With one point earned on Wednesday night, the Kelowna Rockets kicked off the new year in a marginally better fashion than they finished off 2016.
Still, a 3-2 defeat in overtime to the visiting Spokane Chiefs—the Rockets’ third straight WHL loss—didn’t sit particularly well with head coach Jason Smith.
After falling behind 2-0, the Rockets battled back to tie the score late in the game, only to lose on Riley Woods’ deciding goal at 3:19 of the extra period.
Smith said his Rockets, who outshot Spokane 12-3 over the final 20 minutes, simply took too long to get going against the Chiefs.
“If we played the rest of the game the way we played third period, the game would have been better for us,” said Smith.
“We were sloppy early on, for two periods we turned the puck over, we didn’t have the effort, intensity and energy that we needed.”
The Chiefs broke a scoreless tie midway in the second period when Kailer Yamamto’s screen shot beat Michael Herringer through a screen on the power play at 10:36.
Then just 35 seconds later, Tyson Helgesen’s shot from the point found the mark to make it 2-0 Spokane.
The Rockets found some life late in the second period as captain Rodney Southam jammed one past Jayden Sittler at 18:01 for his ninth goal of the season to cut the Chiefs’ lead in half.
With just 3:43 left in the third period, Riley Stadel took a pass from Lucas Johansen and beat Sittler for his fifth of the season to force the overtime.
Smith said if the rest of his team had duplicated Stadel’s effort throughout the game, the result could have been different.
“I think he was our best player,” Smith said. “He worked from start to finish, he brought energy every time he was on the ice, got the puck deep, didn’t turn it over, got some bangs on the body and obviously scored a big goal for us at the end of the game.”
The Rockets (23-14-3-0), who have gone the better part of a month without three of their top offensive players, will be getting some reinforcements this week.
Calvin Thurkauf (Switzerland) and Tomas Soustal (Czech Republic) are both due to return from the world junior hockey championship and are expected to play this weekend against Kamloops.
Dillon Dube remains with the Canadian junior team and will play for gold on Thursday night in Montreal against the U.S.
And while the lengthy absence of all three players has presented challenges for the Rockets, Smith isn’t about to use it as an alibi for his team’s recent slide.
“I don’t think there’s any excuse for the way we’ve played,” Smith said. “You look at our road trip out east, we paid attention to detail, we executed at a higher level than we have in the last three games. We struggled to be consistent, to do things that allow us to have success…and when you don’t execute you spend a lot of time in neutral rather than moving forward.”
The Rockets will take on the Kamloops Blazers in a home-and-home set this weekend—Friday in Kamloops and Saturday at Prospera Place.
Meanwhile, Kelowna minor hockey product and Spokane rookie Eli Zummack picked up an assist on the Chiefs’ second goal of the night.
Zummack, who started the season with B.C. Major Midget League’s Okanagan Rockets, was playing his first WHL game in Kelowna in front of many family members and friends.
“Obviously it’s a big game, playing in my hometown, having family here to watch,” Zummack said. “Just like every game, I’m pumped right from the get-go and this one was a big one.
“I had some nerves, but once I got out there and got the first shift out of the way, it was good.”