Goaltender Cole Demers is one of three returnees on this year's Okanagan Rockets.

Okanagan Rockets launch season vs defending champs

Kelowna's major midget team home to Northeast Chiefs to kick off BCMML campaign

The intensity level should be high this weekend as the last two B.C. Major Midget League champs kick off the new campaign in Kelowna.

The 2013-14 winners, the Okanagan Rockets, will battle the defending champion Northeast Chiefs in a two-game set at the Capital News Centre.

“Having the last two champs going head-to-head to start the season will be exciting,” said Okanagan Rockets’ GM Braeden Pistawka. “It’ll be a good test for us.”

As is most often the case in major midget hockey, the Rockets have had considerable turnover from last year’s team.

Coached this season by newly-hired Jason Williamson, Okanagan will have three returnees on its 20-player roster—forwards Zach Ehrhardt, Ben Dietrich-Scammell and goaltender Cole Demers.

Among the large crop of newcomers is defenceman Shawn Guison, a member of the Kelowna midget tier 1 provincial champions of the previous two seasons.

The Rockets tuned up for the season by hosting an icebreaker tournament and Pistawka liked a lot of what he saw.

“We’re going to have speed and skill,” said Pistawka, “but I also like our work ethic. Last weekend, the guys played with grit and jam, so that was good to see.

“I’m pretty optimistic about the season.”

In Williamson, the Rockets will have a coach with plenty of junior-level experience, including winning two RBC Cups with the Vernon Vipers as an assistant in 2009 and 2010.

He also spent four seasons as the Vipers’ head coach and GM.

“For him, the step from junior hockey to midget will be a fresh start,” Pistawka said of Williamson. “He comes in without any biases about the league or the players, so he can come in with an open mind. He has been to some RBC Cups, so has experience. I think he will be a valuable asset for us.”

This weekend’s games at CNC between the Rockets and Chiefs go at 3 p.m. Saturday and at 10 a.m. Sunday.