Led by head coach Marc Habscheid, an amazing defensive core and one of the best goaltenders in WHL history, the 2003-04 Kelowna Rockets were one of the toughest teams to play against in the history of the Western Hockey League.
The team was anchored by Guard in net and a world-class blueline that featured future NHLers Josh Gorges and Shea Weber. Gorges was the home town kid, undrafted in the WHL bantam who had climbed to be named team captain. Weber was from nearby Sicamous and at 17 had already turning into the blueline beast he would become as one of the best players in the NHL. The blueline also featured a 16-year-old Kyle Cumiskey (132 NHL games) as well as stalwarts Mike Card and Brett Palin, all of whom continue to play in Europe.
Habscheid and his coaching staff, which included Ryan Huska as an assistant, had the 2003/04 Rockets playing a gritty style, shutting down its opponents with a stifling defense and the goaltending of Guard, whose 13 shutouts remain a WHL record.
Leading scorer Randall Gelech may have only had 49 points but nine Rockets had at least 10 goals including a 17-year-old Blake Comeau (384 NHL games). Justin Keller scored 25 while two more youngsters had eight on the season: Future captain Tyler Spurgeon and future NHL player Troy Bodie.
After going through the WHL regular season with the the WHL’s best record, the Rockets dispatched the Kootenay Ice in four games to open the playoffs before taking out the Tri-City Americans in six games in the second round. In the WHL Western Conference final, they played a tough Everett Silvertips squad and would lose three straight overtime games to Everett, a team that had allowed the second fewest goals in the WHL.
After the tough loss, the Rockets regrouped and prepared for the 2004 Memorial Cup tournament, which would be held in Kelowna for the first time. Only two other teams had hosted and won the event and the Rockets were set on becoming the third team. In front of sellout crowds all week in Kelowna, the Rockets would go on to become champion, winning three straight games in the round robin by a combined 7-2 score before beating Gatineau 2-1 in the championship game.
Coaches: Marc Habscheid, Jeff Truitt, Darren Jensen, Ryan Huska, Larry Keating
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)