by Warren Henderson - Kelowna Capital News
It may not have been a perfect season for the Okanagan Rockets, but it wasn't all that far off the mark.
With a B.C. provincial title to their credit, followed by a win in the Pacific regionals, and finally a solid showing at the Telus Cup, it was unquestionably the most successful campaign in club history.
The Rockets capped off their 2013-14 season in style Sunday afternoon in Moose Jaw, with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Toronto Young Nationals to take the bronze medal at the Canadian midget hockey championship.
After Okanagan overcame a 2-0 deficit with two third-period goals, Linden Hora connected for his second of the game at 3:28 of the extra session to push the Rockets to a third-place finish at the six-team national tourney.
A day after watching their gold medal aspirations end in a loss to Prince Albert, Rockets' GM David Michaud said his club showed great character and resolve in casting aside its disappointment and coming to play in the final game of the season.
"I thought it was a real gutsy effort," said Michaud. "We appreciated that this was a tough game to for them play, but we wanted to tug at their heart strings a little bit, that this was their last chance as a group.
"It was real important for them not to lay down and they didn't," he continued. "Winning this in overtime is a great lasting memory to our season. We think we deserved to have this, and to say 'We're No. 3…that's not a bad thing at all."
The Rockets posted a 1-1-3 record in the round robin portion of the tourney, before losing 6-3 to the Prince Albert Mintos in Saturday's semifinal.
And while they didn't achieve the ultimate result, Michaud said by breaking new ground in 2013-14, the Rockets' future should be bright.
"It's huge for the program," said Michaud. "It wasn't easy to address the guys in falling short of their goal, but we've got players back in the Okanagan who want to be Rockets because of the season they had. To get to this point and the impact it's going to have going forward, the guys can hold their heads high."
The tournament featured some outstanding individual performances from Rockets players.
Forward Tanner Wishnowksi, a recent signee of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, led the round robin with 14 points and was named the championships' top forward.
Linemate Liam Finlay, who had eight points the round robin and two more in the playoffs, was named the tournament's most sportsmanlike player.
With ten 17-year-old players on the roster, the Rockets will have considerable turnover next season.
In addition to the grads, forwards Tyson Jost, Jake Kryski, Wishnowksi, Finlay, and Tanner Campbell are among those expected to move on to junior hockey, meaning no fewer than 15 new faces will be joining the Rockets' program next season.
"There will be a lot of jobs open, there will be a lot of change, but that's exciting too," said Michaud. "(Coach) Mack (O'Rourke) and I are looking forward to building on what the team did this year and the legacy that they've left behind."