My heart sank in sadness when the puck went in to crown the Oshawa Generals 2015 Memorial Cup Champions. I’ve felt this hurt before when the Vancouver Canucks fell to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup. That pain is never easy to swallow and we all play those hilites back in our heads over and over. This year’s Rockets team was different though, they weren’t supposed to lose.
It wasn’t being cocky or arrogance, these guys were genuinely likeable and Canada fell in love with our Ogopogo crew. Losing in OT in the final game of the tournament is about as painful as it gets but a day later they could have won it all by the reception the locals gave them. Champions? No. Heroes? You bet!
A season that didn’t match their statistical efforts from a year prior, 53 -13-5-1 in 2015 compared to 57-11-0-4 in 2014, it made up in excitement, confidence and a handful of trades that took the WHL by storm. Owner and GM Bruce Hamilton pulled the trigger on some of the biggest moves the team has ever made and you know what, I say they paid off.
Hamilton isn’t known for parting with high picks or depth home grown talent but this season was different. RIght before Christmas he unloaded a deal that brough stud defenseman Josh Morrissey (backup goaltender Jake’s brother) home from Prince Albert.
A deal that shook the junior hockey world and got people wondering how far Kelowna would go to win it all in 2015. Well, they weren’t done. The Edmonton Oilers sent Leon Draisaitl (NHL 3rd overall pick in 2014) back to junior after 37 games and again, a trade was made to bring the star centre to the beautiful Okanagan from Prince Albert.
How many stars were buried in PA?
The Memorial Cup saw everything these newbies had to offer and Leon Draisaitl in defeat, won the tournament MVP with 4 goals and 3 assists. He was our J.S. Giguere. We were all sad too Leon. Had the Rockets won, there is a chance the winning goal might have been future NHL star Nick Merkley’s if the puck didn’t hop off his stick on a late game breakaway.
It would have been enough to have the additions of Morrissey and Draisaitl but in that deal the Rockets also received underrated winger Gage Quinney. Stealing is the wrong word here, Hamilton made out like a bandit. Oh but Brucey wasn’t done there.
With room for one more 20 year old after sending away over-ager Carter Rigby at the beginning of the year, Hamilton looked north to Prince George and landed veteran gritty forward Chance Braid. He hits, he fights and believe it or not, he scores too!
Quinney and Braid took it to another level in Quebec and I think even for Rockets fans they realized Gage Quinney might be the teams next star. He was slightly overshadowed in coverage by Draisaitl, Merkley and Chartier which was fine by him.
Quinney’s four goals and an assist were right behind the big German and occasional linemate Merkley. The big games came and Gage stepped up. Next season is going to be bright for him. Merkley and Quinney could do a lot more damage when they play full time together.
Kelowna took a bit to jel all their new additions but things were still going as planned. WIns came easy and when the challenges came, they passed with flying colors. The fans started to notice, they started to get excited.
The playoffs for the Rockets basically started in the second round after sweeeping the Tri City Americans quicker than it takes to change the channel when Caillou comes on (Im a dad, if you know…you know). Victoria’s Royals put up a bit of a challenge but again, Kelowna only needed 5 games and some anger after losing one they shouldn’t have.
If you follow the Rockets closely, you know the Portland Winter Hawks have been Kelowna’s kryptonite. Facing the Hawks 3 of the last 4 years, it was going to be THE test everyone was waiting for. Back and forth both teams went but it wasn’t until game 4 that Kelowna made their statement (VIDEO). Kelowna never looked back.
Going into the WHL Final, the stars came alive. Josh Morrissey, Nick Merkley, Leon Draisaitl and Gage Quinney all had their way with the Brandon Wheat Kings and what looked like a 6 or 7 game series quickly turned into an unlikely sweep by the Rockets.
Could they be that good?
Aside from a few hiccups, the Rockets were as advertised even though they finished the round robin 1-2 at the Memorial Cup. Scoring 7 goals against the Rimouski Oceanic put them in the semi final and embarrassing the Quebec Ramparts in that game 9-3 had all but assured Kelowna the title.
Oshawa ended up with the OT winner to become the 2015 Champs but in all the Kelowna’s fans eyes, their team had reminded the rest of Canada they were for real. It could have gone either way but no one in Kelowna is blaming anyone.
This team brought a city together even if only for a few months and it may take awhile before Kelowna gets back to the big dance but we won’t forget. These were our heroes.
The Rockets marketing team came up with the slogan and hashtag #thismomentweownit for this season, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that says they didn’t.
Its all done for another year but something tells me Canada will want to see more next season. At the very least, this little girl sure does:
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