Two hundred and fifty-two days after the first drop of the puck on the 2014-15 Western Hockey League season, the Kelowna Rockets are precisely where they want to be.
On Sunday in Quebec City, the Rockets will battle the Oshawa Generals for Canadian major junior hockey supremacy.
The WHL champs had one last practice Saturday at Colisée Pepsi prior to one of the most important games many of the Rockets will ever play.
Still, even with all that’s at stake in Sunday’s Memorial Cup final, head coach Dan Lambert wants his team to remain composed and absorb all that the situation has to offer.
“I think the guys gotta be loose, they just gotta take it all in, enjoy and live in the moment,” said Lambert. “I think practice wasn’t as intense as you want a practice, but because of the situation we’re in you don’t want it to be too intense either, you want the guys to be loose, yet making plays, yet having fun and smiling, that’s the way it should be.
“That was their last practice together, ever, so for that reason I thought it was important that they got on the ice today,” Lambert added.
Sunday night’s championship final will be the second meeting of the week between the Rockets and defensive-minded Ontario Hockey League champs.
Oshawa held off the Rockets for a 2-1 win on Tuesday to close out the round robin with a 3-0 record.
The Rockets, meanwhile, rebounded from that loss with a resounding 9-3 evisceration of a tired Quebec Remparts team in Friday night’s semifinal—a fact not lost on Generals’ forward Mike McCarron.
“They’re an offensive team, they can do scary good things up front,” McCarron said. “But in saying that we have tremendous defensive mentality and I think we’ve been getting better, better by the three games we played in this tournament in the D-zone, and I think we’re going to be ready for them.”
From Generals’ coach D.J. Smith’s perspective, fans are going to see the country’s two best teams going head-to-head. He also believes the side that handles the pressure the best will prevail.
“I think the first period will be a lot of nerves, probably on both sides but the team that can settle down the quickest will come out the best,” Smith said. “The teams with the two best records are here, we’re both league champions, I think you have the two best teams in this game.”
“They can score and they have a lot of high-end players,” added Smith, when asked about Kelowna’s firepower. “You don’t sweep a Western Hockey League final if you’re not a legitimate team and they certainly are that.”
With a long season about to come to head on Sunday, captain Madison Bowey couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.
“We had one thing in mind going into this and that was playing for a Memorial Cup,” said Bowey. “It’s pretty surreal and hopefully it’s going to be a great feeling coming out on top.
“We know we’re going to have a good test, so we’re looking forward to that, gearing up for Oshawa.”
Tomorrow’s championship will also mark the final hockey game ever played at the storied Colisée Pepsi which opened its doors in 1949.
It will be replaced this fall by the new $400 million Videotron Centre.
Sunday’s Memorial Cup final between the Rockets and Generals will start at 4 p.m.