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Rockets Over-Agers Look Ahead to Memorial Cup

June 10, 2015 Leave a comment


[originally published in the Kelowna Capital News, and on kelownarockets.com]
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Posted: May 19, 2015 – 23:01 PDT |
Written By: Dave Cunning

Photo Credits: Marissa Baecker @ shootthebreeze.ca

Photo Credits: Marissa Baecker @ shootthebreeze.ca

“We’re not done yet. We’ve still got the Memorial Cup.”

Even amidst the jubilation of capturing their club’s fourth WHL championship last week, Chance Braid and the rest of the Kelowna Rockets knew that they still have much work ahead – and even more glory left for them to attain.

“The Memorial Cup was our goal from the start of the season,” said Rockets’ injured left winger, Tyrell Goulbourne. “To make it there and win it.”

The reigning WHL champions will next face their rival league equals – OHL champion Oshawa Generals, QMJHL champion Rimouski Oceanic, and tournament host Quebec Remparts — in the quest to declare ultimate major junior supremacy. Kelowna’s sweep of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL final – including a shutout in the series clinching game – was unquestionably impressive, but when the Rockets collide with the OHL and QMJHL champs, can they produce equally dominant results?

“They’re the top teams in each of their leagues, so it’s going to be tough,” said Goulbourne, whose return date from injury is still unknown heading into the Memorial Cup. “I feel like if we play our game and our way, I like our chances in that tournament.”

“It’ll be interesting to see how we stack up,” said assistant captain, Cole Martin. “I feel pretty confident in our group in there. We’ve got a lot of heart in that room and I think that’ll help us be successful.”

“When we go up there, we’re going to work our butts off and hopefully get the win,” added Braid. “We won the WHL championship, and we know we can do more. We’ve got role players, we’ve got goal scorers, we’ve got a goalie – with the team we’ve got, I think we’re going to do just fine.”

The Rockets are certainly bringing a capable group to the dance. Jackson Whistle’s four shutouts lead the CHL through the playoffs, as do Leon Draisitl’s three short-handed goals. The team should be well rested too – winning the WHL in only 19 games means they have played up to three less games than their upcoming opponents. After only losing three games in their WHL playoff stretch, the Rockets earned a winning percentage of 0.842% – both of those statistics top the Generals, Ramparts, and Oceanic.

Further, their expedited championship also granted them four more days of rest than the competing QMJHL teams, whose final series went to seven games.

While the Rockets will unquestionably match their eastern rivals in potency, a bigger question will be whether Kelowna can counter what their opposition brings to the table. They will have to put pucks past Goals-Against and Goals-Against-Average leader, Louis-Phiip Guindon of Rimouski (25; 0.184), and save percentage leader, Zachary Fucale of Quebec (.913%). They will also have to deactivate top point producers, Cole Cassels and Michael Dal Colle of Oshawa (31), and goal scoring leader, Adam Erne of Quebec (21).

For Goulbourne, Martin, and Braid – the Rockets’ three eldest statesmen – the Memorial Cup tournament is uncharted waters, as it is for the rest of Kelowna’s current roster. Aside from the club’s long term staff, no current Rockets have experience from the team’s last Memorial Cup appearance in 2009 to mine, nor from their tournament win in 2004. With that in mind, all three veterans will be looked to by their teammates for their savvy leadership in Quebec – on and off the ice – and not just because of their age. Goulbourne and Martin both recorded career highs in regular season goals, assists, and points this year, and Braid has never been more productive in the post-season in any statistical category.

Rockets fans will have to wait until May 31st to find out whether this trio of 20 year olds in their swan song season of junior hockey will help lead Kelowna to their second Memorial Cup title in franchise history, or not. One thing that is for certain though – no matter how the tournament plays out, none of the three will ever forget how their junior hockey careers concluded.

