Most of the names and faces changed, but the end result was the same for the Kelowna Fripp Warehouse Rockets.
With just two returning players from last year’s squad on the roster, the Rockets still had enough ammunition to win their third consecutive B.C. Hockey midget tier 1 provincial championship.
On Thursday night in Comox, the Rockets completed an unbeaten provincial tournament with a dramatic 3-2 final game victory over the Seafair Islanders.
With the score tied 2-2 and just 28 seconds remaining in the third period, Jaden McNulty jumped on a Mitchell Cobbett rebound and buried it behind the Seafair netminder to put the Rockets ahead.
Kelowna then killed off the last 20 seconds of a penalty to preserve the win and the celebration was on.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said McNulty, 16. “The guys gave it everything they had in the tournament, they left it all out the, blocking shots, putting their bodies on the line. It was fun to watch and be a part of.”
The Rockets very nearly saw their season end prematurely in the Okanagan Mainline final last month when they lost the opening game in the best-of-three series to Kamloops.
But then Kelowna caught fire, blasting the Blazers in the last two games, then posting a 6-0-1 record at provincials.
“When we lost to Kamloops, we gave up two late goals and that was really a rallying point for our team,” Watters said. “What we kept saying is that we didn’t want to have any regrets, so the boys followed up on that and were willing to do whatever it took to get the job done.”
Due to a rash injuries and sickness from opening day, the Rockets faced adversity pretty much all season. Kelowna lost 153 man games due to various afflictions and didn’t play one game in 2014-15 with its entire lineup.
“It speaks to the character of our team,” Watters said. “It’s quite an accomplishment considering we only had three practises all season with our whole lineup.”
For all but two players on the Rockets it was the first midget tier 1 gold medal.
Captain Mitchell Cobbett and defenceman Shawn Guison were the only returnees on the 20-man roster and celebrated their second consecutive championship.
Watters said both veterans played integral roles in his team’s march to gold.
“Those two really stepped up and led verbally and by example,” Watters said. “They knew what it was going to take to be successful and when things went a little sideways within the room, Mitch and Shawn righted the ship.”
Forward Spencer Copan, one of four 1997-born players on the team, didn’t get to play in the championship game due to school commitments back in Kelowna but watched online as the Rockets claimed the gold medal.
“It was hard not being there but as soon as we won, it felt great, I was jumping for joy,” said Copan. “The guys really came together when they had to.”
After Eric Blais coached the Kelowna midgets to back-to-back B.C. titles in 2013 and 2014, Watters took over the team this season and watched his Rockets peak at precisely the right time to make it three in a row.
It was a satisfying conclusion for Watters who has decided to step aside after 35 years of coaching.
He won six B.C. midget titles during his time with Kelowna Minor Hockey—two tier 1 and four tier 2 championships.
“It’s time for me to step away,” Watters said of his decision. “I do want to stay involved with (minor hockey) in some way, but 35 years is a long time.”
The B.C. champion Rockets are: Kevin Makasoff, Shawn Guison, Drayton Martin, Kennedy Gorges, Spencer Hora, Joel Scrimbit, Seth Barton, Mitchell Cobbett, Matt Alcorn, Shay Cyra, Tommy Bodtker, Jeffrey Karpowich, Jaden McNulty, Spencer Copan, Hayden Courtney, Jaunre Naude, Ryan Perverzoff, Jeremy Hite, Gio Sambrielaz and Ryan Moon.
The coaches are Tom Watters, Marc Leger and Brandon Kot, and the manager is Bobbi Hora.