Even before the puck dropped on the 2013-14 season, the Okanagan Rockets made it clear that nothing less than winning the B.C. Major Midget League title would be considered an acceptable outcome.
The Rockets delivered on those expectations by knocking off the Vancouver Northwest Giants this weekend in a tight, hard-fought league final in Burnaby.
The Rockets, who lost to the Giants in a heartbreaker in last year’s championship, gained a measure of revenge with back-to-back wins for a 2-0 sweep in the best-of-three championship.
It was the Rockets’ second BCMML title and first since the spring of 2006.
Okanagan toughed out a 2-1 victory on Friday night, then sealed the deal with another one-goal verdict, 4-3 over the Giants on Saturday.
For the second series in a row, Jake Kryski notched the decisive goal, breaking a 3-3 tie five minutes into the third period, sending the Rockets to victory.
Okanagan goaltender Brendan Barry was nothing short of stellar both nights, blocking 78 of 82 shots fired his way.
As always, the Rockets had some solid individual efforts but head coach Mack O’Rourke pointed to both team play and commitment to the cause as the main keys to success.
“The players were unbelievable in buying into our system and accepting their roles,” O’Rourke said. “Some guys obviously didn’t play as much as others, but they were all committed to what we asked of them. In those situations, you can have guys who can be a little selfish and put the themselves ahead of the team…we didn’t have any of that. It was a total buy-in and a real credit to every one of our players.”
During the regular season, the Rockets let opportunities slip and managed just a single point against the defending champion Giants in the two games played in Burnaby.
O’Rourke said those setbacks benefitted his club come playoff time.
“It was a season of hard work and being able to learn from experiences like that,” he said. “We let leads slip down there and allowed (the Giants) to tie us in one game and beat us in the other. Those moments I think were great learning experiences and helped us hang on and get through these games.”
Rockets’ GM David Michaud said a hard-fought win in the previous series against the Valley West Hawks, including a 7-6 nail-biter in Game 3, added another layer of playoff toughness to his team.
“That win over the Hawks really galvanized our group,” Michaud said. “I don’t think the Giants experienced that kind of intensity in their series. We played in a lot of big games this year and I think it showed.”
As for star rookie Tyson Jost, the Rockets’ leading scorer—both in the regular season and playoffs—was ecstatic with the win.
“Waking up as champions is probably one of the better feelings in life,” Jost wrote Sunday morning on his Twitter account, “so proud of the boys.”
Michaud, who is in his fifth season with the team, was happy for each and every player on the Rockets—but perhaps no more than for captain Branden Wagner and defenceman Gen Bryshun, both three-year members of the program.
“Those two guys have been with us for three years and have been a huge part of us building towards this championship,” Michaud said. “Seeing those guys celebrate, I feel especially good for them.”
Okanagan will next visit the Alberta champs, April 4 to 6, for the right to represent the Pacific region at the Telus Cup national midget hockey championship, April 21 to 27 to in Moose Jaw, Sask.
The Lloydminster Bobcats and Red Deer Chiefs are currently playing off for the Alberta title.
“We’ll be busy getting ready for whoever comes out of there,” said O’Rourke. “Regardless, it will be two great hockey teams going at it in a three-game struggle. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Rockets will leave for Alberta on Thursday, April 3.