Kelowna Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton (left) presents Nolan Foote with the Rockets’ captaincy on Oct. 18. Foote becomes the 25th captain in franchise history. (Mackenzie Britton - Capital News)

A year in review in the Kelowna sports world

It was the year of Rockets’ star Nolan Foote

The year of Nolan Foote

In the world of the Kelowna Rockets, no other player had as big of a year as Nolan Foote.

Named the team’s MVP at the year end awards in March, 2019, Foote and the Rockets were then eliminated from the playoffs in a tiebreak playoff match against rivals Kamloops Blazers, the first time since 2007 Kelowna had not advanced to the post-season.

The elimination kick-started Foote’s wildly noteworthy off-season as his focus turned to the upcoming NHL draft. Foote was one of three Rockets who were drafted into the pros this past summer. The Kelowna star was selected 27th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the same franchise that drafted his brother and former Rockets captain Cal Foote in 2017.

Shortly after the draft, Foote attended a development camp for Team Canada’s World Juniors team. He was one of 25 forwards selected from the top eligible players in the country from the Canadian Hockey League and the NCAA and would later sign an entry-level deal with the Lightning.

But things didn’t end there.

He was named the Kelowna Rockets’ 25th franchise captain in October, following in the skate-steps of his brother. The C was added to his jersey as Foote looks to lead the Rockets’ at next year’s Memorial Cup, which will be hosted in Kelowna.

“I’m very honoured to wear it,” Foote said afterwards.

“It’s a huge year hosting the Memorial Cup, and I want to lead this team to a championship.”

In November, Foote led Team WHL to win at the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series. In a rare double-shootout win in the finals, Foote was named Player of Game as he notched the shoot-out winner against Team Russia.

Fast forward to December, Foote and the Rockets are among the top 10 teams in the WHL and sit only a few points back of second place in the B.C. division. The Rockets’ captain leads Kelowna with 15 goals and 18 assists in 25 games played.

Now, the successful 2019 year has brought Foote to a final roster spot on Team Canada World Juniors roster which started Dec. 26.

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In a year that included getting drafted into the NHL, being named the 25th captain of the Rockets, impressively performing on a world stage, Foote will look for the coveted World Juniors gold medal to add to the 2019 accolades.

With next year’s WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, Foote’s 2020 may just surpass this year’s resume.

Serwa, five more added to Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame

The Class of 2019 was added to the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame in November.

Among the six inductees was Olympic gold medalist and Kelowna folk-hero Kelsey Serwa. A legend at Big White and a bright star in Kelowna, Serwa announced her retirement in the summer capping off a 10-year career which included a 2018 Olympic gold medal, a 2014 Olympic silver medal, 20 World Cup podium finishes and many more.

“The best thing I’m taking away from my time as a ski racer are the lasting friendships I’ve been so fortunate to create along the way,” said Serwa on her retirement.

Other Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame inductees included Robyn Buna, Tania Jones, Duncan McNaughton, Roger Lafontaine and Daphne Rickard.

Josh Gorges retires from NHL

Kelowna legend and NHL veteran, Josh Gorges hung up his skates in early 2019.

After 13 years and stints with three NHL franchise, Gorges relished his career and what the future holds for him in his hometown of Kelowna.

“This city is where it all started for me,” said Gorges at his retirement announcement.

The former Rockets captain thanked the Kelowna Rockets franchise and shared his story of going undrafted to playing in over 780 NHL games.

“I love the game of hockey and always will, so to all the teammates I got to play with, thank you for everything along the way, I will miss you the most.”

Gorges has since been consulting with the Rockets and has organized charity events throughout the Okanagan including this past year’s Gorges/Comeau Homebase Charity all-star softball game which brought in over $212,000 for Kelowna’s JoeAnna’s House.

Okanagan Sun name new head coach, Jamie Boreham

The Okanagan Sun are beloved in Kelowna and other parts of the valley.

Former Sun and CFL player Jamie Boreham was named the team’s new head coach at the start of the year.

With a mandate from new general manager, Lawrence Nagy, to bring the Sun back to victories in the playoffs, Boreham took the task head on as the new head coach.

“We have a responsibility that is greater than us, a tradition to uphold,” said Boreham after being named.

“Some of the best people that I have played football with and against, wore the orange and brown. We will do ourselves, our families, our organization, and our community proud.”

Boreham led the Sun to a 5-5 record, a fourth overall finish and a 2019 playoff berth.

With a team of new players, new coaches and a new culture, the 2019 season ending wasn’t what Nagy, Boreham and the Sun faithful may have wanted, but Boreham said steps were taken in the right direction.

Kelowna business, hockey leader passes away

The Kelowna sports scene took an emotional hit this past summer with the sudden loss of Grant Sheridan.

The late president and general manager of the Kelowna Chiefs died following a battle with bacterial meningitis in July. Sheridan was a well-known and respected figure in Kelowna and the Rutland area with sentiments of his memory being shared throughout Okanagan social media in the days after his death.

The Kelowna Chiefs had recently concluded their most successful regular season in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League that season with 43 wins.

