By Larry Fisher
The Okanagan Sunday
Colton Jobke could hardly wait to attend Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final in Vancouver on Saturday. Brett Bulmer, meanwhile, could have cared less how Vancouver fared against the Boston Bruins, but still planned on watching the Canucks on TV from his hometown of Prince George.
The Kelowna Rockets’ teammates were, however, rooting for the same franchise when it came to Game 5 of the AHL’s Calder Cup final last night. Bulmer, a second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild last summer, and Jobke, signed by Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in the fall, are fresh off stints on the farm with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League. The Aeros fell 4-2 to the Binghamton Senators on Saturday, falling behind 3-2 in that best-of-seven set, which shifts to Houston for Game 6 on Tuesday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Thursday.
Both Bulmer and Jobke headed for Houston after the Rockets were eliminated in the second round of WHL playoffs by the Portland Winterhawks on April 17.
Bulmer jumped right into the Aeros’ lineup, skating alongside Carson McMillan and Jarod Palmer in a fourth-line energy role, while Jobke spent almost four weeks on Houston’s practice squad without seeing any game action. Bulmer joined Jobke on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury in his eighth game — the opener of Houston’s conference final win over the Hamilton Bulldogs — and both recently returned to B.C.
Despite getting quite different perspectives, both saw their time with Houston as a valuable learning experience in terms of what it takes to be successful at the professional level.
“It was very exciting, obviously,” said Bulmer, 19. “The guys are so much smarter and more physical, so it definitely helped me out in improving my game, and I took a lot from it.”
The biggest difference, Jobke echoed, was “just size and the physical strength.
“To play with 16- to 20-year-olds in the WHL is one thing, but then to play with fully-grown men is a whole other ball-game,” Jobke said. “Just the maturity level of the hockey down there and just the speed and the pace, I think I learned a lot.
“I think I can bring that back to Kelowna and help myself and help my teammates next year.”
That, of course, is music to the ears of Rockets coach Ryan Huska.
“It’s similar to guys going to NHL camps, they always come back feeling better about themselves and they have a better idea of what it takes to play at the next level,” said Huska, who tracked their progress from afar and noted Bulmer will be fully recovered from his injury in time for the WHL’s 2011-12 campaign. “When you get an opportunity to see guys that are quite a bit older and quite a bit stronger, I think the players realize how much further they have to go and what they’re capable of. So when we push them, they have a better understanding of why we’re doing that.”
In Houston, Bulmer and Jobke took a watch-and-learn approach and leaned on key veterans for advice in making the adjustment. From former Rockets forward Cody Almond to former NHLer Jed Ortmeyer, Bulmer had ample help in making the transition.
“Cody I know from years past. He's a really good guy and he helps me whenever I come up and introduces me to all the new guys,” Bulmer said of Almond, who left Kelowna after the 2009 Memorial Cup run, just prior to Bulmer becoming a WHL regular. “Jed Ortmeyer was another guy who made it fun for me to be down there. He was really good, even in practice helping me out with all the drills. Whatever I needed to ask, I'd go to him and he'd help me.”
Bulmer had his share of questions, as his responsibility shifted from scoring to checking forward.
“You can't really go in and take the top guys' spots,” Bulmer said. “So you accept your role, whatever it may be.
“We were supposed to be an energy line and win our shifts and produce some scoring chances. And we did get some offensive chances, so it wasn't like I was just out there grinding. I got to show a little bit of offensive ability, too.”
Jobke, a 19-year-old defenceman from Delta, found comfort in another WHL alum, former Spokane Chiefs blue-liner Jared Spurgeon. The 21-year-old Spurgeon played 53 games with Minnesota this season, before being re-assigned to Houston for playoffs.
“I watched him a lot,” Jobke said. “He's not the biggest guy out there, but he plays with such composure and is just so smooth with the puck. He never panics and he sees the ice really well.”
Like Kelowna, Houston sticks to a strict system and counts on goalie Matt Hackett for big saves at crucial times.
“Just like with Adam (Brown of the Rockets), Hackett stole some games for us, for sure,” Jobke said.
As for the Canucks’ thrilling 3-2 overtime victory, Jobke almost called it. He predicted a 3-1 win prior to heading downtown with his dad, who has two season tickets for the family, which also includes Jobke’s mom and older brother, Tyson. Colton, though, seems to be the Canucks’ lucky charm, as he last attended their double-overtime win that clinched the San Jose series.
Bulmer, meanwhile, remained more worried about the Aeros’ bid for the Calder Cup.
“I definitely check every night to see how they did,” he said. “I’m still supporting them and hopefully the boys can win this final series. That would be really great for me and all the guys.”
When it comes to Vancouver, well . . .
“Everyone in my house and around here all my friends are cheering for the Canucks, but I’m not hopping on that bandwagon yet,” said Bulmer. “I’ve had a few different teams over the years. I liked Edmonton when I was really young, then I kind of liked Ottawa and Chicago, but now it’s all Minnesota for me.”