Prince George forward Luke Harrison checks Kelowna's Justin Kirkland in front of the Cougars' net in WHL action Tuesday at Prospera Place.

Rockets tame Cougars to open homestand

Nick Merkley and Justin Kirkland score twice each in high-scoring WHL game Tuesday night

With too many penalties and more goals against than he would have preferred, it wasn’t exactly how head coach Brad Ralph would have drawn it up.

Still, a 7-4 victory over the visiting Prince George Cougars Tuesday night was an otherwise positive kick-off to a five-game WHL homestand for his Kelowna Rockets.

Nick Merkley led the attack with two goals and two assists and Justin Kirkland also scored twice as the first-place Rockets beat the B.C. Division-rival Cougars for the third time in five tries this season.

“Our team’s going through some ups and downs right now, so obviously we want to take advantage of our home games, especially against our division rivals here,” Ralph said. “Prince George, it was a big win for us to kick us off on the right foot and keep the ball rolling here through the weekend.”

The Rockets jumped on the Cougars early, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Cal Foote and Kirkland.

The Cougars answered back with a power play goal from Tate Olsen, before Dillon Dube beat Ty Edmonds on a penalty shot at 17:23 to make it a 3-1 game after one.

The teams traded shorthanded goals early in the second—the Cougars’ Colby MacAuley at 15 seconds and Merkley at 5:23 to make it a 4-2 game.

Lucas Johansen and Merkley each scored to push the Rockets ahead by four, before Brad Morrison scored a pair late it the second period make it a 6-4 game.

The Rockets locked it down in the third, with Kirkland sealing the game into an empty net at 17:41.

“We ran into some penalty issues, which they scored two on the power play, so that was disappointing to kind of go through that issue again for us,” Ralph said. “But we’re learning here, we’re learning how to play the game the right way. Like I said, there is a lot of positives tonight, we’ll get back to the drawing board here this week and tighten it up even more.”

With Jackson Whistle sidelined, Michael Herringer made his seventh straight start in goal for the Rockets and made 26 saves in the win.

Dube also added two assists to finish with three points, while Rourke Chartier had three assists for Kelowna.

Centre Tyson Baillie, who missed the club’s last two games to attend a family matter in Edmonton, registered an assist and continues to lead the Rockets with 67 points.

The Rockets resume their home stand Friday against the Tri City Americans.

Midterm rankings

Three Rockets have been cited in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings of North American skaters.

Forward Dillon Dube is rated 35th, defenceman Lucas Johansen is 38th, while Czech-born winger Tomas Soustal is ranked 152nd among players eligible for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.




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