Winds of change blow through Kelowna . . . Foote set to replace Smith . . . Taphorn twins are on the move


MacBeth

D Michael Fora (Kamloops, 2014-15) has rejoined Ambrì-Piotta (Switzerland, NL A) after clearing unconditional NHL waivers on Saturday. This season, he was pointless in one game with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL). Last season, he was an alternate captain with Ambrì-Piotta and put up six goals and 21 assists in 50 games. . . . Fora signed a three-year extension through 2020-21 with Ambrì-Piotta in December with an out-clause allowing him to sign with an NHL team. He exercised the clause to sign with Carolina Hurricanes (NHL) in June. . . . Carolina wanted to assign Fora from Charlotte to the Florida Everblades (ECHL), but Fora wanted to return to Switzerland instead of reporting to Florida. Carolina and Fora mutually agreed to terminate his contract.


With Jason Smith having been fired as the head coach of the Kelowna Rockets, you likely are wondering who’s up next?

John Shannon of Sportsnet, who is friends with Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ president and general manager, tweeted Monday night that it will be Adam Foote. He will be the franchise’s fifth head coach in six seasons.

In all likelihood, Foote will be the Rockets’ head coach in the 2020 Memorial Cup, an event that will be played in Kelowna.

KelownaRockets

Earlier Monday, Hamilton told a media scrum in Kelowna that he had “a couple of guys that I’ve zeroed in on and I’ll probably have a good idea by (Tuesday). I’m dealing with a couple people and hopefully by (Tuesday) we’ll have somebody in place. Whether they’ll be here or not by then, time will tell.”

A new head coach, Hamilton said, doesn’t necessarily have to have junior experience.

“I think that’s really important but I don’t think that’s everything,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s all about communication with these guys today. If you can’t communicate with them, then you’re not going to get them to play for you.”

If Foote doesn’t get to Kelowna before tonight, assistant coaches Travis Crickard and Kris Mallette will run the bench against the visiting Swift Current Broncos.

Foote, 47, played three seasons with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds — he was a rugged defenceman — before going on to an NHL career that included 1,154 regular season games and 170 more in the playoffs.

However, Foote doesn’t have any coaching experience, although he has been a development consultant with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. He also was the director of player development a year ago with Canada’s entry in the Spengler Cup.

Foote’s son Nolan, a defenceman who will turn 20 on Dec. 13, played three seasons with the Rockets and now is a first-year pro with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. The Tampa Bay Lightning selected him 14th overall in the NHL’s 2017 draft.

Cal’s younger brother, Nolan, who turns 18 on Nov. 29, is in his third season with the Rockets. A forward, he has seven goals and five assists in 12 games. Last season, he finished with 13 goals and 27 assists in 50 games. He is eligible for the NHL’s 2019 draft and it is anticipated that he will be an early selection.

——

Despite winning 88 games in his first two regular seasons as the head coach of the Kelowna Rockets, Jason Smith was fired on Monday.

The Rockets, who were 45-22-5 two seasons ago and 43-22-7 last season, are 4-10-0 after going 2-1-0 on a three-game weekend swing in which they twice beat the Victoria Royals (8-2 and 5-1) before losing to the Vancouver Giants (3-1).

The Rockets reached the third round of post-season play in Smith’s first season, but were swept by the Tri-City Americans in the first round last spring.

Smith was in the final season of a three-year contract. Assistant coaches Travis Crickard and Kris Mallette also are in the final seasons of their contracts.

“Any time that you are doing something like this, there’s no fun attached to it at all,” Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ president and general manager, told the media on Monday afternoon, “and yet, at the end of the day, how this hockey club does sits on my shoulders and this isn’t a decision, nor something that I just thought of this morning. It’s been on my mind now for a few weeks. I just felt that we were getting to a point where a decision needed to be made. . . .”

Hamilton admitted that he had been thinking about making a change for some time, but because the Rockets will be the host team for the 2020 Memorial Cup he wanted to make sure he does the right thing.

“I didn’t just make my mind up on Friday night,” he said. “I made my mind up a while ago, but it’s working to find somebody that is going to be the replacement.

“If you’re going to make a change, we’re better off making the change now than waiting until the end of the (season) and starting over. Whoever is going to coach the team from here on in, I’ve got to believe is going to be the coach next (season) and that’s probably a good thing from our perspective. . . .”

Smith’s replacement will be charged with changing things in the dressing room and making sure that the Rockets become harder to play against, especially at home.

“One of the things that has concerned me now, for a while,” Hamilton explained, “has been we . . . had a culture in our dressing room for many years here through the Ryan Huska era, that everybody coming into Kelowna to play us knew that they were going to have their hands full.

“I just have sensed the last couple of years for sure . . . probably more than that, that it started to leave the room. . . . that a lot of the time is based on the characters you have in the room and that’s on me, that’s not on the coach. It’s my job to get the players here.

“I really hope the person that we bring in is going to bring a little bit of character back in there somehow.”

Hamilton also wants to see more discipline from his team, which has been at the top of the penalty tables in recent times.

“We’re not a tough team,” Hamilton said. “We’re just taking a lot of foolish, lazy penalties and that’s got to change.”

This is only the second time in franchise history that Kelowna has changed coaches in mid-season. In 1999-2000, Hamilton moved out Garth Malarchuk on Nov. 14, 1999, and brought in Marc Habscheid.

Habscheid stayed through 2003-04, finishing his run when the Rockets won the Memorial Cup as the host team.

Jeff Truitt, who had been on Habscheid’s staff, was promoted to head coach and lasted three seasons.

Ryan Huska, who had been a Kelowna assistant coach, was up next. He stayed for seven seasons, before joining the Calgary Flames’ organization and turning things over to assistant coach Dan Lambert.

