Dillon Dube #19 of the Kelowna Rockets celebrates a second period goal against the Seattle Thunderbirds on February 23, 2018 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. - Image: Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze

Rockets fend off pesky T-birds

Kelowna and Seattle go back and forth in an entertaining WHL affair

By Matthew Abrey

The Kelowna Rockets didn’t make it easy on themselves, but they managed to skate off the ice Friday night to the tune of a 5-4 victory.

“We got off to a little bit of a slow start,” said Rockets head coach Jason Smith, whose team found themselves down 2-0 after the first period. “I think we did some really good things for a little portion of the game, and then we just made a few mistakes in managing the game.”

The Rockets were undisciplined early, with Liam Kindree taking a penalty just 29 seconds into the game. Kelowna managed to kill off that penalty, but Seattle found the back of the net 7:26 into the period, on a point shot that was tipped through the legs of Rockets goaltender Brodan Salmond. The Thunderbirds struck again at the 11:35 mark of the first frame after a turnover in the Rockets’ end led to a Dillon Hamaliuk goal, putting Seattle up 2-0.

The Rockets bounced back in the second, however, scoring twice. The first came courtesy of Cal Foote, who unloaded a quick wrist shot from the right face-off dot that went over the right shoulder of Thunderbirds’ goaltender Dorrin Luding. The second came from Dillon Dube, who took a nifty backhand pass from a streaking Leif Mattson, to tie it up at 2-2.

The period could have been much worse for the visiting Thunderbirds, as Kelowna dominated the play throughout the frame, with Conner Bruggen-Cate ringing one off the crossbar, and Erik Gardiner dangling through three Seattle players, only to be thwarted by the sprawling left pad of Luding.

Kelowna kept the pressure on to start the third period, with Mattson scoring 2:46 into the frame on the powerplay to take a 3-2 lead, then again on the powerplay four and a half minutes later, thanks to Jack Cowell, who tipped Kaedan Korczak’s point shot over the glove hand of Luding.

Seattle would not go gently into the good night, however, as the T-Birds scored on a 2-on-1 with just over six and half minutes remaining in regulation time. They would tie it just 1:49 later after Salmond couldn’t control the rebound, resulting in Seattle banging in the tying goal off a mad scramble in the crease.

Luckily for the Rockets, Vancouver Canucks prospect Kole Lind couldn’t stand idly by and watch his team squander a two-goal lead. The speedy winger from Shaunavon, Saskatchewan picked up the puck in the neutral zone, toe-dragged past the defender and wired a perfectly-placed shot top-shelf with just 1:21 remaining in the game.

The Rockets managed to fend off some late pressure from Seattle, and Lind’s goal stood as the game-winner to the delight of the 4,859 in attendance.

“For sure a big two points,” said Mattson, who had a goal and an assist on the night. “We knew coming in after Tuesday’s game, we didn’t play the way we wanted to play, and we knew we had to come in tonight and outwork Seattle because we knew they were going to come out hard. We knew we needed to amp up our game. We had kind of a slow start, and we came out in the second period and made sure we won our battles and got to the net and got into that goalie’s eyes and it paid off by getting a couple of goals.”

The Rockets play again Saturday night at Prospera Place, taking on the Kamloops Blazers to bring their four-game homestand to a close.

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