Rockets looking ahead

Bruce Hamilton admits a lot of work needs to be done to retool a team that will host the Memorial Cup 14 months from now.

He readily admits the Rockets may be hosting the event a year early in the current building cycle.

But, Hamilton also admits he is "fully prepared to do what we have to do."

A disappointing 2018-2019 season came to a disappointing end Tuesday in Kamloops. It means the Rockets failed to make it to the post season for the first time since 2007.

"I think you learn from adversity. We had lots of adversity this year, but when you got down to the crunch, and the game like Tuesday, which was a game seven, but when the real bullets started flying, we weren't there," Hamilton said following Tuesday's tiebreaker defeat.

"The toughest is there are three kids that are going to be high draft picks, and I always preach out of sight, out of mind. That's what happens when you're out of the playoffs. That's the hard thing for them. They all had opportunities to either move up or maintain their spots. And, now, they don't."

Hamilton was referring to forward Nolan Foote and defencemen Lassis Thomson and Kaeden Korczak, who could all hear their names called at the NHL draft in Vancouver within the first two rounds.

Now, as the dust settles on one season, the work will soon begin in what could be the most important off season Hamilton and assistant GM and head scout Lorne Frey.

Hamilton admits he will need to add two or three players to get to the level he wants to be.

"I think we're going to need an overage defenceman likely.

"Then, we'll see how the guys coming back as overages for next year...how they come through the summer and where they're at."

One of the avenues open to the Rockets is the European draft. The Rockets have a spot available after releasing defenceman Libor Zabranski midway through the season.

They'll have the 11th pick in that draft, and Hamilton says they may try and add to a thin defense corp with that selection.

"If we get a guy that potentially was drafted last year in the NHL that is freed up...that would be ideal for us rather than getting a 17-year-old.

"Or, stumble into another Lassi Thomson."

The rest of the heavy lifting would need to be done through the trade route, something he knows will not come cheap.

"It would be nice to be keeping all of our draft picks and still getting players, but I know we're going to have to use something as cash to get them.

"Nobody is going to help us. There will be a price put on everything."


Rookie honour for Thomson

Individual honours have begun pouring in for Kelowna Rockets defenceman Lassi Thomson.

The first-year defenceman from Tempere, Finland, was named the Western Conference's top rookie.

Thomson led all rookie defencemen in scoring this season with 17 goals and 24 assists in 63 games. He also tallied seven goals and 12 assists on the power play.

Thomson was sixth in overall rookie scoring and 21st among all defencemen.

He'll be up against Brayden Tracey of the Moose Jaw Warriors for overall top rookie honours.

Tracey led all rookies with 36 goals and 45 assists.

League award winners will be announced May 1 in Red Deer.

Thomson was also named a Western Conference second team all-star.

He is listed by NHL Central Scouting as a likely first round draft choice in June.

He missed the Rockets final four regular season games and Tuesday's tie breaker with an upper body injury.

Rockets season ends

The Kelowna Rockets self-destructed at the worst possible time.

Some miscommunication behind the Kelowna net and heads up forechecking by the Kamloops Blazers led to a pair of shorthanded goals in a 5-1 victory in a tie-breaker game at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops Tuesday night.

The Blazers will now head to the WHL playoffs, where they'll face the Victoria Royals. The Rockets are heading home after missing the post season for just the second time in franchise history.

The tie-breaker was made necessary after the Rockets and Blazers finished with identical 28-32-6-2 records.

The Rockets trailed 2-1 with less than 12 minutes to go when Riley Appelt was sent off for tripping Leif Mattson.

Instead of taking advantage, the Rockets surrendered two, almost identical goals.

On the first, Roman Basran and Schael Higson got their signals crossed behind the net, allowing Connor Zary to swoop in, steal the puck, and tuck it into a wide open net.

Moments later, on a similar play, Basran went to leave the puck when Brodi Stuart jumped in, grabbed the loose puck, and backhanded it into the gaping cage.

The Blazers dominated much of the scoreless opening period. Basran kept it scoreless as the Blazers buzzed around the Kelowna end for much of the first half of the period, outshooting the Rockets at one point 9-1.

Kyrell Sopotyk opened the scoring for the Blazers on a power play four minutes into the second period.

Mark Liwiski tied it four minutes later, backhanding a pass past goaltender Dylan Garand.

Kobe Mohr restored the one-goal lead six minutes into the third, beating a screened Basran from the slot.

Then, disaster struck.

Jermaine Loewen sealed it into an empty net late in the game.

Tuesday's win capped an improbable comeback for the Blazers, who found themselves seven points behind the Rockets with just six games, and nine days left in the regular season.

But, Kamloops went 5-0-1-0 down the stretch, including a pair of key wins over the Rockets, while Kelowna finished 1-2-2-0 over its final week.

The last time the Rockets failed to participate in the post season was the 2006-2007 season, when they finished with 53 points, four back of the expansion Chilliwack Bruins.


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.



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