Rockets Graduating Players 2020

Kelowna Rockets Conner McDonald, left, Matthew Wedman and Kyle Topping pose at Prospera Place earlier this season.

On the same day the Kelowna Rockets added two pieces for the future, they said farewell to three players heading into the next phase of their lives — and a fourth expected to soon play in the NHL.

After COVID-19 ended the season early, Kyle Topping, Matthew Wedman and Conner McDonald — all graduating 20-year-old players — each took to Twitter on Wednesday to thank the Rockets for a memorable season. Topping called his four years here “amazing.”

“I’ve made so many memories and friendships that I will cherish forever,” he wrote. “I wouldn’t be the player or person I am today without this organization and these friendships.”

Topping played 226 games in a Rockets uniform beginning in 2016. He amassed 71 goals and 125 assists for 196 points.

His final season nearly ended before it began. He needed surgery to fix an ankle broken against the Royals in Victoria on Oct. 30. Topping missed 30 games, but still put up 12 goals and 33 points in 33 games.

The Salt Spring Island native led Kelowna in scoring last season with 69 points in 69 games.

“I was extremely lucky to be drafted by a first-class organization,” he said.

Wedman arrived in early December.

Kelowna gave up three draft picks — in the first round of 2023, second round of 2022 and fifth round this year — to acquire the Seattle Thunderbirds captain.

He scored 40 goals last season with T’Birds, and was part of their 2017 WHL championship team.

Wedman said the staff, coaches and teammates pushed him to be “a better player and person.” He looked like a very good player early, and took it to the next level after Christmas.

Wedman scored 17 goals and 36 points in 35 games in Kelowna and was named team MVP after the season

“I know my time here was short,” he wrote, “but I couldn’t have asked for a better organization and fan base to play for.

“Most of all, thanks to my teammates who helped bring me into this special group and made me feel a part of the team,” the Edmonton native continued. “You guys are what make coming to the rink every day worth it.”

McDonald was another late arrival after a trade with the Edmonton Oil Kings on Dec. 14.

The Delta native ended the season with four goals and 12 assists in 32 games. He led all WHL defencemen with 19 goals last season in Edmonton.

He called his short time in Kelowna “the best three months of hockey I’ve ever had.

“I can’t begin to thank you enough for the ride,” the easily quotable McDonald wrote. “Thank you for all the laughs and memories you gave me and for making it exciting to come to the rink again.”

Hamilton said he was touched by the messages, and wasn’t surprised.

“That’s very fulfilling,” he said. “Especially two guys who spent half the year here and that was it, maybe. … All three of those over-age (players) were special, special guys.”

Hamilton said Topping was a vital player in Kelowna who represented the club with great pride. He was also impressed by Wedman and McDonald embracing the organization after trades.

“Both of them cared about the team, and what was really impressive to me is they cared about their teammates an awful lot,” the team president said.

“All of those guys, all three of them, are really hot, hot candidates for the universities right now,” Hamilton added. “That’s the calls I’m fielding right now … schools all across the country are very interested in these three guys.”

Rockets captain Nolan Foote — who could return next year, but is expected to turn pro — also thanked the team.

Foote appeared in just two games after Christmas, and left both of them early. He helped Canada win gold at the world juniors, but was never healthy upon his return.

He wrote a brief message to fans, saying the COVID-19 pandemic makes it hard to “accept the fact that my time as a Rocket has come to an end.

“It has been an absolute privilege to play for the Rockets and I wish the organization nothing but success in the future.”

Email: dave.trifunov@ok.bc.ca