Tony Garneau (middle) and friends enjoy the Rockets tailgate party ahead of Kelowna’s home-opener on Sept. 21. The Rockets won their home-opener 4-3. (Mackenzie Britton - Capital News)

Kelowna Rockets start Memorial Cup season with epic OT win

Kelowna beat the Spokane Chiefs 4-3 Saturday night

The Kelowna Rockets’ Memorial Cup season is off to a storybook beginning after an epic 4-3 overtime win against Spokane Chiefs last Saturday at Prospera Place.

In a back-and-forth battle with the Chiefs, Kelowna inched out a victory when newcomer Dillon Hamaliuk scored his second goal of the night with 0.01 seconds left in overtime.

Head coach Adam Foote said the addition of Hamaliuk and other new players will be essential this season.

“It’s nice we’re deeper than we were last year already,” said Foote.

“We adjusted a little bit (in the game) and our players got that and understood it.

“Last year, we may have broke if things didn’t go our way early and it’s a good sign that we hung in there.”

READ MORE: New faces, slate empowering Rockets ahead of season

With a packed tailgate party leading into the game and an attendance of over 5,300, Rockets fans were happy that hockey is back for another season.

Kelowna started the game with pace and energy, taking advantage of Spokane’s fatigue as they had played the night before.

In the first power play of the year for the Rockets, Hamaliuk and Lief Mattson set up Kyle Topping in front of the Chiefs net to open the scoring for the Rockets.

It was Hamaliuk’s first point as a member of the Rockets, on his way to a four-point night.

“First time putting on the Rockets’ jersey, it was a little nerve-racking,” said Hamaliuk.

“There’s a lot of system stuff I still need to work on and I feel like we have a lot of cleaning up to do still, and then I think we’re going to have a terrific team.”

Hamaliuk, the 55th overall pick at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft for the San Jose Sharks, scored the Rocket’s second goal and then assisted on Kaedan Korczak’s game-tying and overtime-forcing goal with less than two minutes remaining in the third period.

Kelowna was a perfect three-for-three on the powerplay, but were unable to generate many quality chances at even strength against the Chiefs, who are expected to be a top calibre team in the WHL this season.

READ MORE: Rockets host tailgate party ahead of anticipated home-opener

Kelowna found themselves down a goal at two separate times in the game but thanks to that efficient power-play, they were able to claw their way back into the match.

Rockets goalie Roman Basran was solid through a majority of the game and stopped 25 of 28 shots. He was beat on a partial break-away, on a bad giveaway by the defence in the Rockets own end and on a screened point-shot on a Chiefs powerplay.

Korczak, who had recently returned from camp with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, liked what he saw from the Rockets defence.

“It was definitely a good start,” said Korczak.

“The team was practicing for a long couple weeks while I was at camp so it’s good to get that win under our belts.”

Korczak, who played 66 games for the Rockets last season, said he liked what he saw out of new players Hamaliuk, Pavel Novak and Jake Poole.

READ MORE: Experience an essential element for Kelowna Rockets defenceman

The Rockets’ continue the season with a three-game, back-to-back stretch starting Friday.

Kelowna plays their rivals Kamloops Blazers to start, then host the Everett Silvertips on Saturday before a visit to last years’ conference champions the Vancouver Giants on Sept. 29.

It’s a tough stretch for the Rockets, but Foote said this is how the league works.

“It’s hard, but everyone in the league has those different schedules. You just have to adjust and figure out what’s best for your club,” Foote said.

The WHL season is a long one, but starting the Memorial Cup season with a win is as good as it gets for the Rockets.

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