Quads return to midget tourney
After a three year absence the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets are returning to 35th annual Kelowna International Elite Major Midget Hockey Tournament.
The Rockets became the first Kelowna based team to win the showcase Kelowna tournament when they beat Calgary 8-4 in the 2010 final.
They were shut out of the last three tournaments due to a compressed regular season schedule within the BC Major Midget Hockey League.
Rockets head coach Mack O'Rourke says a weekend bye created an opportunity and they jumped on.
"We were fortunate. We'll finish up with the Macs Tournament in Calgary hopefully Jan 1 and we were going to go about three weeks without playing a game," says O'Rourke.
"We made a phone call, pled our case and said we have to go into an extra event, we need the games, it's right in our back yard why wouldn't we do it. Thanks to some bye weekends and some understanding we were accepted by BC Hockey to put our nomination forward and thankfully we were accepted by the tournament committee."
O'Rourke says it means a lot to both the players and the coaching staff to have a chance to play before a local crowd at such a prestigious tournament.
"These players are looking forward to it. Nineteen out of 20 players have local addresses so it means a lot to them to play in this tournament when normally they wouldn't."
The addition of the Okanagan Rockets coupled with the absence of Notre Dame automatically makes the locals the odds on favourite to capture the tournament.
"It's nice to know people believe in us and statistically we should be successful. We understand that - the players understand that," says O'Rourke.
"At the end of the day they are going to have pressure everywhere they go. To start with that pressure on their home ice of saying you are the favourite now you have to deal with it I think is a great learning opportunity and a great stepping stone for them."
The Major Midget Rockets are one of three Kelowna teams taking part in the five day, 12 team tournament.
The host Tier 1 Fripp Warehousing Junior Rockets and Pursuit of Excellence round out the local contingent.
After going through round robin play a perfect 5-0 last year the Jr. Rockets were knocked out in the semi-final by POE (301).
Pursuit fell 5-2 to Thunder Bay in the tournament final.
The Jr. Rockets have been on a roll of late sitting 8-1 in league play and 16-5-1 overall.
They have been knocked out of both tournament they have taken part in by the same Prince George Cougar squad that will take part in this tournament.
Overall, Jr. Rockets head coach Eric Blais is pleased with the way his young team is starting to come together.
"The team is getting better and better. I've never seen a team progress like this team has in the last three weeks," says Blais of a squad returning just one goalie and two forwards from last year.
"We're really starting to come together. We're big and strong and we work hard. I'm not at the level of skill I had last year - yet."
Blais expects POE, which features the number one overall Western Hockey League draft pick, Tyler Benson, to be his team's toughest competition, on paper at least, in his six team bracket.
He also expects the other four teams, Burnaby Winter Club, South Delta Academy, Ridge Meadows Rustlers and Waterloo Wolves to be strong.
The other side of the draw includes the Okanagan Rockets, defending champion Thunder Bay, Prince George, Okanagan Academy out of Penticton, Burlington and the Compete Rams.
With the absence of the Notre Dame Hounds, the feature Friday game will pit the Jr. Rockets against POE.
The tournament runs Jan 8 to 12 at Memorial and Rutland arenas.
The Saturday evening semi-finals will take place in Rutland with Sunday's final at Prospera Place.
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