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World Junior Tournament Well-Stocked With Rockets

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

[originally printed in The Kelowna Daily Courier on December 8/2011]

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The Kelowna Rockets are going to be well represented during the 2012 World Junior Championships this December and January in Calgary and Edmonton.

Not just on the ice, and not just for Team Canada – Brett Bulmer is the only Rockets’ player invited to try out for the home team. Kelowna’s head coach Ryan Huska will backup Don Hay behind Canada’s bench, Rockets’ athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn will be on Canada’s medical staff, and Filip Vasko will be contending for a spot on Slovakia’s national roster.

Coach Huska is just as excited as the players to be representing Canada.

“It’s a thrill,” Huska said. “The players are always excited to put the jersey on and play for Canada, and it’s no different for coaches – I’m honoured to be part of this team again this year. You get a chance to coach some of the best young players in our country and you get a chance to work with and learn from some great coaches. I’m very excited, and looking forward to it.”

Even though Canada’s won the tournament more than any other country (15 times), they haven’t won gold since 2009, and the country has been chomping at the bit to re-take the throne ever since. Huska’s well aware of the pressure to win on home ice that the club will endure.

“Expectations are to win gold,” Huska stated. “Everybody knows that coming in. Canada has a lot of pride in the teams it puts into international competitions, and they expect to win. There are a lot of countries right now that could win instead of us. Our players need to understand that there will be a lot of pressure on them – especially since we are playing at home – but they have to use it in the right way. We’ll need our group to buy in and play as a team as soon as possible. If we can do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win. We all know the expectation is for a gold medal.”

Forty-one of Canada’s top junior players have been invited to take part in Team Canada’s Selection Camp from Dec. 10 to 14 in Calgary. Thirty-six of them are NHL draft picks. Trying to cut another 19 of the country’s best players to get the roster to 22 won’t be any easier than it was to whittle down to the current number.

“Getting down to 41 was a challenge,” explained Huska. “There were probably 15 other guys that were very close to being invited as well. It comes down to putting together the guys that make up the best team. Sometimes that most skilled or most offensive players might not be there in the end, because it’s about having the proper mix of guys that are going to generate offence, but also guys who going to be workers – guys that can kill penalties and bring energy to your team. In a short period of time, you have to find a group of players that are willing to do whatever’s necessary to make this team, and for some that might mean filling different roles than they’re used to. Our job is to find the best 22 guys that can do that.”

Kelowna forward Brett Bulmer is hoping to be one of those final 22 players. Despite being one of only a small handful of other invitees with NHL experience, and playing for Canada’s assistant coach during the season, Bulmer will have to earn his spot just like everyone else.

“The coaches have seen me a lot over the last few years,” said Bulmer. “They know as a big body I can bring a physical element. I want to go in there and be on the body a lot, because I know the European teams probably won’t be able to handle the hitting. I can add offence too though. They have a lot of depth when it comes to scoring – a lot of small, skilled guys – but I can add as much offence as anyone. They’re going to have to cut a lot of great players. I have to show my best at camp and make sure I stand out. I’ll do anything they ask of me – if they tell me to play a certain role, I’ll do it. I can’t go in thinking I have an advantage. I have to work hard, play well and show I deserve to be on the team. I have to make sure I’m ready for it. It’s a huge opportunity for me, and I’m going to make the most of it. I really want to make that team, and I’m excited about my opportunity.

“He needs to be prepared to earn a spot, just the same as the other 40 guys coming to camp. There are no free rides – he’s got to earn a spot just like everyone else. The best way for him to do that will be to use his speed and size. He makes it very difficult for defenceman to handle his size. If he can play to those strengths, he’ll give himself a chance to be on that team. It’s good for me to know him already. I’ve got to know him very well over the last three years. His NHL experience helps too. He’s been in situations in the NHL where he’s played in front of 19,000 people, so he knows every play is important and he can’t have off shifts. It’ll be the same way come Christmas time.”