The Rockets won the WHL title under Lambert in 2014-15, but he joined the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres after that season, at which point Hamilton hired Brad Ralph. That was the first time since Hamilton brought in Habscheid that someone from outside the organization was hired as head coach.

Ralph lasted just one season, despite going 48-20-4 and getting into the third round of the playoffs.

Smith was hired to replace Ralph, lost in the third round in the spring of 2017, and was ousted in the first round last spring. There won’t be another go-round for him in Kelowna.

Late last week, Smith was named as an assistant coach with the WHL team that will play in the CIBC Canada-Russia series on Nov. 5 and 6.

What is apparent through Hamilton’s move is that he didn’t feel comfortable having Smith take the Rockets into a Memorial Cup season. Doing that would have meant signing Smith to a new contract, likely for another two or three seasons.

“I want to be real fair to Jason here,” Hamilton said. “The talent is part of it. He was doing the best he could with what he had.

“And yet when I’m looking forward to the Memorial Cup next (season), whoever coaches this team, I need to get them to get the group together and we need to decide who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here when we finish this season.”

Hamilton was adamant that the firing of Smith didn’t have anything to do with the Rockets’ attendance, which after six home games is down 494 per game from the same point last season.

“The move today has got nothing to do with that,” Hamilton said. “Trust me.”


The Moose Jaw Warriors have acquired the Taphorn twins — Kaedan and Keenan — MooseJawWarriorsfrom the Kootenay Ice. In return for the Taphorns, 18, the Ice got F Nick Bowman, 18, and a sixth-round selection in the WHL’s 2021 bantam draft. . . . The Taphorn brothers are from Yorkton, Sask., so this deal gets them closer to home. Keenan was a second-round pick by the Ice in the 2015 bantam draft, with Kaedan going to the Vancouver Giants in the third round. . . . Kaedan has 11 goals and 13 assists in 123 career games, while Keenan has 11 goals and 21 assists in 142 games. This season, Kaedan has a goal and two assists in 11 games, while Keenan has one of each in 11 games. . . . Bowman, who is from Sherwood Park, Alta., was a sixth-round pick by the Edmonton Oil Kings in the 2015 bantam draft. He has 13 goals and 14 assists in 127 career regular-season games. Last season, he had six goals and six assists in 56 games with Edmonton. This season, he had one assist in 10 games with the Warriors. . . . The Warriors acquired him from Edmonton, along with a sixth-round pick in the 2018 bantam draft, in exchange for F Vince Loschiavo, 20, on May 3. . . .

The Warriors are at home to the Prince Albert Raiders on Wednesday night. That same evening, the Ice will play host to the Brandon Wheat Kings.


The Tri-City Americans have acquired F Wil Kushniryk, 18, from the Kelowna Rockets tri-cityfor a conditional fifth-round selection in the 2020 WHL bantam draft. . . . The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Kushniryk is from Chilliwack, B.C. . . . Last season, as a freshman, Kushniryk had two goals and three assists in 51 games with the Rockets. This season, he was pointless in four games. . . . “Wil is a big guy with WHL experience,” Bob Tory, the Americans’ general manager, said in a news release. “He skates very well and will add depth to our forward group. With the long-term injury to Paycen Bjorklund we felt it was necessary to add a veteran forward.”


MONDAY NIGHT NOTES:

The U of Lethbridge Pronghorns will retire the late Brock Hirsche’s number (10) on Friday night, prior to a Canada West game against the visiting Calgary Dinos. Hirsche, a former captain of the Pronghorns, died on April 8 after a battle with testicular cancer. From Lethbridge, Hirsche returned to his hometown to play for the Pronghorns after spending four seasons with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars. . . . The news release announcing this is right here.


F Jaret Anderson-Dolan has been returned to the Spokane Chiefs by the NHL’s Los SpokaneChiefsAngeles Kings. Anderson-Dolan, a second-round pick by the Kings in the NHL’s 2017 draft, had one assist in five games with the Kings. In 212 regular-season games with the Chiefs, he has 93 goals and 100 assists. Last season, he had 40 goals and 51 assists, and was named to the Western Conference’s first all-star team. . . . Anderson-Dolan already has been added to Team WHL for its two-game part of the CIBC Canada-Russia series. Game 1 is scheduled for Nov. 5 in Kamloops, with Game 2 the next night in Langley, B.C. . . . Anderson-Dolan is expected to be in the Chiefs’ lineup on Friday when they entertain the Portland Winterhawks.


D Bobby Russell of the Spokane Chiefs has been suspended for one game after taking a cross-checking major and game misconduct in an 8-2 loss to the host Prince Albert Raiders on Saturday night. He won’t play Friday against the visiting Portland Winterhawks.


The Prince Albert Raiders have brought in D Nolan Allan, the third-overall selection in the WHL’s 2018 bantam draft. He could make his WHL debut tonight against the visiting Everett Silvertips. From Davidson, Sask., Allan has six goals and five assists in 12 games with the midget AAA Saskatoon Blazers.


The Lethbridge Hurricanes have dropped F Hayden Clayton, 18, from their roster. He is expected to join the AJHL’s Whitecourt Wolverines. He was pointless in four games with the Hurricanes this season. The same thing happened a year, as he went pointless in four games before being dropped and joining the Wolverines.


D Jayden Lee, a 17-year-old from North Vancouver, has committed to Quinnipiac U for the 2020-21 season. Last season, he had one goal and four assists in 29 games with the BCHL’s Langley Rivermen. This season, with the BCHL’s Powell River Kings, he had a goal and five assists in 15 games. . . . Lee was a 10th-round pick by the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft.


Mitchell Kirkup has returned to the MJHL’s Swan Valley Stampeders as their director of scouting. Kirkup, who is a former Stampeders player and scout, also is a longtime scout with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs.


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