Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Rockets/Blazers rivalry renewed

Scottie Upshall then of the Kamloops Blazers 
Scottie Upshall remembers.
Devan Dubnyk does too.
Ask Erik Christensen about it.
All three former Kamloops Blazers likely had beads of sweat coming from their foreheads every time they faced the Kelowna Rockets.
Over a three year span, the Rockets owned them.
The wins where often dominant from 2002 to 2005. The Rockets compiled a record of 20 and 6, which included a four game playoff sweep the year prior, as the Rockets advanced to the second round for the first time in franchise history. For good measure, the game four victory came in Kamloops in a 3-0 win played at the arena that was then known as Riverside Coliseum.
It was also the team's first playoff series win EVER over the Blazers, who were a power when the Rockets relocated to the Okanagan for the start of the 1995-96 season.
The games against the Blazers often looked easy against Scottie Upshall and company. A dynamic player in his junior days with a short temper, Upshall was often seen frustrated and headed to the penalty box or ejected from the game.
Even casual, wine glass toting Rockets fans knew him by name.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk was often forced to be at his stellar best in an effort to hold the fort against a Rockets team that was relentless.
Who will forget his 64 save performance in a rare win New Years Day in the winter of 2005. Dubynk should have received all three stars in a rare 4-2 victory.
Despite those dominant days, by the fall of 2006 the once intense rivalry was lost. It was dead. The Blazers likely believed it still existed, but it wasn't fun anymore. It was too one-sided. Beating the Blazers was getting old. It almost seemed routine.
The Rockets had moved on, looking for someone else to beat up on the scoreboard.
That was then.
This is now.
The shoe is on the other foot to a certain degree, with the Blazers winning more times than not over the last two seasons. The tables haven't totally turned though. The Rockets won all 8 games in the seasonal series in 2017-2018, but the Blazers will tell you that in the last 13 regular season meetings, they are 9 and 4 and have won 10 in a row (2 last season - 1 tiebreaker - 4 this season plus 3 preseason games).
What has the Blazers winning record against the Rockets meant in the grand scheme of things?
The rivalry is indeed renewed.
Does it match the animosity the Rockets have with the Victoria Royals thanks to several intense playoff match-ups? It's getting there, but for both teams it's good business in a time where attending junior hockey games is on the decline.
Since arriving in the Okanagan in the fall of 2000, my sense is Kamloops residents have a strong disdain for Kelowna. In layman's terms, I think they hate us more than we hate them.
Is it an inferiority complex?
Does it have anything to do with the Rockets hiring ex-Blazers head coach Marc Habscheid, who promptly guided the team to a Memorial Cup crown in 2004? Or was it hiring Blazers legend Ryan Huska, who went on to help the team win the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2009?
That likely didn't help.
Maybe it goes deeper than hockey?
Kelowna was awarded the Interior's only cancer clinic in 2010 over Kamloops. One practitioner at the time angrily suggested that provincial politicians thought "Kelowna was the centre of the universe".
What made matters worse was last October when Kelowna, not Kamloops, was awarded the host city for the 2020 Kia Memorial Cup.
Blazers fans would like nothing more than to have their team compete in the Memorial Cup at Prospera Place next May as WHL champions and spoil the party after losing out in the bidding process.
If that indeed happens, imagine the excitement that would accompany having those two organizations, in such close proximity to one another, fighting for major junior hockey's holy grail.
I never thought the 2004 Memorial Cup in Kelowna could ever be duplicated.
If the Kamloops Blazers are indeed one of four teams earning a spot at the prestigious event, the 10 day tournament will, without a shadow of a doubt, be the best hockey the Interior has ever seen.

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