Having scored back-to-back wins last weekend, the Kelowna Rockets finally seem to be travelling the road of respectability. Yet given how much potential this team has, the Rockets should be traversing the path of success, not mediocrity.
Through 22 games this season, Kelowna has won just eight times. According to the WHL’s website, the Rockets’ winning percentage is 43.2 per cent. That stat, however, is a points percentage, as it includes points for overtime losses and shootout losses. Kelowna’s real winning percentage is even lower at 36.3 per cent.
Regardless what stat you select, those are unacceptable numbers, considering this team has one of the league’s best goaltenders, a handful of dynamic forwards and a pretty solid, if young, defence. How long team management puts up with this win-one, lose-two result is anyone’s guess, but knowing how competitive Bruce Hamilton is, I’m guessing it won’t be for long.
“Disappointed is a pretty fair comment, and frustrated,” said Hamilton, Kelowna’s president and GM, when asked for his take on the season so far. “We have our team back now, except for one or two guys, and it seems we’re scared to make a mistake right now. And when you play that way, you’re not hard to play against. To me, we have to become quite a bit more physical with our play and get a bit of a push going at the other end of the rink by having the other team worried that we’re going to run into them and get pucks turned over. Because right now, we’re not creating enough scoring chances. We’ve been outshot a lot, so that’s a pretty good indicator that we’re not getting much of a forecheck going.”
With Kelowna (8-11-2-1) starting a seven-game homestand this evening against the Prince George Cougars (6-15-0-2), Kelowna’s brass will finally get a good, long look at the team’s strengths and weaknesses over the next 14 days. Until recently, Kelowna’s roster was hampered with a rash of injuries from season’s start. Those injuries forced Kelowna to shuffle its deck to fix gaping roster holes. Now that Kelowna is mostly healthy, the real evaluations begin — which may or may not include trades.
“This period of time is going to be real critical,” said Hamilton. “If we decide we want to add something . . . we’re always looking for ways to make our team better — but I won’t be subtracting. I have no interest in that. I don’t believe in throwing the cards up in the air and then starting over. We’re not going to do that here. We’ve put this team together for a couple of seasons so they could move forward and become an older group together, and that’s still the plan. So, right now, our older guys have to be the difference, and they haven’t been enough of a difference. They have to have an impact in every game.”
As to what type of player the Rockets have their eye on, it’ll likely be an older defenceman. Or one with plenty of league experience.
“We have a good leader in Colton Sissons, but it seems we don’t have very many (leaders),” said Hamilton. “Sometimes we’re playing against teams that have five or six 19-year-olds, and our older players sometimes aren’t being impact guys.”
Having just bested Prince George twice on the weekend, sweeping the Cougars 3-2 and 4-2 in a double dip at the CN Centre, the Rockets should enter tonight’s contest with plenty of confidence. How confident they’ll be on Friday night against the Kootenay Ice (15-5-1-2), the defending league champions, is another matter. Either way, these two games will tell a lot about whether Kelowna’s management will start making changes sooner, or later.
ICE CHIPS: The Rockets are 3-0 this season against the Cougars, having outscored them 9-5. . . . The Rockets are 4-4-1-1 in their past 10 games, and are 3-0-1-0 in their past four, while the Cougars are 3-6-0-1 in their past 10 and are on a four-game losing streak (0-3-0-1). . . . Kelowna’s power play is ranked 14th at 20.2 per cent (23-114), while the penalty kill is ranked 14th at 77.9 per cent (23-104). Prince George’s power play is 22nd and last at 11.8 per cent (13-110), while the penalty kill is 12th at 79.8 per cent (21-104). . . . The Rockets are 6-3 when leading after the first period and 5-1-0-1 when leading after two. The Cougars are 2-3-0-0 and 4-0-0-0, respectively. . . . Kelowna’s top scorers are RW Shane McColgan (7-15-22), RW Colton Sissons (10-6-16), C Cody Chikie (8-8-16), D Damon Severson (3-13-16) and D Myles Bell (5-9-14). Prince George’s top scorers are C Alex Forsberg (4-11-15), LW Troy Bourke (5-8-13), D Cody Carlson (1-12-13), LW Spencer Asuchak (7-5-12) and C Charles Inglis (5-6-11).
In other junior-hockey news, it appears Western Canada’s four junior-A leagues will be sending their respective league champions to a tournament to see which two earn RBC Cup berths.
Called the Western Canadian Championship, the competition is expected to be in place for the 2012-13 season. According to B.C. Hockey League commissioner John Grisdale, bids are being accepted for the inaugural five-team competition (the four league champions plus a tournament host team), with B.C. set to host the first one, April 26 to May 5, 2013.
Normally, the BCHL champion squares off against its Alberta (AJHL) counterpart, with that winner representing the Pacific region at the RBC Cup. The same format goes for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with the winner representing the West region. The WCC will replace the existing Doyle Cup (B.C. vs. Alberta) and Anavet Cup (Saskatchewan vs. Manitoba) championships.
If anything, with all four league champions under one tournament umbrella, it should be well attended by NHL scouts.
Grisdale, noting planning for the new event has been in the works for more than a year, said the deadline for bid proposals for the 2012-13 WCC is Dec. 15 of this year.
“We’ve had some strong initial interest,” Grisdale told The Penticton Herald, adding that, unlike the World Junior Hockey Championship, this event will not by run by Hockey Canada. “There is some real opportunity for a community to make some profit and provide significant economic spinoff.”
The Doyle Cup and Anavet’s Cup competitions will continue as per usual this year, with the winner from each qualifying for the RBC Cup. Humboldt, Sask. is hosting this year’s RBC Cup May 5-13.
Next year, Summerside, P.E.I., will host the RBC Cup and it will be held a week later than normal. That will allow the WCC to wrap up on May 5 and still give the two qualifying teams several days to prepare for the RBC Cup.