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2020 Memorial Cup hosts Kelowna Rockets release Adam Foote as head coach

Kris Mallette Rockets new interim head coach
On Wednesday, the Kelowna Rockets fired head coach Adam Foote and promoted assistant head coach Kris Mallette as interim head coach

In what’s been a disappointing season, the Kelowna Rockets announced on Wednesday that head coach Adam Foote had been released of his duties.

Hosts of the upcoming 2020 Memorial Cup in May, the Rockets are languishing in fourth place in B.C. Division standings with a dismal record of 24 wins, 26 losses, 2 overtime losses and 2 shootout losses.

With just 52 points through 54 games, and just 14 regular-season games left, Kelowna has little chance of improving its seventh-overall place in the Western Conference standings.

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READ MORE: WHL Roundup: Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Come playoff time, the Rockets will face either first-place Portland (85 points) or second-place Kamloops (74 pts.), both of which have winning records against Kelowna this season.

In October of 2018, Kelowna beat out Kamloops and Lethbridge to host the 2020 Memorial Cup.

In releasing Foote, the Rockets said assistant head coach Kris Mallette was named interim head coach.

“The team has struggled since the Christmas break,” Rockets President and General Manager Bruce Hamilton said in a press release.

“With 14 games remaining in the regular season, I felt a change was necessary at this time.”

Kelowna Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton answers questions from the media on Wednesday after the team announced earlier in the day that it had relieved head coach Adam Foote of his duties.The Rockets hired Foote on Oct. 23, 2018.

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The team had a record of 24-23-6-2 under Foote last season.

Mallette is currently in his sixth season as a member of the Rockets’ coaching staff. He was hired as an assistant coach during the summer of 2014.

Prior to Wednesday, Mallette’s primary focus has been the team’s defensive units and penalty kill units.

Mallette, 41, played two-and-a-half seasons with Kelowna in 1996-99, before being traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Kris Mallette looks on during practice on Wednesday afternoon.Following four seasons in the WHL, he then went on to play several seasons in the minors.

Foote, a former NHL defenceman who played for Quebec, Colorado and Columbus, was hired early into the 2018-19 season when the Rockets fired then-head coach Jason Smith, also a former NHL defenceman.

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At that time, Kelowna was off to a poor start, with just 4 wins in 14 games, when they fired Smith.

Fast forward to this season, and the Rockets have again struggled. Since Jan. 1, the Rockets have just five wins in 19 games. Further, of those five wins, just two were in regulation time.

Red Deer Rebels beat Kelowna Rockets 3-2
Red Deer Rebels beat Kelowna Rockets 3-2

“It’s pretty clear we’ve made a decision to make a coaching chance,” Hamilton said during a press scrum on Wednesday. “I’m happy that we have Kris Mallette right here with us, ready, in my mind, to take over from Adam.

“But anytime you go through one of these days, there’s zero fun to it. (Foote) is a real class guy, and the way he’s handled himself has been exceptional. But from my perspective, we have to get moving forward.”

Hamilton said “we need to get some traction here, and I just think that we’re probably in a position where a different voice is going to be important right now.”

In related news, Kelowna’s top player and captain, Nolan Foote, left for New Jersey to be physically evaluated by his new NHL team. Drafted by Tampa Bay last year, Foote had his rights traded to the Devils on Sunday.

Foote returned from injury this week, but his comeback was less than a game, as he started in Monday’s 6-5 overtime loss to Calgary but did not play long.

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“It’s a tough week for the Footes,” said Hamilton. “Nolan, simply because of the trade, I think it was a big shock to him. And then what happened today . . . I’m sure as a son, it’s not a great thing, either at all.”

Winterhawks dismantle Rockets
Winterhawks dismantle Rockets

Hamilton said adding to his decision to relieve Foote as head coach were how his team was playing.

“We traded for a number of real good players that are all in the lineup,” said Hamilton. “They need to be better players and do more. I think that’s what we’re asking, most of all.”

Mallette said being handed the reins “was definitely an exciting day for myself and my family, but not the way you want it to happen.”

He continued, saying “I really have a lot of respect for Adam. We’re really good friends and it’s always the toughest part of the job.”

Going forward, Mallette said he was fortunate in to be an assistant coach with Kelowna in 2015 when the Rockets won the league and lost in overtime to the Oshawa Generals in the Memorial Cup final.

“It was fast,” Mallette said of that team, which was led by current NHLer Leon Draisaitl. “I know it’s cliché, but we want to play quick, and I think that lately, we’re a little bit behind the eight-ball.

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“We’re going to get our guys to move. When we don’t have the puck, we’re gonna get it. And when we do have it, we’re gonna keep it. That’s the mentality we’re going to try to implement with our group.”