December 18, 2012
The 2012 World Juniors tournament in Ufa, Russia, will hold a particular interest for the Kelowna Bantam A1 Jr. Rockets and Coach Tom Watters. The rink playing host to that tournament will also be the site of the upcoming International Children’s Games hockey tournament, which the Jr. Rockets will be participating in.
“I’ll be watching the World Juniors very closely,” said Watters. “It will be exciting for the boys to see where we’re heading, but I’ll definitely be listening to the coaches’ comments and the commentators insights about how to bring the wide ice into play for us. We’re fast, but we’re not not a huge, physical team. Our puck movement is fairly solid, but we’ll have to get accustomed to the wide ice defensively. We need to be used to the wider ice and the larger zone behind the goal line to be competitive there.”
The team will practice and play in Frankfurt, Germany, en-route to the games. Once they get to Russia, the Jr. Rockets are scheduled to play Belarus, Switzerland and Slovakia in the round-robin. Before they can get there, however, there is that matter of the regular season and playoffs at home to worry about first.
“We’re trying to take it one game at a time,” said Watters. “We don’t want to look past our league play. We want to continue to develop and refine our systems first.”
In OMAHA league play, the Jr. Rockets are 4W-5L-1T and sit in second place behind Pursuit of Excellence.
“We’re a young team. We have seven first year players and the development of this group has been excellent” said Watters. “We started the year pretty slowly and didn’t fare very well at the Chilliwack Tournament, but have made huge strides in the month of November and December, playing very competitive against better quality teams.”
Watters attributed the slow start in part to the steep learning curve faced by several members of the team. “There are quite a few players in this group who have not played at this level before. It took some time before they understood the compete level that is required. This group has always worked hard, but it took a while for some of the (former) Tier 2 and Tier 3 players to grasp the system and get up to the speed at this level.”
The Jr. Rockets began to prove that they could get up to speed, defeating a strong host team in the Abbotsford Tournament before losing to Langley 3-0 in the Final.
“It was 0-0 halfway through the game. With a little bit of puck luck I think it could have gone the other way. It was a good game,” said Watters.
With all of the excitement around the Christmas break and the big Russian trip, it might be easy to lose sight of the path directly ahead, but Coach Watters will try to keep his team on task. “We’re done our first half tournament schedule. January will be a bit of light month. We have six games left in our league play, then after that we’re going to start our playoff round.”