by Tieja MacLaughlin for The Daily Courier

Just when it seemed that is was all over, the Kelowna Rockets came alive.

The Rockets picked up a 4-3 overtime win against the Vancouver Giants on Tuesday night at Prospera Place, sparked by an effort in the dying seconds of the game.

With 17 seconds remaining in regulation, Ryan Olsen potted a goal that would force overtime and allow the Rockets to pick up their 20th win of the season.

"Our third period was good," said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. "That was the one period I thought we played with some urgency and pace, and a lot of that came from our backend."
It was defenceman Damon Severson who scored the overtime winner, as he slid to his knee and put an unassisted shot on net.

"We have to get more out of our forwards right now," said Huska. "They have to play with more urgency and a little more physicality to their game."

Kelowna’s front end has been led by Tyson Baillie who has eight points -Â four goals and four assists - in his past 10 games, including a goal and two assists in the win over Vancouver.

"Today felt good," said 18-year old Baillie. "I felt more confident playing centre, which is my natural position."

Vancouver was led by Cain Franson, who scored a pair of quick back-to-back goals for the Giants in the second.

Franson - the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Cody Franson - scored his first goal on a shot that trickled through the five hole of Kelowna goalie Jordon Cooke. Less than two minutes later, he recorded his second on the power play.

Colton Heffley buried a backhand for Kelowna that tied the game in the third, before Alec Baer replied for Vancouver with what appeared to be the game winner.

But Olsen gave the Rockets life with his late marker.

"We were fortunate to have a puck bounce our way," said Huska. "We were able to get it into the zone and then our players did a good job of just getting it to the net."

Steadfast netminder Cooke picked up his 15th win, and is among the top five in the league in goals against average, save percentage, wins and shutouts.

Tuesday’s game was the first of a three game homestand for the Rockets, who get set to battle Everett - the top team in the Western Conference - on Friday, before suiting up against Kootenay on Saturday.

"We got away with these three wins," said Baillie. "But our work ethic and our focus has to be better going forward."

ICE CHIPS: When the Rockets host the Silvertips on Friday night, the team will hold its first Teddy Bear Toss night. Fans are asked to bring a teddy bear to the game and throw it on the ice when Kelowna scores its first goal.

by Tieja MacLaughlin for The Daily Courier

The Kelowna Rockets beat the Kamloops Blazers in dramatic fashion on Saturday night.

A shootout goal from Justin Kirkland was the deciding factor in the second game of a home-and-home series between these B.C. Division rivals, with Kelowna winning both contests 3-2.

The Rockets (19-3-0-2) faced a couple of tough tests this weekend against the Blazers (6-18-2-2), who are dead last in the Western Conference.

"They played very well both nights that we faced them," Rockets head coach Ryan Huska said of the Blazers, who have lost all four meetings with Kelowna to date. "We got the four points this weekend, but we were rewarded when maybe we shouldn’t have been.

"They competed and won a lot of puck battles," Huska continued. "They were the hungrier team tonight."

Despite being outshot by the Blazers in all three frames and in extra time, Jackson Whistle earned his fifth win of the season for the Rockets.

Opposing netminder Taran Kozun picked up his 12th loss.

"I don’t know if maybe we were coming out thinking it wasn’t going to be as tough because they’re in last place," Whistle said. "But you cant think about that, we have to be ready to go no matter what team it is."

Carter Rigby netted the Rockets’ first goal, before Tyson Ness tied the game in the second period for the Blazers. Ness scored his 20th of the season on a rush up the left side before unleashing a shot that stunned Whistle on the glove side.

Ryan Olsen restored Kelowna’s lead in the third, before Kamloops captain Matt Needham scored a power-play marker to force the game into extra time.

Myles Bell and Damon Severson missed in the shootout for the Rockets, as did all three Blazers shooters.

Kelowna has won 12 of its last 13, and has been ranked as the third-best team in Canada in the CHL Top 10 rankings for two straight weeks. The Blazers’ last win was Nov. 5.

The Rockets are back in action Tuesday, hosting the Vancouver Giants in another 7 p.m. puck-drop at Prospera Place.

"I think they’re going to come out hard and so are we," Whistle said. "They’re one of our biggest rivals. We haven’t played them yet this year, so I think it’s going to be a good game."

