Bruce Hamilton is full of fond memories from the spring of 2004.
Yet, he doesn’t plan on sharing too many of them tonight — at least not on stage — as the 2003-04 Memorial Cup-champion Kelowna Rockets are inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame in Penticton, alongside former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Kirk McLean and others.
“My plan is to be very brief and then have our (2003-04) captain Josh Gorges speak,” the Rockets' president and general manager said Thursday while travelling to Penticton and taking a trip down memory lane.
“The city was coming off having the fires and everything, and we needed a boost here,” Hamilton recalled. “I’ll never forget it, and I don’t think (Prospera Place) has ever been the same as it was that Sunday afternoon when we won. And the downtown core of the city, I don’t remember ever seeing it in the state it was that day.
“Once the game ended, it was just a great big relief for all of us and a great day for the players that played on the team.”
Gorges, now of the Buffalo Sabres, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, Blake Comeau of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Troy Bodie of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Kyle Cumiskey of the Chicago Blackhawks were on that roster, as were tournament MVP goaltender Kelly Guard and all-star forward Randall Gelech, who led Kelowna in scoring during the regular season (30 goals, 49 points) and the Memorial Cup (1g, 4 pts). Weber had a team-high 17 points in 17 playoff games prior to the major junior national championship showcase, followed by fellow defenceman Gorges (15 in 17).
“It was a real good group of young guys, and a lot of them have played in the NHL from that team,” Hamilton said. “And there’s a number of them that didn’t turn pro that have gone on to do a lot of special things with careers away from the game.
“I’m very proud of them all, and I’m thrilled that they’re all coming back for this.”
That Kelowna’s leading scorer failed to top 50 points in a 72-game campaign was pretty telling. Flash forward a decade and the 2013-14 leading scorers, from all 22 teams, averaged 84 points last season. No leading scorer finished with fewer points than Gelech, though his total (49) was equaled by Riley Sheen of the last-place overall Lethbridge Hurricanes (12-55-2-3, 29 points). In contrast, the 2003-04 Rockets won the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as WHL regular-season champions with a 47-21-4-0 record for a league-high 98 points.
That was a club that got things done by committee.
“It was kind of a lunch-bucket team that just never gave up and followed the plan all the time,” Hamilton said. “We were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league, but we gave up very, very few goals. We won a lot of games 2-1 and 3-2. Kelly Guard was exceptional in goal, but it was the way the coaching staff implemented the defensive schemes that we used. The players, to their credit, all bought in and did what they had to do.”
At the Memorial Cup tournament, the Rockets, coached by Marc Habscheid, lived up to their reputation in running the table. They opened with a 1-0 victory over the OHL’s Guelph Storm, then thumped (by their standards) the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques 4-1, before scoring consecutive 2-1 wins over the WHL playoff champion Medicine Hat Tigers and then Gatineau again in the final. That championship game was attended by 6,636 partisan fans at Prospera Place — capacity is 6,007 — on May 23, 2004.
Hamilton said about a dozen players from that squad will be in attendance tonight, along with the entire coaching staff and more than 40 personnel in total — most of whom will roll into Penticton on the team bus this afternoon.
“I’m just happy they’re here and I know they’ll have a good time,” he said.