As much he would love to see an-all Kelowna team win the championship for the first time in the tournament’s 34-year history, Eric Blais won’t be piling any undue expectations on his Kelowna Fripp Warehousing Rockets.
Improving on last year’s winless performance is job No. 1 for the Rockets at the 2013 Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament, Jan. 9 to 13.
“I know what this tournament’s like, and it’s very, very difficult,” said Blais. “Top teams are coming in, and you know how we fared against them last year. One thing we want to do is fare better this time around.”
Still, even with the likes of the perennially-strong Notre Dame Hounds and defending champion Wenatchee Wild returning for this year’s tournament, Blais isn’t about to count his team out of the mix for the title.
The Rockets have been weekend warriors this season, winning all three tournaments—Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George—in which they’ve played this fall.
“I would give up the other three to win this one, there’s no question,” said Blais. “It’s a tournament that any Kelowna coach would be proud to win. Never having won it on the 34 year, they talk about Notre Dame having a bitter taste not winning the last two years, ours is pretty bitter never winning it.”
And although Blais admits knocking off the likes of Notre Dame, Wenatchee, Thunder Bay and Calgary’s Edge of Excellence is a tall order, the Rockets head coach says his club, based largely on last year’s experience, won’t be overwhelmed by the task at hand.
“I have eight kids from last year so they know what to expect,” Blais said. “We’re ready for it and I welcome the challenge. We need to challenge to get better going down the road. They’re not worried, they’re looking forward to it.”
The Rockets aren’t the only team with local flavour at this year’s tournament, as Winfield-based Pursuit of Excellence and Penticton’s Okanagan Hockey Academy also have teams entered in the 12-team lineup.
And among clubs appearing for the first time in Kelowna is Compete Hockey Academy from Couer d’Alene, Idaho.
In the eyes of chairman Jim Shedden, it all adds up to a competitive week of hockey where no fewer than eight teams could contend for the title.
Parity, Shedden says, has returned to the tournament.
“I think the hockey we’re seeing now, certainly last year, was a prime example of an overall competitiveness at a very high level that maybe we hadn’t seen before.
“In past years, we knew the Hounds were going to win, we knew one of the hot teams were going to come in and blow everybody away. Now, especially with the academies which is kind of a wave of hockey right now, it’s a coin-flip, no question.”
The host Rockets will open the tournament Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 7:15 p.m. at Memorial Arena against the Compete Academy Rams.
And for the first time in the tournament’s history, the championship game will be broadcast live on television.
Shaw TV in Kelowna will carry the game, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13.