Rockets’ forward Filip Vasko is excited for his chance to play for his home country of Slovakia as well. Vasko departs on Dec. 15 to join a field of 29 Slovakian players competing to wear their country’s colours on their uniform.

“I think it’s amazing for every guy who gets to play for their nation,” Vasko said. “It’s the same for me. I’m just going to try and play the best I can. I’m very proud.”

The Rockets’ leading scorer Shane McColgan was in contention for Team USA, but was recently announced as being omitted from their roster.

Of the 30 players invited to the American selection camp, 75 per cent were current NCAA players – and only one skater is from the WHL. If players of McColgan’s calibre are not being added to their roster, one has to think Team USA will again be a gold medal contender, and a threat to Canada’s chances.

“It’s a little frustrating for me,” McColgan said. “I’m just going to keep working hard the rest of the season, and try to make that team next year. You can’t really dwell on it though. We have an exciting road trip coming up, and that’s my main focus right now. When I was at the summer evaluation camp, I saw the level of the guys that will be on the final roster. They’re definitely a contender, and I wish them the best of luck. It would have been nice to represent my country, but maybe next year. I hope to be there in the future. It’ll give me time to relax over Christmas, and be fresh for the second half of the season.”

Canada will play intrasquad games on Dec. 11 and 12 and one exhibition game against a CIS all-star team, before finalizing their roster on Dec. 14.

They’ll then play in three exhibition games prior to the tournament, and then open the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship on December 26th against Finland.

***[UPDATE: DEC 14/11]***

For Immediate Release – Dec. 14, 2011

Kelowna Rockets forward Brett Bulmer is heading back to join the Rockets after narrowly missing out on making the Team Canada World Junior Tournament.

Bulmer was among the cuts Wednesday morning as Team Canada named its 22 man roster for the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship in Calgary and Edmonton.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” Bulmer said in a media scrum at the team hotel after hearing the news. “I thought I worked hard, did everything they asked of me at camp so it’s really disappointing. I thought I had a good shot. I worked hard, got on the body and did everything they asked but…”

Bulmer was in the Rockets lineup Wednesday when the team faced Regina.

The Kelowna Rockets defeated the Regina Pats 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday night.  Wednesday’s game began with a bang when Brett Bulmer scored just 19 seconds into the game, less than 10 hours after being released from Team Canada’s World Junior program. After getting the news, Bulmer made the trip from Calgary to Regina, joining the Rockets and making an immediate impact. For Bulmer it was his 12th goal of the season.

For More Information:

Kevin Parnell, media relations
Kelowna Rockets
Call or text: 250-491-8407
E-mail: kevin@kelownarockets.com

Online:
kelownarockets.com
twitter.com/Kelowna_Rockets
facebook.com/Kelowna-Rockets

Talking With Brett Bulmer: His 9 Game NHL Experience, Pressure to His Help Slumping WHL Team Win

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Hi folks!  Below is the companion piece to the last article I wrote about WHL players leaving their junior teams for NHL clubs.  Brett Bulmer played 9 games with the Minnesota Wild this season, before being sent back down to the Kelowna Rockets.  I talked with him a few days later.  Enjoy.   -SDC

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[originally post in the Kelowna Daily Courier newspaper on November 7, 2011; also featured on www.kelownarockets.com on November 7,2011]

Tantalizingly close: Brett Bulmer discusses his brief stint in the NHL

MONDAY, 07 NOVEMBER 2011 02:00 DAVE CUNNING

Playing in the NHL may be the dream of every young Canadian kid, but with only 690 spots available, there definitely isn’t room for everyone.

Kelowna Rockets forward Brett Bulmer got to live the dream this fall, playing nine games for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

In those nine games, he registered three points and six penalty minutes. It was even reported Bulmer had beaten out six-season veteran Eric Nystrom for his spot on the Wild’s main roster in training camp.

