Quebec City — A sluggish start and disappointing loss to the Quebec Remparts in the tournament opener has quickly faded into a distant memory for the Kelowna Rockets.
The Western Hockey League champs grabbed the momentum early on Monday night, then rolled to 7-3 win over Rimouski Oceanic for their first win of the 2015 Memorial Cup.
Nick Merkley, Leon Draisaitl and Gage Quinney scored two goals each as the Rockets evened their record at 1-1, guaranteeing Kelowna at least a spot in Thursday’s tiebreaker.
The Rockets, who struggled to find their rhythm early and lacked discipline in Friday’s loss to Quebec, had no such trouble against Rimouski Monday, roaring out to a 3-0 lead before the game was 15 minutes old.
Despite a brief pushback by the Quebec champs late in the first period, the Rockets—led by Draisaitl and Merkley—dominated play much of the night and looked a lot more like the team head coach Dan Lambert has come to know.
“I thought our best players were our best players,” said Lambert. “They controlled the game like they can, they made a lot of good plays.
“It was more of the Kelowna Rockets that we’ve seen throughout the year.”
The Rockets needed just 52 seconds to get their first lead of the Memorial Cup as Merkley kicked the puck skate to stick to beat Louis-Philip Guindon for his second of the tournament.
Madison Bowey scored on a point shot at 6:16, before Gage Quinney tallied at 14:27 to spot the Rockets to an early three-goal cushion.
The Oceanic responded with goals exactly three minutes apart. Chris Clapperton scored at 15:14 and Michael Joly at 18:14 to make it 3-2 after one.
But the Rockets regained control as Quinney restored the two-goal lead at 1:52 of the second power play, chipping a shot over the Rimouski netminder for his second of the game.
At 10:42, Merkley struck for his second of the night on the set up from Bowey to restore Kelowna’s three-goal pad, chasing Guindon from the Rimouski net.
Then, playing four-on-four, Cole Martin set up Leon Draisaitl for his second of the tournament and a commanding 6-2 lead after 20.
After Quebec drew to within three in third, Draisaitl closed out the scoring with a shorthanded goal at 14:16.
“We came out and played our game tonight,” said Draisital. “When we do that, we’re hard to beat.”
The victory not only gets Rockets back on track, but it keeps them in contention for a direct berth into either the semifinal or final.
The next step comes Tuesday when the Rockets and first-place Oshawa Generals (2-0) face off at 4:30 Pacific time at the Colisee Pespi.
“Tomorrow’s a huge game again, and if we win that one we put ourselves in a great spot and that’s our goal right now,” captain Madison Bowey said. “We’ve gotta look forward to that one, put this one behind us and get ready for Oshawa because they’re a great team and it’ll be a great battle right to the end.”