arrogance, these guys were genuinely likeable and Canada fell in love with our Ogopogo crew. Losing in OT in the final game of the tournament is about as painful as it gets but a day later they could have won it all by the reception the locals gave them. Champions? No. Heroes? You bet!

  
Credit – infonnews.ca

A season that didn’t match their statistical efforts from a year prior, 53 -13-5-1 in 2015 compared to 57-11-0-4 in 2014, it made up in excitement, confidence and a handful of trades that took the WHL by storm. Owner and GM Bruce Hamilton pulled the trigger on some of the biggest moves the team has ever made and you know what, I say they paid off.

Hamilton isn’t known for parting with high picks or depth home grown talent but this season was different. RIght before Christmas he unloaded a deal that brough stud defenseman Josh Morrissey (backup goaltender Jake’s brother) home from Prince Albert.

A deal that shook the junior hockey world and got people wondering how far Kelowna would go to win it all in 2015. Well, they weren’t done. The Edmonton Oilers sent Leon Draisaitl (NHL 3rd overall pick in 2014) back to junior after 37 games and again, a trade was made to bring the star centre to the beautiful Okanagan from Prince Albert.

How many stars were buried in PA?

The Memorial Cup saw everything these newbies had to offer and Leon Draisaitl in defeat, won the tournament MVP with 4 goals and 3 assists. He was our J.S. Giguere. We were all sad too Leon. Had the Rockets won, there is a chance the winning goal might have been future NHL star Nick Merkley’s if the puck didn’t hop off his stick on a late game breakaway.

It would have been enough to have the additions of Morrissey and Draisaitl but in that deal the Rockets also received underrated winger Gage Quinney. Stealing is the wrong word here, Hamilton made out like a bandit. Oh but Brucey wasn’t done there. 

With room for one more 20 year old after sending away over-ager Carter Rigby at the beginning of the year, Hamilton looked north to Prince George and landed veteran gritty forward Chance Braid. He hits, he fights and believe it or not, he scores too!

Quinney and Braid took it to another level in Quebec and I think even for Rockets fans they realized Gage Quinney might be the teams next star. He was slightly overshadowed in coverage by Draisaitl, Merkley and Chartier which was fine by him.

Quinney’s four goals and an assist were right behind the big German and occasional linemate Merkley. The big games came and Gage stepped up. Next season is going to be bright for him. Merkley and Quinney could do a lot more damage when they play full time together.

Kelowna took a bit to jel all their new additions but things were still going as planned. WIns came easy and when the challenges came, they passed with flying colors. The fans started to notice, they started to get excited.

The playoffs for the Rockets basically started in the second round after sweeeping the Tri City Americans quicker than it takes to change the channel when Caillou comes on (Im a dad, if you know…you know). Victoria’s Royals put up a bit of a challenge but again, Kelowna only needed 5 games and some anger after losing one they shouldn’t have.

If you follow the Rockets closely, you know the Portland Winter Hawks have been Kelowna’s kryptonite. Facing the Hawks 3 of the last 4 years, it was going to be THE test everyone was waiting for. Back and forth both teams went but it wasn’t until game 4 that Kelowna made their statement (VIDEO). Kelowna never looked back.

Going into the WHL Final, the stars came alive. Josh Morrissey, Nick Merkley, Leon Draisaitl and Gage Quinney all had their way with the Brandon Wheat Kings and what looked like a 6 or 7 game series quickly turned into an unlikely sweep by the Rockets.

Could they be that good?

Aside from a few hiccups, the Rockets were as advertised even though they finished the round robin 1-2 at the Memorial Cup. Scoring 7 goals against the Rimouski Oceanic put them in the semi final and embarrassing the Quebec Ramparts in that game 9-3 had all but assured Kelowna the title.

Oshawa ended up with the OT winner to become the 2015 Champs but in all the Kelowna’s fans eyes, their team had reminded the rest of Canada they were for real. It could have gone either way but no one in Kelowna is blaming anyone. 

This team brought a city together even if only for a few months and it may take awhile before Kelowna gets back to the big dance but we won’t forget. These were our heroes.

The Rockets marketing team came up with the slogan and hashtag #thismomentweownit for this season, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that says they didn’t.

Its all done for another year but something tells me Canada will want to see more next season. At the very least, this little girl sure does:

  
Thanks Merks!  Next stop – the NHL Draft.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Rockets Too Much For Ramparts; Generals Await

Safe to say the province of Quebec are not Rockets fans after this week. Kelowna amassed 16 goals combined against the Rimouski Oceanic and Quebec Ramparts in just over 3 days. Everything seems to have gone right for the Rockets and their final test comes Sunday.

One more game. One more team.

The Kelowna Rockets needed a big game out of their stars and it was the supporting cast that did most of the damage on Friday night. The media and fans alike no doubt would have expected Nick Merkley, Leon Draisaitl and Gage Quinney to be the ones leading the attack, would Chance Braid and Justin Kirkland do?

