With their leading goal scorer on the sidelines, the Kelowna Rockets needed someone to step up.
Marek Tvrdon answered the call with a two-goal performance on Friday night at Prospera Place, as the Rockets dispatched the Tri-City Americans from the Western Hockey League playoffs with a 4-1 victory.
Rockets veteran Myles Bell, 20, who led the team with 42 goals in the regular season and three more in the playoffs, sat out Friday’s game with a lower body injury.
Tvrdon, one of Bell’s fellow 20-year-olds, delivered the winning goal in the second period and added an insurance marker in the third, as the Rockets claimed the best-of-seven series four games to one to move on to the Western Conference semifinal.
“This was his best game and he seemed like he was engaged all night,” head coach Ryan Huska said of the Slovakian born forward. “And when you look at your older players you need that from him, and tonight we saw that. I thought if he wasn’t our best player, then he was one of them for sure. Him and Jordon (Cooke), our two 20-year-olds, were our best guys on the ice.”
On the subject of Cooke, the 20-year-old was again a stabilizing influence in the Rockets’ net making 29 saves, including a key glove stop off Lucas Nickles with Kelowna hanging to a 2-1 lead in the third period.
Cooke commended both his teammates and his opponents—who finished 50 points behind Kelowna during the regular season—for a hard-fought first-round series.
“It’s huge,” Cooke said of the series win. “It’s too bad we couldn’t get that one down in Tri-City, but give it to them, they played an unreal series. An eighth-seeded team going against a first-seeded team, you expect a type of blowout, but they pushed us and really gave us a run for our money.”
Carter Rigby and Rourke Chartier also scored for the Rockets Friday, while Nick Merkley added a pair of assists.
The Rockets will take on the winner of the Seattle-Everett series in the next round of the playoffs. The dates of Games 1 and 2 of the WHL Western Conference semifinal have yet to be finalized.