So far, no challenge has proven too steep for the 2013-14 edition of the Okanagan Rockets.
Two weeks after knocking off the defending B.C. champs in their own building, the Rockets took down the defending Canadian-champion Red Deer Optimist Chiefs in three games in the Pacific regional final in Alberta.
The win secured the Okanagan squad a spot in the Telus Cup Canadian midget hockey championship for the first time in club history.
In Red Deer, the Rockets’ once again exercised their flair for the dramatic by edging the Chiefs 3-2 Sunday afternoon in overtime in the third and deciding game.
The Rockets, who trailed 2-1 heading into the third period, again showed their trademark resilience as Tanner Browne scored with eight minutes remaining to force the extra period.
That then set the stage for Liam Finlay, as the Rockets’ forward buried a rebound for the game winner just over five minutes into OT, sending his club to nationals.
After absorbing a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Chiefs just a day earlier in Game 2, Michaud said his club’s character and commitment came through one more time.
“It’s a testament to our whole group, right from (head coach) Mack O’Rourke to Tez, our trainer, and the way all 25 guys believe in each other,” said Rockets’ GM David Michaud. “We know we can accomplish great things when we put our mind to it. With these guys, when they get knocked down they don’t want to stay down. The guys have been great dealing with adversity all year.”
The Rockets, who finished second in the BCMML during the regular season, beat the five-time defending provincial champion Vancouver Northwest Giants two weekends earlier in Burnaby.
Red Deer had also won five consecutive Alberta titles, but were stopped short in their big for a third straight Canadian title by the Rockets—despite the hostile environment and some 2,200 vocal Red Deer fans in the stands.
“I don’t know how many teams would have rebounded from a 7-1 loss and in an environment like that,” he said. “It was no question, the most intense environment the boys have ever played in. To see them rise above that and win…there’s nothing sweeter.”
The Telus Cup, which runs April 21 to 27 in Moose Jaw, Sask., features five other teams—the host Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Mintos, Toronto Young Nationals, Halifax Macs and the Quebec champions, who have yet to be determined.
Even before the puck was dropped last fall, the Rockets’ goal was to qualify for the national midget hockey championship. And although that target has now been met, Michaud said his club isn’t going to Moose Jaw to simply make an appearance.
“We’re not happy just to be there,” Michaud said. “We might as well try and finish this and win a national championship.
The Rockets will open the Telus Cup on Monday, April 21 against the Quebec champions.