“It was amazing,” Bulmer said of his stay with the Wild before his season debut with Kelowna on Friday. “To play the nine games and to be around all the NHLers was pretty cool. Everyone there was really good to me. It was cool to be around guys who have been there a long time. It’s something you dream of as a kid. To play in the NHL as a 19-year-old was very special.

One can imagine that playing against men in the world’s most highly regarded hockey league is a little different pace than competing against players who are 20 years old and younger in major junior.

You don’t really have too much time with the puck, and you’ve got to make quicker decisions,” Bulmer said. “I just jumped into it and I got better as I went along. It’s actually almost easier at that level because the passes are always on your tape. You always know where you have to be because they’ll let you know. It’s very professional and everyone wants to win every night.” 

Minnesota elected to send Bulmer back to Kelowna before playing a 10th game, which meant the Wild avoided having to count the first of Bulmer’s three-year contract towards their salary cap this season.

Although a little disappointed to not have stuck with the big club, Minnesota left Bulmer optimistic that’d he’d be back.

Brett has his sights set on returning to the Wild next season, after he carries out the marching orders given to him by Minnesota with the Rockets this season.

I’m disappointed because I did a lot of work to try and stay there,” Bulmer said. “It’s not a bad thing, though, because it’s just a year to grow. It was a matter of them wanting me to get lots of playing time this year. I probably could have made it as a third or fourth liner, but they want me to be a guy that can play more diverse roles once I make it for good. Nineteen is a big year to develop, and I can still get a lot better. They told me I’m a big part of their future. I want to be a guy they can build their team around one day, but I need to work hard here this year to make that a possibility.”

Bulmer took the Wild’s orders seriously, scoring four points in his first game back (two goals and two assists). He also averaged a plus-one rating over the Rockets’ two-game weekend homestand against Portland.

The output was welcomed by Ryan Huska, Kelowna’s head coach.

It’s important, of course,” Huska said. “He’s a guy that brings a lot to the table for us – not only with his offensive ability, but with his size up front. It’s something that we had missed and it’s nice to have him back.”

Bulmer’s return also adds leadership to the team. He wore an ‘A’ on his jersey in both games this past weekend against Portland.

He’s going to be a part of our leadership group,” said Huska. “He has to be because he’s the guy with a lot of experience for us.” 

Now as a WHL player with NHL experience, Brett is also fully aware of the extra pressure and high expectations on him to perform. Especially on a team that desperately needs offensive production and wins.

I love pressure,” said Bulmer. “I thrive on it, so it’s not something I worry about. I like to be the go-to guy. I’m glad to have everyone look to me to do something. Every night I’m going to go out and do my best for the team and try to help us win. I’ve got a leadership role here, and I’m happy to do it.”

Dave Cunning is a former semi-pro hockey player turned writer, coach and personal trainer. Read his blog on the web at https://davecunning.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter.

Discussing NHL Teams’ Junior Roster Ransacking With 3 WHL Coaches.

November 8, 2011 1 comment

[originally printed in The Kelowna Daily Courier, October 30/2011]