ICE CHIPS: Severson’s assist on Olsen’s goal was his milestone 100th career assist… . After Tuesday’s tilt with Vancouver, Kelowna hosts the Western Conference-leading Everett Silvertips (20-4-4-0) next Friday and the Kootenay Ice (15-12-2-0) next Saturday to conclude this homestand.

by Tieja MacLaughlin for The Daily Courier

Unprepared.

"That was our game in a nutshell," said Kelowna Rockets head coach Ryan Huska.

The Rockets’ nine-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Victoria Royals with a 4-1 loss on Wednesday at Prospera Place.

Kelowna’s B.C. Division rivals scored three goals during the third period, including two power play markers, to hand the Rockets their first loss since October 22.

"I don’t think we were prepared to play," said Huska. "It’s a tough one. I thought we were out of gas the whole night - our power play didn’t do the job for us and neither did our penalty kill."

Both teams were coming off of road wins heading into last night’s game - the Royals with a 2-1 win at Kamloops, and the Rockets with a 4-3 shootout win at Seattle.

"You can make an excuse that we travelled all night last night," said Rockets winger Tyson Baillie, who potted the shootout winner against the Thunderbirds on Tuesday. "But it shouldn’t be an excuse for us."

Royals forward Tyler Soy scored on Victoria’s first shot of the game, squeaking one between the legs of Jordon Cooke, highlighting a slow-paced first period.

Baillie scored Kelowna’s lone goal of the game in the second frame off of a beautiful drop pass from Winnipeg Jets prospect Ryan Olsen.

"Our penalty kill has been very good this year," Baillie said of Kelowna’s top-ranked penalty killing unit. "But today, they got a couple of power play goals on us, which is unfortunate in such a close game."

Victoria managed only four shots on net in the second, but killed two key penalties in a five on three situation.

The turning point of the game came on a Victoria two-man advantage, when Austin Carroll tipped in a shot from an awkward angle out of the corner. Kelowna had a man in the box serving a minor, along with man another serving a bench minor for too many men - the Rockets’ second such offence of the game.

Victoria’s Ben Walker tallied the Royals third goal, using his speed to beat defenceman Riley Stadel up the ring wing and fire an unassisted wrist shot past Cooke. Brandon Fushimi also scored - again on the power play - to secure the Royals’ 4-1 win. Kelowna recorded only three shots in the third.

WHL-leading goaltender Cooke recorded his first regulation loss of the season, while Victoria’s Patrik Polivka stopped 27 shots to pick up his tenth win between the pipes.

"It’s a good thing we have a game Friday so we can recover quick and get back at it," said Baillie. "We’re just looking forward to continuing another streak."

The Rockets now sit at 16-3-0-2 on the season and will suit up on Friday against the Tri City Americans to wrap up three games in four nights this week.

"It’s something we have to learn from and make sure that we don’t get ourselves into this situation again," said Huska. "(We can’t) look for a crutch … if things don’t go our way, we have to fight through that challenge if we want to be one of the better teams in the league."

by Tieja MacLaughlin for The Daily Courier

Madison Bowey and the letter C seem to go well together.

Kelowna’s newly appointed captain scored two points in the Rockets’ 6-2 victory over the Red Deer Rebels at Prospera Place on Wednesday evening. The 18-year-old blue-liner tallied a goal and an assist en route to being named as the game’s first star.

The Rockets picked up their fifth straight win following back-to-back road sweeps at Victoria and Prince George, respectively. Red Deer, meanwhile, recorded its third consecutive loss.
Bowey was named team captain prior to the Rockets’ two-game series in Prince George last weekend.

Since then, he has recorded seven points in three games and was recently named to the Subway Super Series roster for Team WHL. Wednesday’s contest marked his first game playing in front of a home crowd under his new leadership role.

"I know the fans really support the captain, and it was an honour to wear (the ‘C’) for the first time at home," said Bowey. "It was a great experience."

The Rockets scored four goals in the first 14 minutes of the game before Red Deer goaltender Patrik Bartosak was pulled in favour of 16-year old rookie Taz Burman.

Bowey scored his sixth goal of the season when he buried a rebound off a blast from New Jersey prospect Myles Bell.

"I thought (Bowey) played really good, especially early," said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. "I feel like he’s been more assertive (since being named as captain); he’s got a presence about him."

Bowey and Kayle Doetzel dropped the mitts in a stale second period, with Bowey coming out on top.

The period’s lone marker came from the Rebels’ Brooks Maxwell, who took the puck down the right side and potted his own rebound off of the initial save.

