By Matthew Abrey
After the first four minutes, it appeared the Rockets had game two of their playoff series against the Tri-City Americans in the bag, Saturday night at Prospera Place in Kelowna.
However, the home team couldn’t quite find that early magic again throughout the goal-crazy 56 minutes that followed, suffering a 9-7 defeat and suddenly finding themselves in a 2-0 hole heading down to Tri-City next week.
“I think we competed and worked fairly hard from start to finish but there were some mental mistakes, there were some errors with the puck, and almost every mistake ended up in the net,” said Rockets head coach Jason Smith. “Sometimes that happens, but it’s about how we bounce back now and move forward.”
In the first 3:26 of the first period, the Rockets had exploded for three goals. First courtesy of Kole Lind just 36 seconds in, then Kyle Topping 15 seconds later at 0:51, followed by Captain Cal Foote under three minutes later. Things seemed to be going just how the Rockets had dreamed, but it was a roughing penalty taken by Erik Gardiner at 7:51 of the first period that awoke the Americans’ offence. The visitors scored on the ensuing power play, then blasted three more past starting goaltender James Porter before the period was over, chasing the 17-year-old from the crease just sixteen minutes in.
The Rockets bounced back in the second period, first thanks to Nolan Foote, who picked off an errant pass at the Americans’ blue line, and skated into the zone uncontested, picking the top right corner to even it up at 4-4. Lind would then add his second of the night off of a tip from Cal Foote’s point shot at 8:58 to put the Rockets ahead 5-4.
Tri-City would get one back, after Americans forward Nolan Yaremko suddenly found the puck on his stick in the blue paint, and slid it through the legs of goaltender Brodan Salmond, who had come in to replace Porter. Kelowna would also manage to chase Tri-City goaltender Patrick Rea after Kaedan Korczak won a race to the puck, beating out a potential icing, then stuffed the 6-5 goal short-side on Dea.
Tri-City tied it up once again, scoring three minutes into the third period, a goal to which the Rockets would respond to at 11:37, after Carsen Twarynski took a cross-ice pass from Lind, and wired it home for a fragile 7-6 lead.
Unfortunately for the 5,560 in attendance at Prospera Place Saturday night, that would be the last time the Rockets would hold a lead in the game. The Americans scored twice, just over a minute apart at 12:10 and 13:12 of the third period, and added an empty-net goal in the last minute of play, sending many Rockets fans to the exits early.
“There were tons of ups and downs throughout that game,” said Rockets forward, Lind. “I think at times we handled it well, but I think we need to learn how to close out a game and once we get a lead, to hold onto it, so I think that’s something we’re going to try and take into Tri-City. We know they stole two from us and we’re going to go back there and do the same.”
Despite a football-like scoreboard, the shots on goal were relatively low, with Tri-City outshooting the Rockets 39-26. The Rockets play next on Wednesday night in Tri-City, with the next potential home game being Saturday, March 31.
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