Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze Captain Rodney Southam and the Kelowna Rockets bid farewell to their fans following Sunday night’s elimination from the WHL playoffs by the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Rockets brass reflects on WHL season

Kelowna’s season ends with six-game loss to Seattle in Western Conference final

Like each and every season, Bruce Hamilton’s expectations are nothing less than his team challenging for a Western Hockey League championship.

And each year when the playoffs end before the month of May, the Kelowna Rockets’ GM feels a sense of both emptiness and unfinished business.

The Rockets were ousted from the WHL post season Sunday night, losing in six games to the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Conference championship.

Based on the way his club played over the last two months of the season, Hamilton believed the Rockets had set the table for a championship run.

As it turned out, the defending Western Conference champion Thunderbirds were one roadblock the Rockets couldn’t find a way to get past.

“I had a good feeling about this team, the pathway we were on from the trade deadline on, I really felt we had the team to win,” said Hamilton. “Our team got a lot better, I’m pretty sure people didn’t think we were going to sneak up on them like we did.

“I tried to explain to our players how hard it is to get there and to win,” he added. “We’re very fortunate to have been there (the Memorial Cup) five times before, so to get that close and see it slip away is always disappointing.”

As was the case at times during the regular season, Hamilton said discipline and was an issue again for the Rockets in the Western Conference final.

The GM also credited Seattle for their workmanlike effort and said the physical punishment delivered on the Rockets on a nightly basis took its toll.

“You can’t take anything away from Seattle, they’re a very physical team and as the series went on our guys seemed less and less interested,” said Hamilton, who also pointed to a pair of late game-winning goals in Games 1 and 3 by Seattle that shifted momentum in the series. “I thought through the first four games, we really had a chance to grab hold of the series, but those late goals really turned the series.”

Outgoing captain Rodney Southam is one of at least six players who the Rockets will see moving on. The Saskatoon-born forward is joined by overage grads Michael Herringer and playoff scoring leader Reid Gardiner, as well as Nick Merkley, Calvin Thurkauf, Lucas Johansen—and possibly Devante Stephens—who are expected to turn pro.

As for the future, Hamilton is upbeat about the club the Rockets will ice next season. Dillon Dube, Kole Lind, Cal Foote and Nolan Foote are among those who will form the foundation of the team.

And with youngsters like Kyle Topping, Liam Kindree, Jack Cowell and Kaeden Korczak all expected to take a another big step forward, Hamilton said the coaching staff should have another strong stable of talent to work with.

“We’ve got a good group coming back,” said Hamilton. “It was a learning curve this year for Jason (Smith) but now he knows all of them, he’ll be able to come in next year and hit the the ground running.”

As for Jason Smith—with the exception of winning a championship—there wasn’t much more the 43-year-old head coach could have asked from his rookie season behind the Rockets’ bench.

“It was outstanding,” said Smith, who led Kelowna to 45 regular season victories. “As a staff the work ethic, the time the players put in and the energy they brought every day to the rink, it was great to come to the rink. To be around a group of kids or young men or whatever you want to call them: They were well-behaved, they worked hard, they were coachable and good people. It was a great experience.”

The Rockets are now preparing for this Thursday’s WHL bantam draft in Calgary. Kelowna’s first choice will be in the second round, 39th overall.

Just Posted

Updated: Highway 97 reopens to traffic, Peachland fire crews monitor fires this morning

Crews continue to battle the 1,000 hectare Mount Eneas blaze south of Peachland

Update: Wildfire crews continue to fight fire near West Kelowna

Evacuation alerts are in effect for properties in the Glenrosa area

Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire “stable” this morning

An evacuation alert remains in effect for those on Lakeshore Road

Show of union solidarity on casino picket lines

Labour movement to back striking BCGEU workers in protest on Saturday

Updated: Complete list of B.C. Interior wildfire coverage

Up-to-date information on blazes happening the Kamloops Wildfire Centre

Okanagan Wildfires: The latest on wildfires and evacuations

A Friday morning look at the major wildfires impact the Okanagan and Similkameen.

Tigers complete series sweep

Vernon grounds Kamloops 12-9 for Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League playoff title

Five small fires burn east of Oliver

At least one of the fires is suspected of being human caused

Seal attacks kayakers in the Broughton Archipelago

“It has to be one chance in a million of this happening.”

Victoria-area park sign removed after glitch redirects to porn site

Resident looking to learn more about workout equipment discovered the problem code

Five fires continue to burn near Keremeos

There are five fires in high elevation burning near Keremeos

Special Olympic athletes take on BC Games during special anniversary

Known as the Global Day of Inclusion, July 20 marks the first Special Olympics in 1968 in Chicago

Scammers dressed as Mounties threaten to arrest senior if she doesn’t cough up cash

Pair of fraudulent officers threaten to arrest 90-year-old woman

Fundraiser to help mom of jogger detained after crossing U.S. border

Cedella Roman, 19, was held in U.S. after accidentally crossing border in South Surrey

Most Read