The questions came quickly at Leif Mattson and Nolan Foote on Tuesday morning inside Glenmore Elementary School.
The Kelowna Rockets representatives had just finished reading to roughly 100 kids in Grades 3 and 4 seated on the carpet of the school library. That gave way to the Q & A portion of the morning.
“How many hockey sticks do you have?” one youngster asked.
“Are you on the same team?” another wanted to know.
“Have you ever played in the NHL?” came a third.
Mattson and Foote smiled and answered as best they could.
“Time for one more,” senior librarian Doug Obst said, and one eager hand went shooting straight into the air. “Yes, you in the back.”
“How are you addressing a lagging penalty kill?”
Wow, that was a great question.
OK, truth be told, it was mine, but it’s still a great question.
Can you blame me? Those other ones were so elementary, and I was on deadline. I knew all those other answers, anyway:
2. C’mon, kid, they’re wearing the same jerseys.
3. Kind of — Mattson played for the Carolina Hurricanes rookie squad, and Foote played for the Tampa Bay Lightning rookies, in a preseason tournament this September. They even played a game against each other.
Badda bing, badda boom. Watch and learn from a pro, kids.
That’s real journalism in action.
My question, now that was a tough one.
“Actually, our penalty kill is a lot better,” Mattson said.
“It’s up four spots in the last little while,” Foote added.
Really? What’s the difference?
“Hard work,” Mattson said.
Well, yeah, but … last time I checked, the Rockets were ranked 14th in the 22-team WHL.
True, that was before Kelowna took three of four points in Victoria last week and beat up on the Prince George Cougars last Friday here.
If you look closer at those games, Kelowna has killed off its last nine penalties. In the Rockets 4-3 shootout loss to Victoria, Oct. 29, Kelowna only surrendered one power-play chance to the Royals. They’re now ranked 9th.
All kidding aside, the Rockets (9-4-2) are one something of a run. They’re 4-1-1 in their past six games and are tied atop the B.C. Division with the Kamloops Blazers (10-6-0).
They’ll put that point streak on the line tonight when the Royals (6-7-1) play in Kelowna for the first time this season.
“We’ve been rolling pretty good these last few games,” Mattson said in an interview. “I think Victoria was big for us.”
He called their 1-0 win in Victoria on Oct. 30 Kelowna’s best defensive and best-structured game this season.
“We just have to carry that into the next one,” he added.
Forward Michael Farren, who along with defenceman Jake Lee also read to the Glenmore Grizzlies on Tuesday, said the club is continuing to forge an identity six weeks into the season. After 15 games, they’re settling into roles.
“Most of the guys are running away with it and doing great jobs,” Farren said. “Others are finding their way now, and things are starting to click.”
Defence is key, Mattson added, which is a credit to head coach Adam Foote’s approach to the game.
“Now, we know that in order to win those hockey games late in the year, we have to play solid defence first,” Mattson said.
Game time tonight is 7 p.m.
Porter a Viper
The Kelowna Rockets addressed a lingering issue by reassigning goaltender James Porter to the Vernon Vipers of the B.C. Hockey League this week.
“We feel there’s an opportunity in Vernon for James to get some games in,” Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton said. “It’s critical right now. He hasn’t had any playing time here. The most important thing for James is to get him playing.”
Porter, seventh-round pick in 2015, has played 73 games for Kelowna over two seasons, collecting a record of 30-22-9 with 3.29 goals-against average and .897 save percentage.
It was clear Porter was the odd-man out in Kelowna’s crease. Roman Basran was the incumbent starter, and has looked terrific this season. The Rockets traded for Cole Schwebius during the off-season, and he has shown it was a shrewd move.
He stopped 33 shots for his first shutout of the season in that 1-0 win over Victoria. On the year, the Kelowna native is 2-1 with a 1.66 GAA and .941 save percentage.
Even more, both Basran and Schwebius led the “saves of the week” highlight reel on WHL.ca this week from their Victoria games.
Basran went post-to-post in a split save while Schwebius stood his ground in a goalmouth scramble.
The Vancouver Giants have acquired Finnish forward Joona Kiviniemi from the Swift Current Broncos for Russian forward Sergei Alkhimov and a sixth-round selection in the 2020 bantam draft.
Kiviniemi has six goals and four assists, including three power-play goals and one game-winner, this season.
In 16 games with the Giants this season, Alkhimov had one assist, but scored 27 points (13G, 14A) last season.
Dave Trifunov is a reporter at The Daily Courier. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org