Follow Dave Cunning on Twitter @davecunning, read his blog at https://davecunning.wordpress.com and listen to his podcast at http://xppsp.podbean.com

Johansen brothers enjoy banter, but team up for success

June 10, 2015 Leave a comment

[originally published in the Kelowna Daily Courier on May 4, 2015]
[The extended audio version of this interview can be heard on my podcast]

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Rockets defenceman’s older brother is former Winterhawks star, NHLer

Posted: Monday, May 4, 2015 11:20 pm | by Dave Cunning

The Kelowna Rockets may have just beaten the Portland Winterhawks for the WHL’s Western Conference title, but while the two hockey teams were engaged in battle, there was a separate, smaller scale match-up also taking place in the background.

Ryan LucasDuring the series, Rockets defenceman Lucas Johansen was fighting a war of words with his brother, Columbus Blue Jackets centre Ryan Johansen, a Portland Winterhawks alumni. Due to conflicting season schedules, Ryan is rarely able to attend Lucas’ games in person, so the Johansen’s generally communicate through text or phone call. While generally supportive in nature through those mediums, the siblings made sure to mix in their share of barbs while Ryan’s former team squared off against Lucas’s current club.

“I’m always giving him a hard time,” said the elder Johansen, who turns 23 in July. “I told him I’m cheering for the Hawks. I’ve got texts from him saying, ‘I can’t wait to beat the Hawks tonight’ and stuff like that to rub it in on me. Deep down though, when I’m watching the games, one hundred percent I want to see him and his team be successful.”

Lucas was nearly convinced his brother was truly on his side all along.

“I think he was cheering for me, but I don’t really know,” admitted Lucas, 17. “He bugs me sometimes. He’ll send me the odd text saying ‘Go Hawks!’ as a joke, but for the most part, he’s rooting for the Rockets, I think.”

Beyond the give-and-take, Lucas has found his brother to be a well of experience and knowledge that he’s constantly able to draw from, especially during the Rockets’ series with Portland.

“He watched the games,” said Lucas. “When he played for Portland, they won the Western Conference as well, so he’s been through it. He can definitely give me pointers on what I can do better, and he definitely has. It’s good to have a guy like that in your family.”

Despite being five years apart in age, and thousands of miles away from each other at all times during the hockey season, Lucas and Ryan managed to become closer than ever this past year.

“Last year was really the first year my brother and I got really close,” Ryan recalled. “We basically did everything together. He started training with me every day. He’d stay over a lot of the time at my place. We really became close friends.

“It’s awesome that I can guide him. Whenever he needs an answer to a question, I can help him out, or show him how to do things differently.”

While mining all he can from big brother, Lucas also wants to put in his own work, and blaze his own trail in hockey. Ryan is in full support of that approach.

“Lucas is one of those kids that really drives himself,” said Ryan. “He’s got that inner drive where he wakes up every day and asks, ‘What can I do to get better at hockey?’ Whether it’s going to the gym, playing road hockey — anything that would help him be a better hockey player, he wants to do.”

“The thing I tell everyone about him is that his work ethic is non-stop,” Ryan continued in his praise for Lucas. “He’s doing everything he can right now to get in my position and play in the NHL. As an older brother and seeing him go through the process, I couldn’t be more proud of him and the way he works and carries himself.

“I love the way he plays the game. I think he can be a heck of a player. The way he’s been working, and the way he cares about the game and prepares himself, he’s definitely on the right track. He’s one of those kids that really wants to do it himself, and prove to people that he can be a great hockey player. Me playing in the NHL for a few years and having gone through the WHL, he’s got a lot of motivation to be successful. Seeing him do his own thing, I’m really proud of the way he’s developed, the way this year’s gone for him, and the way their team’s been playing. It’s been an absolute blast watching him and hearing about him grow.”

Beyond game-play matters, Ryan’s also been able to provide counsel on Lucas’ choice to play major junior rather than pursue an NCAA scholarship — a decision Ryan had to make for himself in 2009.

