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.




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.

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