Red Deer cut Kelowna’s lead to two early in the third, before team scoring leader Tyson Baillie beat a Rebels defender feeding a beautiful pass to Carter Rigby for his first goal of the season.

"I thought that was the turning point of the game for us," said Huska. "When we gave up that second goal, we wondered which way the team was going to go, and I was pleased with how they responded. We scored fairly quickly after that."

Bowey had another scoring opportunity when he rang a shot off of the post at the midway point in the third on a two-man advantage. Seconds later in the same shift, Zach Franko scored to secure Kelowna’s victory.

Kelowna outshot their opponent by a margin of 26 shots, and netminder Jordan Cooke - who has yet to register a loss in regulation - earned his 10th win of the season.

Nick Schmaltz has taken a familiar path to the World Junior A Challenge
by Tieja MacLaughlin for Hockey Canada

Nick Schmaltz remembers sitting next to his mother and father at the Consol Energy Centre in Pittsburgh, Penn. It was the summer of 2012 and older brother Jordan was projected as a high end draft pick at the NHL Entry Draft.

“I had some butterflies in my stomach,” said Nick, before hearing Jordan’s name selected by St. Louis with the 25th pick. “It was getting late into the first round and we didn’t know if he was going to go or not – he was kind of a borderline guy. We waited about two to three hours and he got picked. It was an awesome day.”

As Nick enters into his draft year he finds himself in a similar situation, as a top-ranked prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft. The 17-year old is one of only three A-rated prospects on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary list of players to watch from the United States Hockey League (USHL).

Nick is second-year forward with the Green Bay Gamblers – the same team his brother, a defenceman, won a Clark Cup with in 2012. Both Schmaltz’s also played for the under-16 Chicago Mission, and Nick is committed to the University of North Dakota, where Jordan is in his sophomore year.

“He’s been a pretty big influence,” said Nick, when asked about the brothers’ nearly identical hockey careers. “I’ve looked up to him and been proud of what he’s done so far. I try to follow him and I’m working hard to be half as successful as he has been.”

North Dakota was an obvious choice for Nick, who was named to the USHL All-Rookie Team last season with 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists) in 64 games. Nick is native of Verona, Wis., but his parents were raised in Bismarck, N.D., and his father and two uncles played college football at North Dakota.

“There was a pretty obvious family influence there,” said Jordan. “We also talked about having the chance to play together one day, and I think that had a big impact on his decision as well.”

Nick and Jordan suited up together on one other occasion – Jordan’s final season with the Gamblers, when Nick was recalled from minor midget. The brothers played 10 games together at Green Bay, which was the first time they saw their names on the same roster outside of summer hockey or pick-up games on the outdoor rink.

“That was pretty special,” said Nick, who was 15 at the time. “I was a little nervous at first with some of the older guys, but it was really fun and [Jordan] was a good leader for me. He showed me the way and made the transition easy; I hope I get to play with him again next year.”

This year Nick will once again follow in his brother’s footsteps as he suits up for the U.S. at the World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth, N.S.

Jordan made two appearances at the tournament, winning a gold medal in 2010 and bronze in 2011. This year’s tournament will mark Nick’s third international appearance. He recorded nine points and won a silver medal at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in addition to representing the United States at the 2012 Youth Olympic Games in Austria.

“It’s an honour every time I get to put on the jersey,” said Nick. “Not many kids get to do that, so I take pride and make sure I make the most of it.”

Nick will have some familiar faces joining him in Yarmouth; Green Bay head coach Derek Lalonde will serve as bench boss for the U.S. squad, while two fellow Gamblers – Matthew Weis and Jordan Gross – will don the red, white and blue, and a former teammate from midget – Seamus Malone – has also been named to the roster.

“I’m excited to play with a bunch of great players from the USHL,” said Nick, who will be making his first visit to Eastern Canada. “I’ve been told [Yarmouth] is a small town and people are hockey crazy, so it should be fun. I think it will be a good experience to see other Junior A teams from around the world and hopefully we can bring home the gold.”

The United States has captured gold four of the past five years at the tournament. Nick hopes to do the same this year, with a little advice from his older brother.

“I just tell him to control what you can control and play hard,” said Jordan. “It’s all about the simple things. I don’t try and put too much on him – he’s a mature kid and he knows what he has to do.”

…and what it taught me about failed relationships and the glamourous world of sports

by Tieja MacLaughlin

I haven’t blogged in years…so long in fact, that I can’t actually remember the last time I collected my thoughts in writing. Life has a way of keeping us preoccupied and how often we overlook the basics – those little things that inspire us and give us a true sense of satisfaction.

