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Kelowna Rockets drop season-opener to Portland

The line Turner McMillen, Ethan Neutens, and Michael Cicek combined for seven points.
The Kelowna Rockets dropped the opening game of the 2023-24 season 6-5 to the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday, Sept. 23. (@Kelowna_Rockets/Twitter)

It was a wild start for the Kelowna Rockets, but they didn’t get the result they wanted.

In their opening game of the 2023-24 Western Hockey League (WHL) season, the Rockets hosted and fell to the Portland Winterhawks 6-5 in overtime at Prospera Place on Saturday night (Sept. 23).

During the first period, in a span of three minutes and two seconds, the teams exchanged two goals each.

It started when the Rockets biggest offseason acquisition Tij Iginla scored his first goal as a member of the team to make it 1-0. But 51 seconds later, the Winterhawks tied the game on the powerplay when Jack O’Brien scored his first goal of the season.

Just 92 seconds later, Portland took the lead when James Stefan scored his second goal of the season. This time, the Rockets responded in quick succession when Turner McMillen scored a powerplay goal 41 seconds later to tie the game 2-2.

The rest of the first period belonged to Portland as they scored twice more in the frame to lead 4-2.

The second period was all Rockets with the line of McMillen, Ethan Neutens, and Michael Cicek combined for two goals under two and a half minutes to tie the game 4-4. McMillen scored his second goal of the game Neutens also scored a powerplay goal.

Forward Trae Johnson gave the Rockets the 5-4 lead at the 12:10 mark in the third period but that lead only lasted for a few minutes as Nicholas Johnson scored for Portland to tie the game 5-5.

The game headed to overtime where Portland’s Marcus Nguyen scored to secure the 6-5 win for Portland.

Rockets goaltender Jake Pilon made 30 saves in the loss.

The line McMillen, Neutens, and Cicek combined for seven points, including three from McMillen.

Fortunately for the Rockets, reinforcements are on the way for their next game. Defenceman Jackson DeSouza and goaltender Jari Kykkanen have been reassigned to the Rockets after attending their respective NHL training camps.

Kelowna is back in action on Saturday, Sept. 30 when they welcome the WHL’s newest team, the Wenatchee Wild to Prospera Place. After a 1-1 start to the season, the Wild’s head coach Kevin Constantine has been suspended indefinity by the WHL for ‘pending an independent investigation into alleged violations of WHL Regulations and Policies.’ Puck drop on Saturday is at 7:05 p.m.

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Jordy Cunningham

About the Author: Jordy Cunningham

Hailing from Ladner, B.C., I have been passionate about sports, especially baseball, since I was young. In 2018, I graduated from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops with a Bachelor of Journalism degree
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