Rourke Chartier will play for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Finland.

Rockets’ Chartier to spend Christmas in Finland

Kelowna centre makes national junior team's final roster, while teammate Nick Merkley is released

A year ago, Rourke Chartier was a late cut from Canada’s national junior men’s hockey team.

In 2015, the Kelowna Rockets centre is undoubtedly thrilled that history didn’t repeat itself.

Chartier was one of 23 players named Sunday to the Canadian roster for the World Junior Hockey Championship beginning on Boxing Day in Helsinki, Finland.

Chartier’s Kelowna teammate, Nick Merkley, wasn’t as fortunate as the Calgary native was one of the last four players released by Hockey Canada on the weekend.

Chartier, 19, who battled injury problems and missed 17 games with the Rockets this season, returned to Kelowna lineup just a week prior to the national team selection camp in Etobicoke, Ont.

It turned out to be enough time for the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Saskatoon native to convince Team Canada’s management and coaching staff to keep him on in Finland over the Christmas holiday.

Chartier didn’t hurt his cause on Sunday, scoring the lone goal in Canada’s 1-0 pre-tournament win over the Czech Republic.

Rockets head coach Brad Ralph, for one, couldn’t be happier that Chartier is able to fulfill a childhood dream.

“Being a late cut last year and having a rough start to this season with his injury, it’s great to see Rourke make the team this time,” said Ralph. “I’m really happy for him that he can have this success, I know it’s a great honour for him (to play for Canada) and it’ll be an unbelievable experience I’m sure he’ll never forget.”

As was the case for Chartier last year, Merkley, 18, was a late cut in his first try with Canada’s U20 team.

“I hope Nick is proud, not many players make it as far as he did in the process and hopefully this will spur him on to make next year’s team,” Ralph said. “I was hoping he would make it, but on the other hand, for us to get him back is really going to help us, with all the players gone and the illnesses we’ve had. Nick is a game changer, for sure.”

As of Tuesday, both Tomas Soustal (Czech Republic) and Calvin Thurkauf (Switzerland) also remained with their country’s respective national junior teams in Europe.

Rockets on break…

Brad Ralph is happy to see his team on top of the Western Hockey League standings halfway through the 2015-16 season.

The Rockets head coach was just hoping for some better results heading into the Christmas layoff.

Kelowna (25-9-1-1) lost its last two games before the break, closing demanding six-game Prairie road tour with a 3-3-0-0 record.

With four key forwards absent due to the upcoming world junior championship, and both illness and injuries taking their toll, Ralph said his team didn’t have a whole lot left to give at the end.

“I felt bad for the guys, they played the last four games in five nights and didn’t have much left in the tank,” said Ralph, as the Rockets finished up with a 3-1 loss Friday in Prince Albert and a 5-3 setback Saturday in Saskatoon. “We were trying as hard as we could, but as badly as the guys wanted it, it just didn’t happen.

“I think it was a little lesson for us, myself included, that there are going to be tough times,” added Ralph, “and we have to fight through. Hopefully it will be a good learning experience for all of us.”

The Rockets return to action Sunday, Dec. 27 in Kamloops in the first of a home-and-home against the Blazers.

The teams will face off again Monday, Dec. 28 at Prospera Place.


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