Rockets honour their best

Nolan Foote doesn't mind (pardon the pun), following in his older brother's 'Foote' steps.

It's something little brothers get used to.

Big brother Cal was a second round bantam draft choice of the Kelowna Rockets in 2013. Two years later, Nolan came to the Rockets in the second round.

Sunday, at the annual awards ceremony at the Kelowna Community Theatre, Nolan was named the Rockets most valuable player - an honour bestowed on Cal a year ago.

He said he's happy to follow in his brother's footsteps.

"It's definitely special being next to his name bar," said Nolan.

"We didn't know what we were getting into, we didn't even know about Kelowna when Cal got drafted. I learned about the league quickly, learned about the teams, and figured out how great Kelowna was.

"Bruce and Lornie (Lorne Frey) took a chance at drafting me the same round and same pick as Cal. We were fortunate to play here together, and it was awesome."

Foote led the Rockets in goals (36), power play goals (17), shorthanded goals (3), and was second with 63 points.

Sunday's ceremony was the perfect distraction for a team that has been scratching and clawing for a playoff spot for a number of weeks.

They let a seven point lead slip away over the final week of the regular season, but secured a tiebreaker in Kamloops Tuesday with an emotional 3-2 overtime win over the Vancouver Giants Saturday.

Forward Erik Gardiner, who was forced to retire from the game in early January, made the trip back to Kelowna for Saturday's important game and Sunday's ceremony.

Both head coach Adam Foote and president/GM Bruce Hamilton spoke of trials and tribulations the team went through to get to this point.

Foote talked about the divide in the locker room when he took over from Jason Smith on Oct. 23. He said he challenged the players out of the gate and, eventually, they figured it out.

Hamilton said he hasn't gone through a year like this before, but promised the team's best days are ahead of it.

"The last couple of year we had a lot of skill, and a lot of great forwards," said Nolan Foote.

"We had skill this year, but didn't put the puck in the net as much as last year. I think when we won in Everett 2-0...we came back the next night against (Prince Albert), and just believed in each other. I thought from there everyone bought in."

Kyle Topping walked away Sunday with two awards, both based on regular season statistics. Topping was the team's leading scorer with 23 goals and 69 points and the leader in plus/minus at plus 10.

Other winners announced Sunday include:

  • Scholastic player - Kyle Crosbie
  • Most improved - Mark Liwiski
  • Unsung hero - Dallon Gally
  • Humanitarian - Leif Mattson
  • Top defenceman Kaeden Korczak
  • Top defensive forward - Connor Bruggen-Cate
  • Most sportsmanlike - Devin Steffler
  • Top rookie - Lassie Thomson

The Rockets will skate tomorrow before traveling to Kamloops for Tuesday's tie-breaker.

The winner will move on to face Victoria in the opening round of the playoffs. That series will begin Friday in Victoria.




Rockets force tiebreaker

It's only fitting. Two of the most fierce rivals in the Western Hockey League will faceoff against each other one last time to determine the final playoff berth in the BC Division.

The Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers both won in dramatic fashion Saturday night to force a one-game playoff Tuesday night in Kamloops.

The winner moves on to face the Victoria Royals in the opening round of the playoffs. The loser is out.

At Prospera Place, the Rockets clung to a 2-1 lead late in regulation time until Jadon Joseph snapped a shot from the right point that appeared to beat a screened Roman Basran to the far corner.

Heading to overtime with a single point in their pocket, the Rockets temporarily held a one-point lead on the Blazers.

At the same time in Prince George, the Cougars snapped a 1-1 tie with a shorthanded goal to take a 2-1 lead later in regulation time.

However, seconds later, as the Rockets were getting ready for overtime, the Blazers tied it, and minutes later, took the lead with a shorthanded goal of their own.

The Rockets had to find a goal in overtime, or the shootout.

After a couple of near misses on a power play in overtime Mark Liwiski, who returned Friday from a three-game suspension, beat David Tendeck off a set-play with Alex Swetlikoff to secure the win and a date with the Blazers.

With a faceoff at centre ice, Swetlikoff sent the puck ahead for Liwiski, who beat his man and muscled his way across the Vancouver blueline and beat Tendeck five-hole.

"Me and Sweaty talk. I felt in the second half of the season we developed some chemistry," said Liwiski.

"He knows what I'm doing and I know what he's doing, and it just kind of bounced our way."

Liwiski said he saw a screen and looked low with his shot.

