Kelowna's U15 Central Zone Rockets went undefeated in Fort St. John with five straight wins to capture the BC Provincial Championship.
Throughout the season, the Rockets won their home tournament in The Battle of the Valley, and placed second in the Abbotsford Dallas Saunders tournament, losing in the semi-final. Those two tournaments would help prepare the young team for the provincial stage.
Entering provincials week, the team finished second in their league, just two points behind the first place team. They entered the contest with a record of 19-4-1, and had eight players inside the top 25 league scorers.
“A couple of weeks ago we were knocked out of the OMAHA playoffs in the semi-finals thinking our season was over. It was an emotional time for our team but as luck would have it we got a second chance to be the Okanagan representative at Provincials in a single-knockout game vs the North Zone Knights," explained head coach Josh McEwan.
"This team had our number all season long, beating us in the semi-finals of KIBIHT and beating us three times throughout the regular season. Our players left everything out there in the single knockout game, they played like it was their last game ever and bound together to earn their way into playoffs."
Once the puck dropped in Fort St. John, Kelowna had their work cut out for them. But they stuck to the process, played to their strengths and found a way to come out as champions.
The Central Zone Rockets earned a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Vancouver Thunderbirds in the finals, and coach McEwan couldn't be more thrilled for his provincial champions.
"That same energy is what brought us success throughout provincials. An ‘all-In’ attitude. Every member of the team bleached their hair as a symbol of commitment to each other and to follow a hockey tradition," continued McEwan.
"It hasn’t been an easy feat for our players this season. They have faced significant challenges on and off the ice but they have always faced them with strength and an open heart of compassion for one another. I am very proud of each individual on this team and grateful for all the support of the parents and manager.”
In the finals, Vancouver opened the scoring with 6:45 left in the first period, Ryder Kinjerski-Nielsen tied it up with 3:05 left in the first.
Brayden Westman scored at the 00:36 mark of the second period with an assist from Grayson Melnyk to make it 2-1, Mason King got the game-winner with an assist from Carter Ponte 11:27 left in the game and would prove to be the difference maker.
Through round robin play the Rockets beat the Semiahmoo Ravens 7-4, the Naniamo Clippers 7-2, and the West Kootenay Crusaders 2-1 before taking down the hometown North East Brogan Safety Trackers 4-3 in the semi-final.
This is the first time in 19 years a team from Kelowna has on the U15 Tier 1 Provincial Championship.