OK Rockets capture midget tournament
The Okanagan Rockets were the team to beat at the annual Kelowna International Major Midget Hockey Tournament.
The Major Midget squad didn't disappoint.
The Rockets went through the five day, 12 team tournament a perfect 7-0, capping it off with a convincing 7-3 win over the Waterloo Wolves.
"When we decided to go into this tournament obviously the plan was to win it. It was in our own backyard, it's got a lot of history with the coaching staff and players," Rockets head coach Mack O'Rourke.
"To be able to go 7-0 and ultimately win it was a great feeling."
Liam Finlay and Tyson Jost led the way as they did much of the week for the winners. Finlay, the top player in the final, had two goals and an assist while Jost added two goals and two assists.
Jake Kryski, Cory Santoro and Kristian Blumenschein also scored for the Rockets.
After a tentative start by both teams the Rockets finally got on the board 14 minutes into the opening period. Santoro did most of the work behind the net and eventually spotted Kryski alone in front who buried a shot high over the glove of Wolves goaltender.
Jost put the home side up 2-0 before the period was over when he picked up a loose puck in the left circle, turned and beat a surprised Mario Culina to the far post.
O'Rourke agreed the game had a tentative feel to it through much of the first period.
"I don't think anyone wanted to take any real chances off the start. I think if you wait for the right opportunity and see what comes your way you are going to have success," says O'Rourke.
"It's a championship game. You don't want to go down 1-0 early - you're better off playing 0-0 for a bit, seeing what happens and try to capitalize on the chances you get.
They went up 3-0 less than a minute into the second when Carter Hikichi sprung Finlay in all alone on the right wing. Culina got a piece of Finlay's shot, however, it popped out of his glove and trickled over the line.
The Rockets looked like they would run away and hide after Finlay made it 3-0. They had all of the territorial play and had limited Waterloo to just three shots on goal.
The Wolves hung in, kept the game close and, on their fifth shot of the game, were rewarded when Adam McPhail banged home a rebound on a two-on-one break.
Six minutes later tournament MVP Gary Mantz cut the deficit to one when his sharp angle shot somehow found the short side over Rocket goaltender Reid Kilburn's shoulder and just under the bar.
The Rockets bounced right back with goals two-and-a-half minutes apart late in the period from Jost and Santoro to re-establish the three goal lead.
They shut the door the rest of the way.
Waterloo pulled Culina with a little more than five minutes left and were rewarded with one to make it 5-3.
The Rockets ended it it with a pair of empty net goals to win going away.
For the Rockets it was their second tournament championship in five years.
The local squad prevailed in this tournament in 2010 becoming the first Okanagan team in tournament history to win the championship game.
Due to league commitments, they were unable to compete again until this year.
Going forward, O'Rourke says his team will be back to defend.
"We've already been in talks with BC Hockey to make sure we can get this weekend blocked off. Hopefully we can get some support and other teams in the league can come," says O'Rourke who believes the tournament can become even bigger and better with the addition of more top quality teams.
"If we start coming to it then I think other major midget, prep level type teams from all over Canada and the US might start looking at it again."
O'Rourke says the tournament could grow back to where it was several years ago when 18 top caliber teams took part.
The last time the tournament had 18 teams was back in 2006.
"Then the revenue starts to come back in and the quality of players comes back in and the scouts are here and then it becomes a real high quality event that goes head-to-head with Macs every year."
For now, tournament organizers can only hope they have the opportunity to welcome back the Rockets to try and defend their title in 2015.
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