“Leaving a full ride scholarship is probably is the toughest hockey decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Ryan said. “To have a path set up, and to throw it all behind and just take a shot at hockey — the way I felt about my game, to me it was always the right decision. It was the thing I always wanted to do, and I just went with my gut feeling. I had the confidence that I could play with those players, and be successful out there. It didn’t happen overnight — it took a lot of hard work and a lot of teaching, but like my brother, we’re both motivated to be the best players we can be. I put my mind to it and found ways to get better. I had a lot of great players and people there to guide me through it, and so does Lucas now. He’s got a great organization in Kelowna, and he’s surrounded with great players and great coaches. That’s how kids become successful. The sky’s the limit for him, just like it is for me. It’s such a fun process to go through, and one of the things I always tell him is to enjoy it.”

With the likes of Rick Nash, Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik all departing Columbus while he was on the Blue Jackets’ roster, Ryan found himself in a position where the team needed him to step up and fill holes.

In response, Johansen set career highs in assists and points last season, was voted into the NHL All-Star Game, and outscored all three of the aforementioned names.

With the Rockets now battling for the WHL championship, Kelowna will demand the same of their players if they are to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup — Lucas included.

“They looked at me as a guy who needed to elevate his game and take that next step to be an elite player,” said Ryan. “The opportunity was mine. It was right in front of me, and I had to go grab it. I’ve still got so much room to improve. I feel I can grow a lot still as a player, and that’s what they’ve been telling me leaving Columbus to come back home, they still want to see another level, and I do as well. I prepare to do the things that make me successful on the ice, and that’s what I tell Lucas — that those experiences that I go through are what made me better.

“Everything’s not going to be the same for the both of us, but at least I can share those experiences with him, which hopefully will make us both better.”

Star Factory Fitness interview

September 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Hi folks! I was recently interviewed by Conor Doherty of Star Factory Fitness. We talked about my hockey career, my training career, and hockey training in general. The interview originally posted on elitehockeypower.com on September 18, 2014. Have a read either there, or below! Also, be sure to visit starfactoryfitness.com and elitehockeypower.com for some great hockey training and fitness tips. Both sites are also on Twitter @sfactoryfitness and @ehockeypower.

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Interview with Former Pro Hockey Player Dave Cunning

Playing pro hockey is something that all motivated hockey players strive for.  Not everyone will reach that level, but having a former pro hockey player give you advice never hurts.  So I’m very pleased to have Dave Cunning share with you some of the things he learned and experienced along the way to becoming a pro hockey player and what it takes to play at that level.


1. Hey David, Nice to have you on the site.  I’m interested, along with other readers, what sports you played growing up?

I started playing hockey and soccer when I was five years old, but soccer eventually gave way to baseball. I used to ski when I was a kid too, but I transitioned to snowboarding when I got older, and learned to wakeboard after that. My family plays a lot of badminton, so I picked that up, along with golf. I played volleyball and basketball in elementary and high school. I recall trying archery at one point too. I was obviously pretty deep into sports. Hockey eventually won out over them all, though I still participate in most of the others from time to time.

2. I hear you’ve played a bit of pro hockey. Tell us a bit about your hockey career.

Getting to play in the pro ranks was a dream come true that I worked very hard for a lot of years to accomplish. It took me 17 years to rise through minor, junior, and college hockey before I had the opportunity to fly across the world to Europe and play professionally. Scoring a goal in my first game as a pro made every second of that struggle worth it. It was an amazing feeling to play at that level, and remains one of my greatest accomplishments. A lot of guys played a lot longer and had a lot more lucrative careers than I did, but I cherish the time that I had to live out my dream and play at that level. Hockey allowed me to travel through four countries to play, and to meet some of the best friends that I have, so I am very thankful for the time I had to play the game.

