The head coach of the Kelowna Fripp Warehousing Junior Rockets knows there is no place to go but up.
The Jr. Rockets will again serve as hosts for the 34th annual Daily Courier Kelowna International Elite Midget Hockey Tournament set for January.
Kelowna came into the event a year ago with a strong team but imploded in the final 69 seconds of its opening game giving up three goals in a 6-4 loss to eventual champion Wenatchee.
After that, they went on to lose their other four games.
"Those last few seconds kind of dictated the way the rest of the tournament went. We win that game and our kids are higher than kites, but the way we lost it seemed to take the wind right out of our sails and we never really recovered," says head coach, Eric Blais.
"It was downhill from there."
The local squad has been on a roll winning three tournaments early in the season.
Despite that success, Blais agrees this is the one to win.
"I would give up the other three to win this one. It's a tournament any Kelowna coach would be proud to win."
The Kelowna tournament also features a step up in class from what the Jr. Rockets are used to seeing. Most teams are AAAA calibre compared to the AAA Rockets.
With eight players returning from last year's experience, Blais says they know what to expect in terms of the higher calibre.
"We're ready for it. I welcome the challenge and I think we need the challenge to get better down the road," says Blais.
"They (players) are not worried. They're looking forward to it - they really are."
Kelowna will compete in a pool with perennial contenders Notre Dame Hounds, Burlington Eagles, Semiahmoo Ravens (White Rock), Okanagan Hockey Academy (Summerland) and Compete Hockey Academy Rams (Idaho).
The other side of the draw features the top two teams from a year ago, defending champion Wenatchee Wild and runners up Edge of Excellence out of Calgary.
Thunder Bay Kings, Pursuit of Excellence (Lake Country), Surrey Thunder and Ridge Meadows Rustlers round out the 12 year field.
Tournament organizer, Jim Mazzei, says there are several teams to look out for including last year's finalists as well as Notrre Dame and Thunder Bay.
The tournament runs from January 9 to 13 with games scheduled for Memorial Arena and both arenas in Rutland.
Semi finals will be held at the Rutland Arena on the evening of January 12 with the final downtown at Memorial Arena January 13 at 12:30.
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