Roster problem: Junior-aged players leaving for the NHL

MONDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2011 08:39 by DAVE CUNNING
Just how exactly do you replace an NHL-calibre player on a junior roster once he’s moved on?
That’s the conundrum many major-junior hockey teams have been trying to solve over the past month, as many elite players have had opportunities to crack rosters on teams in the best hockey league in the world. Some were sent back to their junior franchises, while some were invited to stick around with their NHL club a little longer.
Getting to the NHL is the opportunity every young player dreams about, and is the developmental principle that the Canadian Hockey League operates by.
While it’s a phenomenal achievement for a player to earn a spot in the line-up at that level, you can’t help but feel a little bit bad for the junior team that just lost a world-class player and is now trying to fill the void. It’s not like you can expect a call-up from minor hockey to score the 50 goals that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Brett Connolly was projected to score for Prince George this season had he returned to the WHL.  Or the 60-plus projected points that the Minnesota Wild’s Brett Bulmer might have again scored for the Kelowna Rockets.
“It’s obviously tough for us right now because of our inability to produce goals,” said Dean Clark, the Prince George Cougars’ head coach. “Taking a guy of Brett’s calibre from us is a tough pill to swallow. He’s probably a 50-goal guy. You just don’t put 50 goals back in your line-up.  Brett’s a gifted player and that’s why he’s playing with guys like Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St. Louis. But when a guy is taken from your team that you need in order to develop your program, that’s tough.”
Rockets head coach Ryan Huska echoed the same sentiments on Bulmer’s absence from Kelowna’s roster.
“It makes it challenging when you’re expecting a key 19-year-old to be in your line-up,” said Huska. “It’s difficult to fill the hole that has been left without Brett here.” 
And is it possible that, at just 18 or 19 years of age, these players are simply too young to be competing against the world’s biggest, fastest, and toughest grown men in the best hockey league on the planet?
“It happened to me as a player,” recalled Marc Habscheid, GM and head coach of the Victoria Royals. “I played in the NHL as a 19-year-old. As an 18-year-old, I had a good year in junior (had had 151 points). At 19, I played 32 games in the NHL (he had 13 points).  If I could turn the clock back — for me, personally, maybe I should have gone back,” said Habscheid. “I wanted to play in the NHL as quick as I could. Everyone wants to play in the NHL and make seven million dollars. Let’s face it – these kids are no different. That’s where it’s up to the NHL teams to do what’s best for the kid and their team. But it’s tough to make a blanket rule or statement for every player, because how do you keep a Sidney Crosby out of the NHL, just because of his age?”
“For a lot of them, I think it’s too much too soon,” added Huska. “Every year there’s exceptions, but a lot of times, when you bring 18-year-olds up and keep them up, it’s difficult on them. They’ll play without a lot of pressure or push from their coaches their first year, but when they start playing more years, teams will expect more out of them.  A lot of times, I don’t think they’re quite ready for it, and they have a tendency to lose a little confidence in themselves.”
Getting to the NHL is one thing, but staying there and being productive are other variables to consider. Sure, it’s great if a young player can blend in without missing a beat (as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins seems to have done with the Edmonton Oilers).
But if a player who was a first-line, clutch scorer who played every regular season game in the WHL suddenly only plays a handful of games in the NHL, or plays on the fourth line and is only used sparingly, is that really good for him to go through, developmentally speaking?
In some cases, it’s good to keep the kid in the NHL,” said Habscheid. “If he’s in sync and things are going great and he plays lots, there’s no need to send him back.  To remove him and send him back to junior might get him out of sync, and you don’t want that either. You have to look at each player individually, and his maturity level. How would he handle being sent down? Would he take it as a demotion, or would he take it as a chance to keep working on his game and become an NHL player later? Maybe there are young players there that shouldn’t be in the NHL, but, because their teams need them, they stay.  You look at the team, too. There are some kids that belong to teams that are powerhouses in the NHL that maybe could play, but don’t because their teams are power-houses and don’t need them. “
When the smokes clears, and doors close for junior-eligible players in the NHL to return to their CHL clubs, those junior teams have no choice but to move on and attempt to achieve success without them. They have to get back to doing what they do best – developing players to help their team win, and to one day be able to play in the NHL.
“It’s out of our control and we can’t stand here and feel sorry for ourselves,” Clark said. “We have to develop the guys we still have. This league is a developmental league and we’re here to produce players.”
While it’s a tall order to move on without a star player, teams and coaches feel nothing but pride for their former players that have made the jump.
At the end of the day, we’re here to try and develop these guys,” said Huska. “That’s what these guys have grown up with, wanting to play in the NHL. If we can be a part of them getting there, then I’m happy with it. I’m thrilled that Brett’s up there. I want him to have a ton of success. He continues to make our organization very proud.”
Dave Cunning is a former semi-pro hockey player turned writer, coach, and personal trainer. Read his blog on the web at https://davecunning.wordpress.com, and follow him on Twitter@davecunning.
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