The team’s name may have changed but the prestige behind serving as the tournament host remains the same.
The Central Zone (formerly Kelowna) Fripp Rockets will welcome 11 other teams to the city, Jan. 11 to 14, for the BDO 38th annual Kelowna International Elite Midget Tournament.
As a younger tier 1 team, the Rockets will, in many cases, give up skill, size and age to their opponents.
Still, head coach Lee Hamilton said it’s an ideal setting for his players to push their game to the next level.
“It gives our guys the chance to share the spotlight and compete on the same stage with elite and major midget teams,” said Hamilton, who has eight 15-year-old players on his roster. “This tournament brings out the best in each and every kid, they know they have to bring their best each game or there’s the potential for a blowout.
“At the end of the day, it’s a great gauge for our team and allows our kids to develop even further.”
The host Rockets more than held their own at last year’s tournament, finishing with a respectable 2-3 record.
This year, Kelowna will compete in a pool with Okanagan Academy Red, Swift Current, Sask., Delta U18, the Yale Lions and Burlington, Ont.
The Kelowna-based major midgets, the Okanagan Rockets, are pooled with Burnaby Winter Club, the 2015 champion Lethbridge Hurricanes, Okanagan Academy White, the Saskatoon Contacts and Northern Alberta Extreme.
The 2010 and 2014 tournament champs, the Okanagan Rockets are currently second in the BCMML with a 16-4-0-2 record and should be in the mix as one of the favourites.
But based on the overall quality of teams compiled for the 2017 tournament, head coach Eric Blais knows the road to the final won’t be an easy one.
“The (Canadian School Sport Hockey League) puts out a very good product and some high-end kids that are playing in that league, with Yale, Okanagan Academy and programs like that,” said Blais.
“Then you have the teams from the prairies that are always big and strong and more mature than us, and Burlington is coming from Ontario, so the competition level is going to be very high.”
The majority of the 2017 tournament’s 33 games will be played on Rutland Arena’s East and West rinks.
One significant change is a shift in venue for the remaining games, from Memorial Arena to the Capital News Centre.
“These teams are used to playing on the bigger ice surface and that’s what CNC has that Memorial doesn’t,” said tournament chairman Greg Stark.
“There’s also lots of parking, the dressing rooms are there, the big ice, so it made sense to move some games there.”
Each team plays five-round robin games over four days, with the semifinals set for Saturday, Jan. 13.
The final, which will be broadcast live on Shaw TV, goes Sunday, Jan. 14 at 12:30 p.m.
One of the new features of this year’s tournament will be the showcasing of junior B hockey in B.C.
The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League all-star game will be played Saturday, Jan. 14 at 2 p.m. at Rutland West.
For more information on the tournament, visit kimmt.com