Monday, May 24, 2004

Kelowna Rockets defeat Gatineau to claim Memorial Cup

The home side proved too much to handle for the veteran Gatineau side, as the Kelowna Rockets took a 2-1 lead in the third period and rode it all the way to the Memorial Cup. Kelowna played a disciplined defensive game to keep the high octane Oylmpique squad off the scoresheet, thrilling the sold out Kelowna crowd and bringing the National Junior Championship to the Okanagan city.

In a match up between defensive specialists and fast paced offensive workers, the defense ruled the day. Kelowna was quick to build up a lead as they took 2 goals into the dressing room for the third period. Proving that Marc Habscheids defensive schemes were well designed, the Rockets choked off any Gatineau attack. Kelowna goaltender Kelly Guard did his usual stellar work keeping the Gatineau chances to a minimum. He found his performances in this playoff season to be providing the will to win for his Rocket team mates. Named the most valuable player of the series, Guard made the key saves when required and more than likely proved to the Ottawa Senators organization that they made the right choice on draft day. Guard only a few short days ago signed a contract with the Sens. He’ll report to training camp in September to give some hope to the frustrated Senator fan base.

For Gatineau it’s another year of frustration, the second year in a row that they’ve made it to the final game, only to find their competition up to the challenge. The highest scoring team in the Quebec Junior league, found the best defensive squad in the Western League. The result was low shot totals, heavy checking and not much in the way of scoring. The Rockets become the first team since Ottawa in 1999 to win the Memorial Cup on home ice. Building up through the tournament they responded to coach March Habscheids instructions and played some solid hockey in front of the home town crowd.

With the awarding of the Memorial Cup another season of Junior Hockey comes to an end, for some of these players this is the last competitive hockey they will ever play. Others will arrive in North Carolina on June 26th for the NHL amateur draft. Dreams of a pro career will carry on just a little bit longer. A chance to pull on an NHL sweater, head for camp and make the team. But for now, for Kelowna it’s a championship to savor, a young team buying into the coach’s system, holding up a storied Canadian trophy. Hockey doesn’t get any better than that!

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