3. Did you have a strength and conditioning coach with any of the junior or pro teams you played with?

I remember having strength and conditioning coaches with my junior team (Creston Thundercats of the KIJHL) and my college team (Briecrest College of the ACAC), but oddly not with my pro team in France (Lyon HC). They were helpful to have around, usually doing group sessions with our entire team. I know a lot of guys were like me and didn’t utilize them as much as we probably should have. A lot of the exercises I picked up were from teammates sharing parts of their training routines with me, which I cherry picked from to help form my own approach to training. If I’d had the money to hire one of them I probably would have, but there isn’t a lot of money in junior and college hockey – at least not where I was and when I was there.

4. If so, tell us a bit about the programs that those coaches took you through.

Again, I didn’t get the most out of the strength coaches that were around, but the gist of what they were trying to teach us as a group was to train specifically for our sport, and to train the muscles and movements that hockey players use in the game. There was a lot of power and quickness prescribed to be used in each motion. They were trying to get us away from just general bodybuilding exercises – though there were always a few guys who insisted on coming in to just train chest and biceps, no matter what they were told to the contrary. A lot of the advice that was doled out to us over a few sessions at the beginning of the season, then we were on our own to carry it out that year, save for a few sporadic check-ups here and there. We had pre-season and mid-season fitness testing too. It’s important to remember that a hockey season is rather grueling physically, so our in-season workouts were nowhere near as intense as they were in the off-season. It was maintenance more than anything.

former pro hockey player

5. Were there any differences between junior and pro strength coaches, in terms of their programming and beliefs about strength training?

I think my junior and college strength coaches were very much of the same school of thought, though they all had different sports backgrounds. They all knew it was an important component for an athlete though. What I think might have been the difference between training between amateur and pro was the geography and perhaps the language barrier. In Lyon we had a gym at the rink, but it was pretty basic. Most of the times I would go in there to train, I would be the only one. The guys could have been going somewhere else to workout that I didn’t know of, but I didn’t have a strong enough level of French to find out where that was if that was what was happening. I think in Canada, you get spoiled a little as hockey players because our whole country is so in love with hockey and the guys and girls who play it have a plethora of options in front of them to take advantage of to get better at it. You can find a trainer at a gym to train you specifically for hockey at a gym, or you can find a hockey school in your town to improve your gameplay. Not every country in the world has that high of a regard for hockey, so those options aren’t as readily available, as it appeared to be where I was. Surely other nations who embrace the game like Canada does are different though.

6. What made you want to become a strength and conditioning coach?

When I realized that my playing days were done, I knew I wanted to stay involved in the game, and I had to think about which capacity would be the best fit for me to do so. Remembering back to when I was playing, I loved working out in the summers with a buddy of mine – we pushed each other as hard as we could to get stronger, faster, and better so that we could keep going farther in the game. I loved being motivated by a like-minded person, and I loved being that same thing to someone else. It paid off for us both, as we both eventually become pros (though he got an NHL tryout, so he got farther along than I did). I saw becoming a strength coach as an opportunity to help other players see what it takes to get where they want to go, and help be one part of their preparation and motivation to go as far as they could in the game. It’s been awesome to watch the players I’ve trained get noticeably stronger and quicker, and have a bigger impact on their team than before.

7. What types of courses or certifications did you take to become a strength coach?

I graduated through the BCRPA Personal Trainer certification program.

8. What level of hockey players do you train at the moment?

I’m currently overseas in Korea teaching English, so I am only training general fitness clients on the side at the moment. But while I was still in Canada, I was regularly training WHL, BCHL, and KIJHL players, and plan to do so again when I return home.

