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THE MOJ: Rocketing into orbit with a B.C. hockey success story

Bruce Hamilton’s Kelowna Rockets have been doing junior hockey the right way for years
(Photo - Steve Dunsmoor/Kelowna Rockets)

The Kelowna Rockets.

It’s a team that has had a rich and storied tradition that includes five Memorial Cup appearances – including a Memorial Cup win as the host city in 2004 – and a list of graduates that looks like an NHL All-Star team.

The one common denominator throughout all of this success has been President and General Manager Bruce Hamilton.

Hamilton has gone through it all but if there is one loss that probably stings significantly more than others it’s losing the 2020 Memorial Cup to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rockets were ramping up their team for the tournament but the pandemic wiped out the event and set back the team for a while.

“We traded away to Edmonton and Seattle alone a number of early (Bantam) draft picks to get Matthew Wedman and Conner McDonald and we got them for what? A month or a month and half at the most, and then we were shut down. Then we were sitting with a player like Kaedan Korczak for example that would have allowed us to recoup pretty much a lot of those picks back the next year but we lost that season,” said Hamilton.

As for this year’s edition of the Rockets, Hamilton has been somewhat pleased with what he’s seen from his team thus far. Although the Rockets are hovering around .500, he believes this team is better than its record indicates, pointing out that they have been competitive in all of their games against some of the WHL’s heavyweights. He believes that getting Colton Dach – a second round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks - back in the lineup will help matters.

“He got back late because he was with the Blackhawks and he got a concussion there, and as soon as he got back here, he got another one, so he was out for quite a while. It’s the old story when your best player is not in the lineup you really don’t know what you have. On the other side of it, young Andrew Cristall is certainly going to be something special and someone our fans are going to be fortunate to watch as he plays his career through here. We’re really excited about him and Caden Price, who is another guy that is going to be a high draft pick this year. I’d say we are a little bit of a team in transition and probably a month away from really knowing what we are,” said Hamilton.

One thing is evident when talking to the GM: his love for the city of Kelowna and wanting to give it another shot at hosting the Memorial Cup.

Unfortunately for Hamilton and the Rockets, the organization’s bid for the 2023 Memorial Cup was rejected due to Prospera Place not meeting certain standards.

‘I knew that there were going to be issues with the way bids were being accepted because it was no longer a Western Hockey League deal but a CHL deal. Our building was lacking some things as a 25-year-old building. Some things have been done but some more things need to be done so we can bid on some more of these national events,” said Hamilton.

Some of those issues have been resolved – such as lighting in the arena for televised games. A recent Canadian National Women’s team game was broadcast from Prospera Place and the reviews regarding the improved lighting were good.

Other issues remain such as the overall condition of all the dressing rooms and adding some ambience to the rink, but it’s something he believes will get rectified.

“I don’t think it’s a great big job but it is something that needs to be looked at for sure and I know that the city and GSL Group (the arena’s owners) are looking at it,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton knows he is in the twilight of his career but he continues to enjoy his duties and would love nothing more than to bring back the Memorial Cup to Kelowna and win it all again – not only for the organization but for the city.

“I turned 65 this summer but I don’t feel 65. If we could find a way to do something here in the near future, I’d certainly love a chance to win again but more importantly for our city because this has been a tremendously loyal fan base and because this is our home.

“We’re originally from Saskatoon and I always remind people that I’m really from Saskatchewan but Kelowna has been a wonderful place to live. Our family grew up here and my wife and I have enjoyed every minute of being here,” stated Hamilton.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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