Pursuit of Excellence forward Tyler Barrett (left) tries to pull away from Thunder Bay defenceman Johnny Parrott during Sunday's final of the Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament at Memorial Arena.

POE reaches midget final, Kings crowned champs

Thunder Bay wins 34th annual Kelowna elite tournament, Kelowna's Pursuit of Excellence a solid second, while host Rockets win five

Before the week began, head coach Ryan Wade had a hunch his Pursuit of Excellence squad would be competitive at the 2013 Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament.

That much was clear as the Winfield-based POE U18 squad made it as far as Sunday’s championship game at Memorial Arena, before losing 5-2 to the Thunder Bay Kings.

POE, which plays most of its games on the road in the North American Prospects Hockey League, was making its first ever appearance in the final since director David Roy first opened the local academy’s doors in 2003.

POE, with 11 local kids on the roster, posted a 5-1 record before Sunday’s championship.

“Coming into this tournament, I don’t think anybody but ourselves gave us a shot,” said Wade, a former player with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. “We wanted to create a little bit of history, being the first time a POE program’s been in the final. Kudos to these guys for working so hard, not only this week but over the course of the year buying into the systems, and you know it’s been a great week for us.”

For the Kings’, it was their 12th consecutive appearance at the Kelowna tournament and second championship win since 2008.

After a 2,600 kilometre trip from Thunder Bay, the Kings started the week slowly with an overtime loss to Calgary Edge, then reeled off six straight victories to hoist the KIMMT championship trophy.

“It’s a big deal for us,” Kings coach Darren Nicholas said of the victory. “We just relish these types of opportunities we can get ourselves in, because really the end goal is to play a game like this in March or April when it’s for a national championship.”

POE’s Jordan Kawaguchi was named the tournament’s MVP, as well as being the top scorer.

He was joined on the Coast Capri Division all-star team by teammates and local products Cody Porter (goaltender) and Chaz Reddekopp (defense).

Host Rockets win 5…

In the event’s 34-year history, a Kelowna Minor Hockey tier 1 team has never won the Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament.

And while the Kelowna Fripp Rockets fell two wins short of ending the drought in 2013, it was the most impressive effort by an all-Kelowna squad anyone associated with the tournament can remember.

The Rockets became the first Kelowna tier 1 team ever to go 5-0 in the round robin—including victories over Notre Dame and Burlington—before going down to defeat 3-1 to the Pursuit of Excellence in the semifinal round on Saturday.

It was a dramatic turnabout for the Rockets who went 0-5 last year.

“You go into these tournaments hoping to win every game, but even saying that, I think we really did exceed expectations,” said Rockets head coach Eric Blais. “On the other hand, I knew we had the personnel to compete and the boys did a great job. We came up a little a short in the semifinal and I know the boys are disappointed, but they’ve got nothing to hang their heads about. I’m extremely proud of them.”

Goaltender Chris Turner was named the Rockets’ most outstanding players.

Turner was joined on the Daily Courier Division all-star team by Kelowna teammates Kristian Blumenschein and captain Adam Beatty.

In the five tournaments they entered this season, the Rockets have won four of them, while posting an impressive 24-3-2 overall record.