On a night when a capacity crowd heartily saluted three members of Canada’s world junior gold medal-winning team before the opening face off, the Kelowna Rockets couldn’t duplicate the same magic on the ice.
Captain Madison Bowey was back in the lineup and Josh Morrissey made his debut in Kelowna colours, but it wasn’t enough as the Medicine Hat Tigers knocked off the Rockets 5-3 Saturday night at Prospera Place in front of a season-high audience of 6,362.
Prior to the game, Bowey, Morrissey and Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton were honoured for their part in Canada’s win last week at the world junior championship in Toronto.
Bowey, who paced the Rockets attack with a goal and two assists, hadn’t played for Kelowna since leaving early last month for Canada’s final selection camp. Morrissey was playing for Kelowna for the first time since being acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders on Dec. 10.
With five former teammates gone and four new players in the lineup since he last played—Morrissey, Leon Draitsaitl, Gage Quinney and Chance Braid—Bowey said developing chemistry will be a process, but he’s confident it will happen.
“I haven’t been here for a month, we had a tight group before, but there’s no way this group can’t be just as tight,” said Bowey, who is in his second season as team captain. “We’re definitely bringing the boys together and we’ll do team bonding if we need to. We have a great team and we’re going to fight for one another every night.”
Markus Eisenschmid and Cole Sanford scored twice each for the Central Division-leading Tigers who were playing their third game in as many nights.
Leon Draisaitl, with his third goal in three games as a Rocket, and Justin Kirkland also scored for Kelowna, whose undoing came in the second period when the Tigers scored a pair of shorthanded goals, just 61 seconds apart to take a 3-2 lead.
The Rockets evened the count on Draisaitl’s power play goal at 6:23 of the third, before Eisenschmid’s second of game on a Medicine Hat power play five minutes later proved to be the game winner.
Morrissey, who arrived in Kelowna Friday and hasn’t yet practised with the team, was disappointed with the final result but conversely was moved by the pre-game ceremony.
“How the fans embraced Madison and I and Bruce was so special,” said Morrissey. “Just standing out on the blue line, even thinking about it kind of gives me shivers.
“I’ve heard great things about the fans here, they’re very classy and that was a very classy thing in my mind. It’s too bad we couldn’t finish it off with a win, but it was a great night in that respect.”
With all the pomp of the pre-game ceremony and so many new faces in the dressing room, Morrissey said the Rockets faced some challenges Saturday night—but none that can’t be corrected.
“For us tonight, there was so much going on with the presentation, having had so many moves the last little while, I think it was tough, ” Morrissey said. “Everyone is kind of looking at the other guy to do it, there are a lot of talented players here.
“It’s going to take some time, a few games. Once we get some practises, some team building and more game action, I just think things will just take off from there.”
The Rockets (33-7-3-0) will return to action Wednesday when they host the Tri-City Americans.