Okanagan Rockets win Kelowna midget tourney
Anything other than a Okanagan Rockets' victory celebration would have been considered a major surprise at the 2014 edition of the Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament.
The B.C. Major Midget League's No. 1 team lived up to all expectations at the annual midget showcase with a 7-3 victory over the Waterloo Wolves in Sunday's tournament finale at Prospera Place.
It was just the second championship for a Kelowna-based team in the tourney's 35-year history—the major midget Rockets also won gold in their last appearance in 2010.
Rookie coach and Kelowna product Mack O'Rourke was understandably pleased with his team's unbeaten effort at the 12-team tourney.
"Going 7-and-0 in a tournament I grew up watching my whole life, it was good to be part of a win," said O'Rourke. "There are several guys in that room who grew up in minor hockey here, so to get the opportunity to win this tournament is a great feeling for them, too.
"We did a little bit of history on the tournament with all the new guys to Kelowna and let them know the importance of his event," O'Rourke added, "to let them know who's played in it and who's won it…everyone was pretty happy to be here once they understood how special this event really is."
Rockets forward and top prospect Tyson Jost and Liam Finlay led the attack with two goals and an assist each on Sunday. Jake Kryski, Cory Santoro and Kristen Blumenschein also scored for the champs who sealed the game with two empty-net goals.
The Rockets' leading scorer during the round-robin portion of the tourney, Kelowna product Tanner Campbell, couldn't have asked for a better outcome.
"It means a ton, I've grown up watching (the tournament)," said Campbell, who played in the tournament last year with the Kelowna Fripp Rockets. "I had the honour of playing in it last year as well, unfortunately it didn't turn out the way this year did…so this really means a lot to get it this time."
As the top team in the BCMML and a semi-finalist at the Calgary Mac's midget tourney, the Rockets were not surprisingly heavy favourites coming into the tournament.
And other than a close call in the semifinal—a hard-fought 4-3 win over Kelowna's Pursuit of Excellence—the Rockets dominated their opponents.
O'Rourke credits his team for responding well to the pressure and expectations.
"It's kind of something all year we've been faced with that we are the favourites and we have to live up to those expectations," O'Rourke said. "The guys are doing that, they're buying into what we're telling them and we really appreciate the work they've put in and to follow through with what we need them to do here."
As for the hosts, the Kelowna Fripp Warehousing Rockets posted a 3-2-0 record and gave head coach Eric Blais reason for optimism as his team prepares to defend its B.C. midget tier 1 title.
"It's a step up from our league and most tournaments we play in, and some of the teams we see are two steps up," said Blais. "We had some bumps here and there, but overall I thought we did really well this week. We'll see how we come out of this."
Tyson Jost and Tanner Campbell of the Okanagan Rockets, Braden Eliuk of the Kelowna Rockets, and POE's Ryan Bontirin and Ralph Jarratt were named to the tournament's all-star team.
Kelowna's Brandon Barnes won the Fripp Rockets MVP Bursary Award.