Deep roster of teams for Kelowna midget tourney

Defending champion OK Rockets joined by teams from Kitchener, Saskatoon, and strong academy programs, Jan. 7 to 11

The Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament set for Jan. 7 to 11.

The Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament set for Jan. 7 to 11.

Each year, Tony Ryder strives to put together the strongest roster of teams possible at the Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament.

And pretty much everyone agrees, the 2015 version of the 12-team tourney is the most formidable group of hockey clubs to make their way to Kelowna in a very long time.

“This one of the strongest lineups this tournament has ever had,” said KIMMT tournament chairman Greg Stark.

“We have more upper-end teams, we have academy teams that are all competitive…these are the future stars of the game.”

Compiled largely by Ryder—tournament director and team co-ordinator—the field includes the Saskatoon Contacts, perennial contenders at the national midget level who are making their first appearance in Kelowna in 17 years.

The Kitchener Rangers, who already have two tournament wins already this season, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Moose Jaw Generals—last year’s Telus Cup hosts—should also provide a boost to the overall quality of the tournament, Jan. 7 to 11 at Rutland and Memorial Arenas.

Exactly half of the lineup is academy teams, highlighted by the Yale U18 Lions, who are 12-0-1 and are rated the No. 1 prep club in Canada.

Kelowna’s Pursuit of Excellence returns this season, while the Okanagan Hockey Academy will send two teams, Red and White.

Back to defend their KIMMT title are the defending BCMML champion Okanagan Rockets, who took down Waterloo in last year’s final.

Despite a roster turnover of all but one player, the Rockets are expected to be in the mix again at the 36th edition of the tournament.

Although he didn’t witness last year’s tournament, rookie Rockets’ coach Simon Ferguson understands the importance of the five-day event.

“We have a different team than last year, and we want to try an uphold the standard that those guys set for our program,” said Ferguson. “I think it will be a nice pickup right after Christmas for us, these are all stepping stones to playoffs, these are learning lessons.

“There are good teams and good competition,” he added, ” and we want to be very competitive.”

As always, the hosts will be Kelowna’s tier 1 team, the Fripp Warehouse Rockets.

Tom Watters, who has coached at several KIMMT tournaments in the past, will lead a young and relatively inexperienced Rockets’ team into this year’s event.

Kelowna has just two returnees and seven 15-year-old players on the roster.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to showcase themselves, playing some obvious, really good-caliber teams,” said Watters. “We realize we’re in tough but it’s just an opportunity that these kids look forward to all year long.”

Greg Stark, for one, likes the Okanagan Rockets to repeat as champs.

“I’d put my bet behind them to do it again,” said Stark. “They have an excellent program, a great coaching system and they’ve recruited well. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them there at the end.”

The championship final is set for Sunday, Jan. 11, 12:30 p.m. at Rutland West.

For more on the tournament, visit kimmt.com

 

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