Kelowna’s Kyle Topping warms up on the ice against the Vancouver Giants at Prospera Place on January 26. (Photo: Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets Images)

‘I’ll always call Kelowna a second home’: Rockets veteran looks back on junior career

It was a heartbreaking end for Kyle Topping, but it doesn’t take away from the four special years

Just like that; it was all over.

As the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) made the call to cancel the remainder of the season and playoffs on March 23, Kyle Topping’s four-year career with the Kelowna Rockets came to an end.

With professional sports events being delayed and cancelled around the globe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the end of the season hit a little harder for the Rockets who were set to host the 2020 Memorial Cup in May.

“We knew it was a possibility, our group was hoping for a miracle that things would turn around,” said Topping.

“But it’s understandable and it’s what they needed to do to keep the league safe. That was one of the tougher weeks (in my career), and I feel for our whole group. It’s definitely pretty heartbreaking and not the way I wanted to go out.”

By hosting the Memorial Cup, the Rockets were guaranteed a spot in the CHL championships, a prize they haven’t won since 2004 and haven’t competed for since 2015.

For Topping, one of three 20-year-olds on the Rockets whose four years in the league means an end to his WHL career, the Memorial Cup was meant to be a special end to his time in Kelowna.

Though the coronavirus may have taken away a shot at that special end, nothing can take away the four years of fond memories Topping has with only WHL team he’s ever played for.

“To stay in the same spot in my junior career is pretty special,” said Topping.

“The Rockets are a first-class organization. Each of my four years were a little different. The first was special because you’re new to everything, my second year was a bigger year and a bigger role. I was hoping for a big final year, but it is what it is.”

“Looking back, it was an awesome ride and I’ll always call Kelowna a second home.”

In his 226 games with the Rockets, Topping had 196 points and averaged almost a point per game in the last three seasons while playing in a leadership role as an alternative captain. His gritty, two-way and consistent game allowed him to slide into any line and any role that Kelowna needed.

His energy and tenacity meant that if the team needed a goal, a hit, a fight or a big play, Topping was often there to oblige for his team and the Kelowna fans.

While sports and close to everything else has been put on pause during the pandemic, there’s a lot of uncertainty with where Topping’s hockey career will next take him.

For now, it’s relaxing in his hometown on Salt Spring Island and seeing where things will be at the end of the pandemic. And through it all, it’s the little things he said he’ll miss most.

“That everyday life in Kelowna, coming to the rink every day, seeing the guys and just playing for the Rockets. It was pretty special.”

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