Heading into the 2019-2020 season, the KIJHL honoured Sheridan will installing his initial “GS” on all helmets in the league. When the new season started in September, the Rutland community packed the arena to remember Sheridan.

The Chiefs have also continued their winning ways this new 2019 season. They’ll look to make another playoff run in memory of their late GM and friend.

New era for West Kelowna Warriors with new ownership, management and culture

The saga that has been the last two years for the West Kelowna Warriors came to an end in November.

After previous owner Kim Dobranski sold the team back to the BC Hockey League, new owners and management stepped in to keep the Warriors franchise in West Kelowna.

Majority owner John Murphy and new president Chris Laurie took over the battered team that was suffering from poor attendance and media scrutiny due to tough results and gossip surrounding Dobranksi-involved lawsuits.

But a new page was turned for the Warriors on Nov. 13 when Murphy and Laurie took over, stating that the West Kelowna fans will be the number one focus.

“We’ll be looking to build and rebuild any relationships that maybe aren’t where they should be right now and really start with the grassroots,” said Laurie.

New management brought in changes to hockey operations, including a happy hour for Warriors’ home games, but the 2019-2020 season has continued to be unkind to the Warriors, who picked up their just t

Kelowna being put front and centre of curling world

The Kelowna curling scene will be at the forefront of the sports world in 2020 after a highly successful 2019.

On the big stage, Kelowna will host the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier. One of the biggest tournaments in the world, the Brier will bring the top men’s talent to the Okanagan and the Kelowna Curling Club.

“For me personally, it doesn’t get any more exciting,” said KCC general manager Jock Tyre.

“The best part really is for us to share what we already know that Kelowna is the best community in Canada and let people know that it’s also one of the best curling markets in the world.”

Kelowna also won the bid to host the World Mixed Doubles and Senior Curling Championships in 2019.

The events will serve as Olympic qualifiers and will be hosted by the Kelowna Curling Club and it will be the fourth time that the KCC has hosted.

The winning bid for the Brier and the doubles and senior championships are expected to bring an estimated economic impact of over $11 million to Kelowna and the Okanagan.

The Kelowna Rockets journey to the Memorial Cup

In just over five months, Kelowna will once again host the Memorial Cup.

The Kelowna Rockets will host the top three teams from the Canadian Hockey League for a battle to determine the best team in the league. As the host city, Kelowna gets an automatic berth into the championships, their first appearance since 2015 and first time hosting since 2004.

“It’s come up fast,” said Hamilton.

“Most importantly, we want to first make the playoffs and play as many games as we can and get as prepared as we can for the Memorial Cup.”

Kelowna’s general manager Bruce Hamilton has been busy since the start of the off-season last May. After the Rockets were eliminated from last year’s playoffs, the attention immediately turned to how Kelowna can become competitive come May.

Hamilton wasted no time.

At the WHL draft, the long-time GM traded picks for players, bringing in Dillon Hamaliuk (a future San Jose Sharks draft pick), defenceman Jake Lee, defenceman Sean Comrie (who attended Philadelphia Flyers NHL camp) and goalie Cole Schwebius who would become a solid back-up to Rockets’ starter Roman Basran.

While Rockets players were busy getting drafted into the NHL and playing in various NHL and development camps, Hamilton was busy adding to the rosters’ strength.

He next brought in former Rockets player and NHL alum Vern Fiddler as an assistant coach behind coach Adam Foote.

Fiddler’s 877 NHL games experience will help the Rockets players come crunch time at the Memorial Cup.

At the home-opener, the moves Hamilton made would pay off with Kelowna netting a 4-3 win to start the campaign towards the Memorial Cup.

Hamilton’s busy season continued through the winter.

Trading prospects and picks to strengthen the team’s roster, Hamilton has added more veteran sticks to help Kelowna down the stretch.

First, it was acquiring towering centre Jadon Joseph from the Moose Jaw Warriors for an array of players and picks. Next, Hamilton traded for the Seattle T-Birds’ captain Matthew Wedman for a plethora of picks. Then, it was the addition of veteran defenceman Connor McDonald via trade.

“Our goal was to get a centre and a big forward, and we did that,” said Hamilton.

“We’ve added some pieces to the puzzle, added some depth and we’ll see where we are come (the WHL trade deadline on Jan. 10.)

Now, as the Rockets are set to return from the WHL holiday break, the true second half of the season has started with just three months left. In three short months, Hamilton has revamped the Rockets roster to an experience, skilled, hard-hitting group of young players looking to impress on one of the biggest stages of junior hockey.

Hamilton commends the efforts from coaches Foote, Fiddler and assistant Kris Mallette for juggling the Rockets changing roster so far this season, as Kelowna has stayed atop the B.C. division.

“Our whole hockey operations team have a done a real good job,” said Hamilton.

Once again, Hamilton will get to watch one of his players compete at the World Juniors.

Nolan Foote, the Rockets’ captain, wears the maple leaf this 2020 tournament, which is always a special time for Hamilton and his family.

“It’s always been a big part of our Christmas,” he said.

“We’re all looking forward to watching Nolan play and hopefully another Rocket getting a gold medal.”

The Rockets will continue their Memorial Cup run against Kamloops.

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