But today I heard a story that resinated with me, and I feel compelled to share it.

I was given the opportunity to co-host a show this morning from a soup kitchen in Kelowna. My co-host and I helped to prepare a daily lunch and prep for upcoming Thanksgiving Dinner. This location feeds on average, 150 homeless or in-need individuals daily.

As I spoke to one of the kitchen coordinators off camera, he shared a personal story with me.

Prior to working at the soup kitchen, this gentleman had owned his own restaurant. As it turned out, a well-to-do tradesmen that had done work on his establishment ended up injuring himself on the job. Details aside, the tradesman could not afford the costs of his health care and slowly had his property seized. In time he also became depressed.

These two men that had previously done business at the restaurant ended up crossing paths again – as all things in life eventually come full circle – this time though, they connected at the soup kitchen when the one-time tradesman came in for a meal served by the ex-restaurant owner. A man that had once earned nearly three figures annually, through a turn of fate, could now not afford to feed himself.

I listened to this story of highs and lows and bit my lip to keep from tearing up. On my drive home, I still couldn’t shake the emotions I felt not only from this story, but from the entire experience and my interaction with others at the kitchen.

Just yesterday I was sulking over my own “hardships” – my rusted truck, the half furnished suite I just moved into, and the fact I couldn’t afford the brand name boots I wanted. I shook my fist at the universe when my feelings were hurt by a thoughtless boy and I took pity on myself.

We always think “our” problems are the worst, but this shit pales in comparison to what I saw today. How fortunate am I to have my health, a roof over my head, and enough food to keep my belly full. How selfish of me to pout over my lack of enviable materialistic possessions, or an incompatible mate.

I felt the need to share this simple, yet heartfelt story, because I know I’m not the only one who sometimes takes things for granted. Working in the world of sports I am exposed to people who make more money in one year than I’ll ever see in my lifetime. It’s glamourous, and of course we all want to reap the rewards when our hard work pays off, but it is easy to get tied up in it all.

Today was a reality check – in life and in love – to not take anything for granted.  

by Tieja MacLaughlin for Shold Media Group

How often does a professional athlete get the green light to eat crappy food? The answer is….well, never. Which is why you could sympathize with a good man looking for some grub.

This was more or less the scene at the Sportsnet studio last week when PK Subban sat in as a guest analyst on Friday Night Hockey.

The always entertaining Montreal Canadians defenceman has a little more time on his hands these days with an NHL lockout. Enthusiastic and outspoken, he’s been a natural fit on the broadcast scene.

As a powerful and big bodied blueliner, PK was given a rare privilege from his trainer this particular week: eat as many carbs as possible. And the best part, they didn’t even have to be ‘good’ carbs.

With this allowance in mind, PK decided he wanted to order pizza.

I looked on as PK, Jeff Marek, Doug Maclean and the rest of the boys read over notes and stats in preparation for their on air appearance. Producers, directors, technicians, make-up artists and a slew of other staff came and went. Many viewers don’t realize how many people are actually at work behind the scenes of a broadcast.

With pizza on his mind, PK placed his order during a down time. Rehashing what happened hereafter is like waking a sleeping giant.

The pizza delivery company made an error on the order, a rather large error – they didn’t actually make it. An hour and a half later, PK did not have his pizza.

It’s quite interesting how well composed a hungry and angry man can stay during a broadcast. The sign of a true professional.

After spending some time trying to resolve the problem with pizza company A, PK decided instead to take his business elsewhere. He was so disgruntled after the poor service he had received, that he took to Twitter. There’s a lesson to be learned here for people of all ages: bad publicity is hard to get rid of.

Pizza company B saved the day, the world kept turning and the crew enjoyed their meal. It was merely an entertaining ordeal for me as an outsider.

My in studio experience was a great one, missing pizzas and all. There are so many talented employees working to deliver the best in sports news, and it’s people like this who inspire us to do the best in our own craft.

The pizza situation was fitting in my mind. It reminded me to always, stay hungry.

TheBeautyStatus host TysonLW took to the studios at Sportsnet in Toronto to discuss the 2013 Canadian World Junior roster. In the podcast CHL social media coordinator for Sportsnet’s Friday Night Hockey/CHL insider Tieja MacLaughlin joins to talk about head coach of the World Junior Team Steve Spott, and what the World Juniors means for CHL hockey.

In studio for Sportsnet Friday Night Hockey.