Strong lineup for 35th annual Kelowna tourney

Captain Brandon Barnes (middle) and the Kelowna Fripp Warehousing Rockets will host the annual Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament Jan. 8 to 12.  - Warren Henderson/Capital News
Captain Brandon Barnes (middle) and the Kelowna Fripp Warehousing Rockets will host the annual Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament Jan. 8 to 12.
— image credit: Warren Henderson/Capital News

With three Kelowna-based teams on the menu, there will be a decided local flavour at the 35th edition of the Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament.

The host Kelowna Fripp Warehousing Rockets, the B.C. Major Midget League's Okanagan Rockets, and Pursuit of Excellence Academy will all be looking to make the most of the familiar surroundings when the 12-team tourney is staged from Jan. 8 to 12.

The host midget tier 1 Rockets are looking to follow up one of their best showings ever, as Eric Blais' team posted a 5-1 overall record at last year's tournament. Kelowna then went on to win the B.C. title.

With just three players returning the Rockets are much different team than a year ago, but Blais still expects his group to come to play at 2014 version of the event.

"You always shoot for the top," Blais said of his expectations. "We've got a great team, they work hard, but like I say we only have two skaters and a goalie back. Right now, our guys are in the midst of a learning curve. We have a big team, a strong team and our goal is to make it through to the semifinals."

The Okanagan Rockets are back in the mix for the first time since winning the tournament back in 2010.

With a 16-3-1 record in the BCMML this season, the Okanagan squad is well-equipped to take a run at the title once again.

Still, GM David Michaud said the Rockets will be taking nothing for granted.

"Someone said we have to be the prohibitive favourite, but in a short-term tournament you never know," Michaud said. "There are a lot of good teams here, and a lot of local rivalries where I'm sure everybody will get up to play us. I expect we'll have to play our best hockey to win this event."

After losing to the Thunder Bay Kings in last year's championship game, the Pursuit of Excellence returns with high expectations in 2014.

Under head coach Ryan Wade, the POE U-18 squad has complied a solid 9-4-1 record in the North American Prospects Hockey League.

POE's roster features Tyler Benson, the No. 1 choice of the Vancouver Giants in the 2013 WHL bantam draft.

As for this year's 12-team lineup—which also features teams from Waterloo, Thunder Bay, Burlington, Couer d'Alene, South Delta, Prince George, Okanagan Hockey Academy, Burnaby and Ridge Meadows—the organizing committee expects competition over four-plus days to be intense, with plenty of up-and-coming junior stars on display.

"We think it's going to be a very competitive tournament," said Tony Ryder of the tournament's team selection committee. "With so many (WHL, OHL) drafted players on these teams, it should be interesting and fun to watch."

Round robin and semifinal games will be played at Memorial and Rutland Arenas.

The championship final is slated for Sunday, Jan. 12 at 12:30 p.m. at Prospera Place.

For more information on the tournament, visit



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