9. Take us through what a workout would look like during the season and the off-season.

Off-season workouts are a lot more physical than in-season ones, but that is for a reason. You aren’t skating everyday and playing every weekend in the summer, nor are you battling fatigue and injuries, so you have to balance the two training seasons appropriately. The off-season’s for building strength, size, quickness, stamina, power, mobility, and range of motion, while in-season training is primarily about maintaining those attributes. Off-season workouts see you lift a lot of weight, perform a lot of sets, and execute each motion with a lot of a lot of power to help build the specific major and minor muscle groups that hockey players use most during the game. There are a lot of all-out sprints and related exercises to get your feet moving as quick as they ever have, in hopes of that translating into you becoming a quicker skater during the season. While you work out through hockey season, you perform a lot of the same exercises and motions, but you do it with an approach that doesn’t leave you sore, tired, or otherwise not in optimal condition when it comes to game time. Every level of hockey has a different length of season, and you have to be ready for each game whether it’s the first, last, or somewhere mid-season. Usually in-season workouts have guys scaling back their sets and reps, and not pushing their limits, though they do their best to maintain the benchmarks they’ve already set, and not regress in any categories.

10. What sets apart the players that really get great results compared to those that get average results from training?

It’s simply the dedication to get the work done, and to use your time wisely. In junior hockey and pro hockey, you have a lot more extra time in your day, so there are less excuses to miss workouts – though some guys always find a way. In college hockey, you have to balance student life, class schedules, and everything else, so it’s tougher to find the time, and it’s really easy to pass on trips to the gym. It becomes about prioritizing your time to do it, no matter what your current lifestyle allows. The guys who make that time to get better are almost always the guys who have the most success.

11. When you played pro hockey, was there a player(s) that really stood out in the weight room compared to others?

There were always two or three guys on every team I played for that were standouts in the gym, and had the bodies to show for it. I saw each one of them put in the time and effort to get themselves there. One guy in particular was Bobby Leavins – he was a New York Islanders draft pick, and had played a season of minor pro, so to have him on our college team as our captain was huge for us. He brought his dedication to off-ice training to our team, and always made time to get in the gym. Our school’s gym was located in the basketball/volleyball gymnasium, and somehow Bobby had managed to get himself a gym key so he could workout even when the gym was closed. One time during a school event, the gym was packed with students, including our team, all focused on whatever event was taking place in the gymnasium that night. Conspicuously, Bobby was nowhere to be found – until further inspection revealed that he had made his made his way into the gym with his key, kept the main lights off and smuggled in a desk lamp, and was basically working out in the dark, undetected until I found him. Despite playing as a left-winger as a pro, Bobby moved back to defense for our team, and still finished second in team scoring. The guy was definitely doing something right, and I know his commitment to training had something to do with it.

12. If you could give hockey players that want to start an off-ice training program any advice, what would it be?

My advice would be to do it! A lot of guys unfortunately don’t get past the stage of talking about it and saying they want to start doing it. Whether you hire a trainer, find a like-minded gym buddy, or research and put together your own program, just get to it. Of course I recommend hiring a professional over all the other options – certified trainers are educated to make your training routines sport specific, efficient, and optimized to make you the best you can be, when you need to be. Of course, trainers are an investment, and some players think that they know enough and don’t need them. While some players have the luxury on relying on natural talent to ascend in the sport, most guys have to work for everything they get. Whether you can afford to hire a trainer or not really is a question of whether you can afford to be less prepared than you could be if you did. Personally, after becoming a trainer and learning the approaches and methodologies I know now, and after seeing how many NHLers hire trainers and seeing how hard they work in the summer, part of me wishes I had made that investment when I was still playing. Competition for spots on teams at every level is so intense these days – players have to find a way to stand out from the crowd to get one of those open spots on a roster. If off-ice training is the thing that helps you catch a scout or coach’s eye in training camp, there’s no question it’s worth the investment. Never be satisfied with where you’re at – in hockey there’s always someone younger, bigger, and better that wants to be where you are, so you’ve got to do what it takes to keep your place, or be the one that takes someone else’s spot.

You can find out more about David and his work at:

His Websites: davecunning.wordpress.com and cunningathletics.wordpress.com

Twitter: @davecunning and @CunningAthletix

Podcast: http://xppsp.podbean.com

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.

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