Eric Blais wasn't feel too hot on the weekend - even though his team, the Fripp Warehousing Jr. Rockets, are producing red-hot results this season.
Blais, head coach of the Kelowna midget 3A club, was under the weather with the flu in the lead-up to this week's 34th annual Kelowna International Major Midget Tournament, sponsored by The Daily Courier.
The host Rockets, winners of four straight tournaments, including a recent Richmond showcase over the Christmas break, open KIMMT round-robin play on Wednesday evening (7:15 p.m.) against the Compete Academy Rams from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
"I'm really looking forward to our very first game, I think we match-up well against them," said Blais, whose Rockets took a 30-3-4 overall record into an Okanagan Mainline Amateur Hockey Association tune-up game on Sunday. In league play, Kelowna tops the standings at 9-1-1 prior to that home contest against Kamloops.
Blais, in his second season behind the 3A midget bench and 12th year coaching in Kelowna Minor Hockey, is excited to show off his improved squad after going winless (0-5-0) in his KIMMT debut. The Rockets finished last overall in the 12-team field as the only team to not earn a point in 2012.
"We're looking forward to the challenge," Blais said. "We've got to step up another notch to compete here, there's no question. You need a bit of luck in tournaments and if we can pull an upset or two and play like we can, then who knows. Last year we went 0-5 and played really well, so I'm certainly hoping that doesn't happen this year."
In comparing his 2012 team to the current edition, Blais added: "I think we're a little ahead of last year . . . a little more skill, a little more scoring power. And when it comes to buying into the structure and systems, they're executing what we're asking of them most of the time."
KIMMT, which starts Wednesday and runs through to Sunday's championship game, is always a highlight of the 3A Rockets' season - regardless of their results. But with this year's impressive tournament record, Blais is optimistic his squad can hold its own against 4A opposition, such as the Notre Dame Hounds from Wilcox, Sask. The Rockets will also face off against a couple 3A teams in the Semiahmoo Ravens and Okanagan Hockey Academy of Penticton, plus the Burlington, Ont., Eagles.
"The two tier-I teams, I'd be disappointed if we didn't give them a good game and come away with victories," Blais said. "And then I'm personally really looking forward to Notre Dame. Last year I lost both my goalies (to injury) . . . and we kind of got throttled by Notre Dame (10-0), but I've got a better team and if we come in fully prepared with a healthy lineup, I really want to give them a good game."
That is, providing the flu bug doesn't bite his players.
"We've got a couple guys sick for our league game (on Sunday), so I'm hoping it doesn't run rampant," Blais said. "I'm just crossing my fingers because we're playing so well right now. That would just devastate us because we've worked pretty hard to get to this point. And that's one of the reasons I went into the Richmond tournament, was to prepare us for this one and now we go up another level."
Among the other five games on Wednesday, the Winfield-based Pursuit of Excellence faces the Surrey Thunder, 4 p.m. at Rutland East.