Quebec City — Just one more step—albeit a formidable one—remains for the Kelowna Rockets.
On Sunday night in Quebec City, the Western Hockey League champs will take on OHL champion Oshawa Generals for the 2015 Memorial Cup title.
The Rockets advanced to the Canadian Hockey League’s championship game with 9-3 dismantling of the host Remparts in Friday night’s semifinal at Colisée Pepsi.
In a game that had a little bit of everything, Justin Kirkland scored twice and added a pair of assists to help send the Rockets to their third Memorial Cup final in franchise history.
“Back in August that was our team’s goal, we wanted to be in the Memorial Cup final,” said Kirkland who scored his first two goals of the tournament. “For it finally to be a reality, it’s kind of a weight off the shoulders, but we still know there’s still a lot of work to do to get what we came for.”
The Rockets were coming off two days of rest while the fatigued Remparts were playing their third game in as many nights.
Quebec started well with the night’s first goal but were simply unable to match Kelowna’s pace the rest of the way.
“It was a bit of a slow start, but once Chance Braid got us on the board (at 9:51 of the first) I thought we really beared down and made it difficult for them,” said Rockets head coach Dan Lambert. “Fatigue was a big, big factor in this hockey game.”
The night began with some fireworks as Kelowna’s Rodney Southam and Quebec’s Yanick Turcotte squared off at centre ice traded and blows in spirited scrap just 13 seconds in.
The Remparts struck first as Adam Erne scooped up a Rockets turnover as the Quebec blue line, then broke in alone and beat Jackson Whistle between the pads for a 1-0 Quebec lead.
But Kelowna’s fresher legs kicked in midway in the opening period and the Remparts were unable to match them.
Less than a minute after Leon Draisaitl rang one off post and out behind Zach Fucale, Tomas Soustal found Braid for his first of the tournament to make it 1-1.
Just 17 seconds into the second Gage Quinney slid a pass through to Draisiatl, who snapped home his third of the tournament on the power play goal for a 2-1 lead, quieting the pro-Quebec audience of 9,870.
Then Kirkland went to work for Kelowna, scoring twice in a span of 43 seconds—the first on a power play—at 3:23 and 4:06 for a 4-1 lead.
The passion of the Quebec fans spilled on to the ice in the second period over what they thought was a missed penalty call on Rockets’ captain Madison Bowey.
The ice was littered with dozens of items, including programs, empty beer cans, plastic bottles and souvenir sticks, delaying the game for more than five minutes.
The Rockets pushed the lead to four soon after as Josh Morrissey’s point shot beat Fucale to make it 5-1.
Just 21 seconds in the third, Anthony Duclair scored for Quebec to pull the Remparts back to within three.
But the Rockets answered quickly as Rourke Chartier converted a 2-on-1 from Tyson Baillie for his first of two at 2:17, followed by Cole Linaker’s first 37 seconds later to make it 7-2.
Chartier and Baillie rounded out the scoring for Kelowna while Dmytro Timashov countered for the Remparts.
In Sunday’s final, the Rockets will get another crack at the defensive-minded Generals (3-0) who defeated the Rockets 2-1 in the round robin on Tuesday.
Kirkland expects another test from their big-bodied opponents in the final, but also expects a better prepared Rockets club to take to the ice.
“They’re a good team, they’re very structured, they’re good defensively,” Kirkland said of the Generals. “I mean last game we didn’t really play our Kelowna Rockets game against them, so we’re loking forward to hopefully a little revenge.”
The Memorial Cup final will be played Sunday at 4 p.m. Pacific time.