Seattle’s Luke Lockhart chases the puck during Game 6 against Kelowna (Seattle Thunderbidrs)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — Sometimes hockey is a game of inches. Seattle’s captain, Luke Lockhart, took a shot off the face off in overtime Tuesday night, a shot that trickled through the goaltender and glanced off the post and out. A few minutes later Myles Bell beat Brandon Glover with a wicked wrist shot to win the game for the Kelowna Rockets, 4-3.
The win knots up the series and sets up a deciding Game 7 back in Kelowna Wednesday night.
“Our guys fought hard,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I thought early on we could have been a little stronger but they fought hard, they battled hard and I thought as the game went on we got a little bit better, we had our chances in overtime but it just didn’t go our way today.”
Seattle won the first three games by playing loose and with emotion. They were missing that in the prior two games but seemed to be able to recapture it again on Tuesday night.
“I thought we were having fun,” Konowalchuk said. “We were playing and competing for the most part, just didn’t get the win.”
Glover deserved a better fate in this one as he stopped 55 of the 59 shots that he faced. He could not make the final one, however, and will now be asked to beat the Rockets in what could be his last game in junior hockey.
“I don’t really know what to think,” Glover said. “We just have to put that game behind us now and look forward to tomorrow. Before the series if you would have said we just had to steal a Game 7 in their barn I think it would have shocked a lot of people and we would have taken that.”
Glover made great save after great save on shots that looked like they were destined to find the back of the net. It may have been one of his best performances of the year, despite the tough loss.
“He played a great game, a great game,” Konowalchuk said of his 20-year-old goalie. “Early on we really needed him, he played a great game.”
Seattle had their chances in this one. After falling behind 22 seconds into the game on a Cody Fowlie goal the T-Birds fought back to take a 3-1 lead halfway through the first period.
They tied the game on a Connor Sanvido goal after a Rockets turnover a few minutes after the Fowlie goal. Despite being out shot 9-1 at the time they had managed to get even.
They took the lead moments later on an Adam Kambeitz goal as he banged home a rebound for his first goal of the playoffs. A minute later Seattle extended its lead after an incredible sequence by Roberts Lipsbergs, who threw his body around and dislodged the puck from a Kelowna defender. He then found Luke Lockhart in the slot. He beat Jordan Cooke and the T-Birds were rolling.
Kelowna pushed back though and managed to tie the game on goals by Tyrell Gouldbourne and Cody Fowlie.
In the second period the Rockets poured it on and Glover stood tall, keeping the T-Birds alive. Seattle was outshot 43-21 in the first 40 minutes of the game but Glover would not bend. A crucial moment came late in the second when Justin Hickman was given a five-minute major for check to the head, along with a game misconduct.
It was the first penalty of the game, a game that the officials seemed to let everything go in. Seattle managed to kill off all five minutes, which overlapped into the third.
Halfway through the third Madison Bell ran Jared Hauf into the boards on a play that shook up the big defenseman. It was a similar play to the one that Connor Honey was given a four-minute penalty and a three-game suspension for Game 4 of the series. Bell was only given two minutes and Seattle was unable to cash in on the power play.
“It’s just frustrating,” Konowalchuk said. “They let everything go, that’s fine, and then the frustrating thing is the two-minute call on Hauf, the exact same kind of hit that Honey got suspended three games for, shoulder to shoulder, but the guy was in a vulnerable position, they got a two here, we got a four and a suspension and it’s the exact same explanation the ref gave me today that our guy got suspended for, so that’s hard.”
In the overtime period Seattle had the better of the play and had several close chances to end it. There was the Lockhart post along with Lipsbergs and Alex Delnov getting chances that just missed. Seattle had the better of the play and Bell’s goal was scored against the balance of the action.
“It was just a pretty good shot,” Glover said of the overtime winner. “It looked like he was going to toe-drag around the d-man, he got a good shot off with a quick release and put it over my glove, it caught me of guard a little bit.”
After the game the Seattle players tried to put a positive spin on the events. They get to play a seventh game in a series that nobody gave them a chance to win going in. Anything can and has happened in games like that and the T-Birds will get to fight for one more day.
“If you would have told us we would be in the position at the start of the series we probably would have taken it,” Adam Kambeitz said. “One game to decide it and it’s been a hard fought series and their a good team. We have to forget this one quick and get excited to play that game.”
Game 7s can be exciting. They present the moments that every kid reenacts on the playground, scoring the dramatic game-winning goal in a Game 7. The T-Birds will get their chance to live that fantasy out in real life Wednesday night in Kelowna.
“You play hockey for situations like this,” Kambeitz said. “There’s a chance for guys to be heroes and they’re intense games and this is why we play.”
This is the third straight Kelowna-Seattle playoff game that will reach seven games. The two teams went the distance in 2005 and in 2008 with both teams picking up a win. Kelowna is trying to become the first team since 1996 to erase a three-game deficit in the WHL playoffs.
With Connor Honey serving the second game of his three-game suspension, 2012 draft pick Keegan Kolesar saw his second WHL game. He played on the third line and acquitted himself quite well. He was strong along the boards and didn’t shrink from the pressure of the game. He clearly has his coach’s confidence as he got regular shifts all night long. “He’s a good, young player,” Konowalchuk said. “He’s going to have a lot of upside here in this league, he’s a strong kid, has good offensive instincts, made a couple nice little plays out there. I thought he did fine.”
Seattle’s power play went 0-for-2 on the night and is now a terrible 0-for-24 on the series. If Seattle looses the series they can look at the power play as a big reason why.
There was another big crowd at the ShoWare Center for the game and the players were appreciative of the support. “It’s an awesome atmosphere,” Kambeitz said of the crowd. “I was really taking it in, being 20 years old, just looking around and the fans are screaming, this is probably the loudest building I’ve played in during my career. The atmosphere is incredible and it’s a great experience.”