Braid and Rodney Southam both got an opportunity to drop the mitts against Ramparts Yanick Turcotte and it only seemed to fire up the Rockets, to the tune of 9-3. Sure the big guns had a good game but it was the secondary scoring that did Quebec in.

Justin Kirkland seems to be fine after coming back from injury. He picked a great game to get back in the groove. With 2G and 2A and a +3, what a way to stun the Quebec crowd! He wasn’t the only one. Chance Braid added to his big fight by completing the Gordie Howe Hat Trick with a goal and an assist.

Up and down the lineup, the Rockets were having statement games. Even though Rourke Chartier was the team’s leading scorer, he has been under the weather and hasn’t produced at his normal clip. I guess all he needed was a big game to get his scoring touch back.

2 goals and a +4 got Chartier right back to where he needed to be. The German sniper Leon Draisaitl made quick work of Zach Fucale putting up a pedestrian 1G and 2A. He continues to amaze and now, he doesn’t even celebrate his goals.

We could keep talking about all the guys that got points for Kelowna but how about the ones that kept the puck out? Cole Martin is beyond underrated. He played the ultimate shutdown role against Quebec stealing pucks and driving guys to the outside.

Martin gets praise at home but on such a big stage like the Memorial Cup, he has elevated his game to the point the scouts should be taking notice. He isn’t flashy and isn’t one for the stats but if you need someone to breakup a huge play, odds are Martin is there.

Can’t forget to mention Jackson Whistle who allowed only 3 goals. In a format like the Memorial Cup, every team is good enough to score a boatload of goals. He never allowed more than 3 goals in a game and in the losses he suffered he was far from the reason they fell.

Whistle has been able to surpass his predecessor Jordan Cooke with less than stellar numbers, but the big numbers that mattered were the W’s he produced. The goal scoring in front of him sure helps keep a calm hand when opponents are bearing down on his net.

So now the Rockets get to play the Generals for the Memorial Cup. Two teams that are equal in almost every way. If you read my post from just over a week ago you know I’m not shocked to see them both here.

The two best teams are right where they should be and the way the Rockets are playing, the loss they suffered the first time they played Oshawa will serve as a good reminder of what they’ll have to do to win. Scoring 9 times in the semi final is a pretty good sign they’re ready.

Sunday can’t come soon enough.

Follow me on twitter for more hot takes: @always90four


Kelowna Rockets Need Calm, Not Calamity To Advance

It might only be one loss, but the Kelowna Rockets can’t afford to lose again. In their opening matchup Friday against the host Quebec Ramparts, the Rockets were downed 4-3 in what ended up being a nailbiter. Kelowna looked reactive and uncomfortable until late in the game; that will need to be remedied immediately for the Okanagan crew to move on.

The Mastercard Memorial Cup tournament is a quick gauntlet of the best teams in the CHL and when you only play each team once (1 vs. OHL Champions, 1 vs. QMJHL Champions and host team) every loss can be devastating and at the same time each win monumental.

The Rockets once again started the first period with a goal against and nerves seemed to be a big factor. As good as they are, there aren’t very many chances to bounce back in a week long tourny. Goaltender Jackson Whistle had another on again off again outing but still maintained his all star play for a good chunk of the game.

Whistle wasn’t the main reason for the loss though, failure to keep a consistent pace with Quebec and lack of discipline had Kelowna in the box too often and the individual efforts overshadowed what they did well as a team.

Coach Dan Lambert has iced a team that much of the season has shown composure and because of this they tend to overpower teams with their four line attack. Forwards Nick Merkley and Leon Draisaitl can control shifts and even periods with their eye for how a play will develop. Having a cool head translates into goals for these guys.

Cole Linaker showed his patience on the penalty kill last game when he read the Rampart defenders and found an open Nick Merkley in the slot to get back into the game. Its unlikely nerves will play a factor in Monday’s game against the Rimouski Oceanic. There isn’t time anymore.

Its no secret that the line of Draisaitl, Merkley and Rourke Chartier will be the force that decides how far this team goes. When they’re on, they’re lethal. Tyson Baillie will need to provide some clutch minutes as well with Dillon Dube and Gage Quinney.

Kelowna has the firepower to get the job done in Quebec and if they get back to their team assault, the rest of Canada will see why they are so good. 

Capitalizing on thoughtless penalties will help the Rockets even things out a bit more. World Junior Gold Medallists defensemen Madison Bowey and Josh Morrissey will also be on high alert. These guys will make the difference when just one more shot or one more battle to hold the line is crucial.

The Rockets made quick work of the WHL in this year’s post season because they didn’t panic when they were up against a challenge, they adapted and prevailed. This will be no different.

Progress. Not perfection.
Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Photo credit: torontosun.com