"We did some video before the game, and I know if I can beat him low, that's where we're going to beat him."

The Giants opened the scoring just past the midway point when Justin Sourdif banged home his own rebound on a Vancouver power play.

Cayde Augustine got that one back less than two minutes later. His shot from the left boards was drifting toward defenceman Dallas Hines head.

He put his hands up to protect himself, and somehow deflected the puck into the net.

Swetlikoff gave the Rockets their first lead of the night late in the second. Tendeck stopped his original wraparound, but Swetlikoff stayed with the puck, turned his body, and lifted the puck high on the short side.

"It was huge after I think he took 25 or 30 stitches in his mouth last night in Vancouver," said head coach Adam Foote.

"I was going to talk to (Swetlikoff) before the game, but I just gave him a tap,and I felt like he was going to go. Some guys would be discouraged by something like that, especially one that drastic, but he just moved forward."

It stayed that way until the dying moments.

The Rockets appeared nervous through the first half of the opening period, but picked up their game after the Giants opened the scoring.

"This whole process has been a learning experience, and later when we look back at this we're going to say this was the best thing that happened to us, that we needed to go through this.

"Guys are figuring out how to stay alive and how to win."

The tiebreaker goes Tuesday night in Kamloops.

It's the eighth tiebreaker in league history dating back to 1980.

The road team has won six of the previous seven.

The winner of Tuesday's game will open the best-of-seven first round series in Victoria.

Rockets, Blazers dead heat

There's nothing to choose between the Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers as they head to the final game of the regular season.

The two teams are deadlocked for the final BC Division playoff spot with 62 points each heading into game 68 Saturday night.

On Friday, the Rockets fell 2-1 in regulation time to the Vancouver Giants in Langley, while the Blazers grabbed a vital loser-point in a 5-4 overtime defeat at home to Prince George.

In Langley, Dylan Plouffe snapped a 1-1 tie with less than four minutes to go in regulation time in the Giants victory over the Rockets.

The goal came just 27 seconds after Michael Farren was set off for high sticking. It was the Giants only power play of the game.

After a scoreless first, Alex Kannok Leipert broke the deadlock, jamming the puck past Roman Basran during a scramble in front of the crease.

Kyle Crosbie tied it off the rush eight minutes later when his shot from the right faceoff circle beat Trent Miner five-hole.

The goaltenders were the difference the rest of the way until Plouffe ended it late in the third.

The Giants outshot Kelowna 31-18, including 8-2 during the decisive final period.

In Kamloops, Vladislav Mikhalchuk scored his second of the night with less than 90 seconds left in overtime, giving the Cougars a 5-4 win in Kamloops.

The Blazers led 2-1 after 40 before a wild third period in which the teams combined for five goals.

The Cougars scored three unanswered goals in less than nine minutes during the opening half of the period to take a 4-2 lead.

Kyrell Sopotyk cut the deficit to one on the power play, setting the stage for Connor Zary's game-tying marker in the final minute.

The Blazers close out the regular season Saturday in Prince George while the Rockets entertain the Giants in their regular season finale.

If the teams remain tied after Saturday, they would play a one-game tie-breaker next week in Kamloops to determine who faces the Victoria Royals in the opening round of the playoffs, and who goes home.



Rockets in playoff dogfight

The Kelowna Rockets have the tougher road ahead as they try to hold onto the final playoff spot in the BC Division of the Western Hockey League.

The Rockets own a slim one-point lead on the Kamloops Blazers heading into the final weekend of the regular season, but have the tougher match-up of the two.

Kelowna will close out the regular season against the BC Division champion Vancouver Giants while the Blazers close out the season with a home-and-home set with the cellar-dwelling Prince George Cougars.

The Rockets have just one win against the Giants in the six head-to-head meetings between the two clubs – a shootout win in Langley earlier in the year. They have also been held to one or fewer goals in four of the six games.

While they have long-since clinched the BC Division, the Giants still have something to play for as they battle the Everett Silvertips for the top record in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The Blazers meanwhile have won five of their six meetings with the Cougars. The only loss, a shootout loss last month.

The Cougars have also won just twice over their last 25 games, with only one coming in regulation time, a 5-2 win over Portland in their last game Saturday.

The Rockets play in Langley Friday before closing out at home Saturday.

They will wear special superhero-themed jersey's for the regular season finale. A draw will be held during the game to determine which fans get a chance to walk away with one of the special sweaters.

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