The Okanagan Rockets will find out this weekend how they match up against the top team so far this year in the B.C. Major Midget League.
The Rockets host the first place Cariboo Cougars for a pair of games at the Capital News Centre in Kelowna this weekend looking to establish itself as a top team in the 11 team league.
“This is the weekend where we want to show our character against the top team in the league,” said Rockets’ coach James Eccles. “This is a huge weekend in the standings for us. We want to prove that we are going to be a contender in this league.”
The Rockets head into the weekend a game above the .500 mark at 5-4-1 while the Cougars sit atop the pack at 8-3-1. Okanagan has two games in hand on the Cougars and will be looking to elevate into the top six spots in the BCMML from where they currently sit, in seventh place.
“Cariboo is a big strong physical team,” said Eccles. “They like to play in your face but our guys don’t back down to any battle opportunity. We’re going to utilize our speed and try to put pressure on their defense. I think these are going to be intense, up and down games.”
Despite the fact it’s still early in the season, the games hold plenty of significance for the Rockets season. The team is hoping to play in the Mac’s midget hockey tournament in Calgary over the Christmas holiday and the top six teams in the BCMML are automatically entered into the event. If you sit outside of the top six in late November, teams have to be granted an exemption to play in the Macs tournament, considered one of the midget tournaments in North America.
“Playing in the Macs is a huge opportunity,” said team manager David Michaud. “If you don’t get that opportunity you’re missing out . If you look at the standings right now we’re one of five teams all separated by a couple points. Every weekend has some pretty significant meetings. We want to go on a run in the next couple of weeks.”
Last season the Rockets were 0-for-4 against the Cariboo Cougars and this year the team has split each of its last four weekend meetings in the BCMML.
Eccles says the up and down play so far this year is a sign of the early season struggles of a new team with a new coach.
“It’s a new coach, new structure and new atmosphere,” he said. “It’s been a little balancing act and guys are buying into the new program. When we have taken a game off and not respected our opposition, that’s when we’ve lost.”
Rockets captain Josh Ellis is leading the way for Okanagan offensively as he sits seventh in BCMML scoring with 15 points in the team’s first 10 games. Mitchell Cook has chipped in with 13 points.
Eccles says players on the Rockets are all pulling in the same direction, which makes for a cohesive team.
“I’m very pleased with the acceptance and the contributions of each and every player this year,” he said. “Everyone is on the same page of how we want to play with hard work, determination and respect.”
The Rockets and Cougars play at 3 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday at the Capital News Centre.