On Saturday, the host Kelowna Rockets were just over a minute away from missing out on the playoffs entirely.
A day later, the Rockets were celebrating a bronze medal win at the Western Canada Bantam AAA Hockey Championship.
The Rockets downed the Manitoba champion Winnipeg Monarchs 2-1 Sunday afternoon at Rutland Arena to finish third at the five-team bantam showcase.
Competing against the four champions from the Western provinces, the Rockets were considered the underdogs at the championship, but head coach Tom Watters said his club’s resolve, work ethic and commitment to team play made the difference.
“I think the boys realized that hard work pays off,” said Watters. “Because that’s really what it was, and it was a total team effort. There were some boys that didn’t see quite as much ice as they would have liked, but I’m sure they’re happy with the result.”
With the Rockets clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the game, Manitoba pulled their goaltender and very nearly scored the equalizer. But the puck bounced off the goal post and stayed out, a sign that perhaps the bronze was in the stars.
“We’ve been snake-bitten a few times this year and more often that not we’ve had good luck in the last five minutes of our hockey games,” Watters said. “It was a gutsy win, the boys played hard. Not much offence in the third, but we sure looked after our end of the ice.”
The Rockets lost their first three games of the tournament and came up against Yorkton, Sask., another winless team, in their final round robin game on Saturday morning.
Kelowna trailed 2-1 with time winding down and needed to earn a tie to move onto the playoffs. With just over a minute remaining and their net empty for an extra attacker, Kelowna evened the count on a goal by Jeremy Hite and the Rockets were on their way to the bronze medal game.
“That play that got us into this game was executed perfectly, the boys did a great job on that,” Watters said.
In the end, Watters said his team competed and did Kelowna proud with its effort against Western Canada’s elite bantam talent.
“We were only really out of one hockey game out of the five that we played,” he said. “It was our 70th game of hockey this year, so we’re ecstatic with the result.”
The Rockets are: Jordan Wilde, Justin Bradley, Mitchell Prowse, Wyatt Head, Spencer Hora, Zach Whitehead, Matt Alcorn, Seth Barton, Connor Marritt, Ryan Moon, Lucas Cullen, Michael McCready, Daman Kraeleman, Eli Zummack, Hayden Courtney, Keltie Jeri-Leon, Jeffrey Karpowoch, Jeremy Hite, Scott Freeman and James Fischer. The coaches are Tom Watters, Brian Cullen and Sean Mulcahy, the manager is Dave Alcorn, while David Marritt looks after safety for the Rockets.
Meanwhile, in a thrilling championship final, North Shore Winter Club defeated the Alberta champion Lloydminster Heat 4-3 in double overtime to claim the gold medal.