Okanagan's Finlay and Wishnowski share deep bond
Tanner Wishnowski and Liam Finlay have a chemistry and understanding on the ice that goes beyond the norm for linemates.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Tanner Wishnowski from the Okanagan Rockets lead the Telus Cup tournament in scoring with 14 points in five games so far. Here he takes a shot on net against the Prince Albert Mintos.
The Okanagan Rocket forwards are not just linemates, but they also live together and say they're more like brothers than teammates.
Wishnowski, who is originally from Manitoba, moved in with the Finlay family this year in Kelowna.
"He fit in with our family really well and we just took him in," said Liam Finlay who is 17. "My parents really liked him right from the beginning and he just fits the personality of our family.
"It was nice since I've never had a brother in my life. It took some getting used to, but now we're just really good friends and basically brothers."
The 1997-born forwards met in 2011 when they were Bantam teammates at the Okanagan Pursuit of Excellence program.
Following his year at POE, Wishnowski returned to Manitoba where he played for the Eastman Selects. He recorded 13 points in 17 games while playing on a line with Moose Jaw Warriors first round pick Brett Howden. He went back to Kelowna the following summer to work out with the Finlay and stayed with the family. He decided it was best for him — on and off the ice — to stay in Kelowna. So far the move is paying off handsomely.
"I gave them my guardianship," said Wishnowski. "It's better for me out there in B.C. I'm focused and I have good opportunities out there."
Wishnowski is from a rural area between Oakbank and Hazelridge, east of Winnipeg. His mom has made the trek to Moose Jaw to watch the Telus Cup and her son has put on quite a show.
The six-foot right winger got a point on each of the Rockets' first 10 goals of the tournament. Friday Wishnowski was named the tournament's top scorer after scoring three goals and adding 11 assists in five games heading into the medal round. He was also named the tournament's top forward.
"I know how big this tournament is, but I think I've been getting better and better as the year went on," said Wishnowski about his offensive eruption at the Telus Cup.
At first glance the two seem like an odd pair: Finlay, who is five-foot-seven, won the Telus Cup's Most Sportsmanlike player award. Wishnowski has taken a penalty in four of the five tournament games and plays with an edge. Still they fit together well on and off the ice.
"He has unreal speed and I look for him on the far wall a lot. I feel like whenever I break out he's there for me and he supports me really well," said Finlay.
The line of Finlay, Wishnowski and Tyson Jost has put up some monster numbers during the regular season. While Wishnowski missed some time, Jost had 88 points in 36 games and Finlay had 51 points in 28 games. What all three players have in common is the ability to flat-out fly on the ice.
"Me, Finlay and Jost have great chemistry. Obviously Finlay and I have been on the ice together a lot throughout the years." said Wishnowski. "We're like brothers now."
The pair both have an obvious love of the game and a competitiveness that drives them. Finlay has excelled despite weighing a scant 150 pounds and netted the overtime goal that earned the Rockets their Pacific Regional title.
"He doesn't quit," said Rockets coach Mack O'Rourke of Finlay. "He's a tremendously skilled player and he works really hard to do what he does. Everyone looks at him and passes him off because of his size, but I think everyone is starting to figure out that he's a very special player and that he's going to have a lot of success in this game."
Finley is expected to join the BCHL's Penticton Vees for his 17-year-old season. He has already committed to Denver University in the NCAA.
After a strong start to the season, Wishnowski was listed by the WHL's Kelowna Rockets before Christmas and signed with the team after the Mac's midget tournament in Calgary. He made his debut earlier this season with Kelowna and scored on his first WHL shift.
"His development on the ice has come a long way. He's a very strong and physical player. He skates tremendously well and he can shoot the puck," O'Rourke said of Wishnowski. "He came to us and was dominant player in the league right from the beginning.
"He's working on his leadership abilities and trying to be more of an all-around player. His on-ice skill and what he can do out there speak for themselves."
Wishnowski was eighth in team scoring during the regular season with eight goals and 32 points in 27 games. He also picked up a team-high 66 penalty minutes. He had a goal and seven assists in eight playoff games as the Rockets dethroned the Vancouver North West Giants.
"Everything is more calm and I have a lot of opportunities out there. Plus I'm with the Kelowna Rockets now, so it's even better to be there," said Wishnowski.
The move to Kelowna has opened up a lot of opportunities and outside of being a good hockey move, it's been a good move for him as a person.
"He's so passionate. He's up and down. If things are going his way, there's never an issue. But if there's some bad calls or guys start targeting him he takes exception to it and gets frustrated," said O'Rourke. "He's just so passionate for the game that you can't blame him on the one hand even though you want to reign him in. When there's that much passion and that much involvement, sometimes it's nice to see a guy who cares that much."
O'Rourke is happy with how Wishnowski has matured so far this season and feels he's channeling his passion in a positive way.
"This is where you learn. He's 16-years old. He's going to play some time in the Western Hockey League and he'll learn more there," said O'Rourke. "He's coming from a different background and we're here to support him and we're here to make him the best human and the best player that we can."
Wishnowski's goal is to make the Kelowna roster and play in the WHL next season. He already knows where he wants to live.
"(Liam) is off to Penticton next year, but I'll probably still live with his family in Kelowna," said Wishnowski with a smile.