In a word, that’s what Kelowna Rockets’ head coach Ryan Huska insisted his club never lost—even at the bleakest of moments.
Riddled by injuries and down 3-0 in their WHL first-round playoff matchup, the Rockets fought back to defeat the Seattle Thunderbirds in seven games, clinching the series with a dramatic 3-2 overtime victory Wednesday night at Prospera Place.
Tyson Baillie, with his third goal of the night, scored for Kelowna at 5:10 of the extra period as he converted a cross-ice pass from Madison Bowey, sending the Rockets on to the second round of the post-season.
It was the fifth time in the series the Rockets and Thunderbirds needed extra time to decide a winner.
“It’s unbelievable,” an elated Baillie said after the game. “Being down 3-0 in the series, we came back and won three hard games. Of course, this one had to go to overtime. We had the character to pull it off.”
The Rockets were poised to settle the issue in regulation play, but the Thunderbirds prolonged the drama when Luke Lockhart scored with just 7.3 seconds remaining in the third period to force O.T.
While momentarily deflated by the turn of events, head coach Ryan Huska said his team’s unshakable belief and resolve won out.
“We put ourselves in a bad spot by not getting off to the start we wanted in the series,” he said. “They never did lose their belief. They’re a group that has great spirit and that’s one thing, when we got our win in Game 4 you could almost sense some of our swagger coming back. And a credit to a lot of our older, injured guys, they made sure our room kept that belief.”
With four straight wins over Seattle, the Rockets now share of piece of WHL history with the Spokane Chiefs.
The 1996 Chiefs and 2013 Rockets are the only teams to recover from 3-0 deficits to win a series.
With seven regulars out of the lineup, the Rockets depth was put to the test throughout the series with Seattle.
After the loss of Jesse Lees to an upper body injury in Game 6, Kelowna was left with just four regular defencemen.
Huska said his club has overcome the adversity thanks to a complete team effort.
“It’s guys who feel like they’re a part of things, no matter who’s in our lineup players have a belief that on any given night they can be a difference maker for us and I think we saw that throughout the series.
“(Rookie) Justin Kirkland gets a helper on that overtime goal, that was a pretty cool thing, where everybody feels like maybe it’s my night where I’ll be the guy that makes the difference and I think that’s why we’ve continued to have success.”
The Rockets will face the rival Kamloops Blazers in the WHL Western Conference semifinal series. Games 1 and 2 are set for Saturday and Sunday at Prospera Place.