Rockets use power play to blast T-Birds
KENT – Not much went right for the Thunderbirds Friday night as they had their nine-game point streaked snapped.
The Kelowna Rockets scored four power-play goals and kept the Thunderbirds’ offense quiet on their way to a 6-2 win at the ShoWare Center. Carsen Twarynski and Leif Mattson each scored twice for the Rockets, while rookie James Porter made 23 saves to record his 18th win on the year.
The Thunderbirds would only muster late goals from Dillon Hamaliuk and Austin Strand in what would be their first loss in regulation since Dec. 9th.
Seattle (20-15-4-2) was unable to get its game plan going and took some untimely penalties that ended up costing. The normally stingy Thunderbirds penalty kill was not a match for a Kelowna (27-12-2-1) power play that came into the game ranked third in the WHL.
The penalties started early, and continued for eight Rocket power plays on the night. It started with an early two-man advantage that Kelowna scored twice on.
“I thought we came out of the gates pretty good,” head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Then we take a stick penalty on the back check and then another stick penalty to go down five-on-three. When you have a minute long five-on-three against that team, it’s a tough way to start the game.”
The Thunderbirds had chances of their own with the man advantage but were unable to convert on five attempts.
With the penalties that Seattle was taking, it put the Thunderbirds out of sync as they weren’t able to generate any offense until late in the game, after the score was out of reach. O’Dette wasn’t happy with the type of penalties that his club took.
“They weren’t good penalties,” he said. “Some stick penalties, a couple undisciplined penalties…we’ll kill the aggressive penalties when you’re playing hard and physical. But the stick penalties and retaliatory penalties, those are unacceptable.”
The Rockets took advantage of that two-man advantage in the first period to take a lead. Twarynski fired his 28th on a slap shot after a nice cross-ice pass at 11:46. They would add a second goal, while still on the power play just over a minute later when Jack Cowell picked up his own rebound and deposited it past Liam Hughes.
A dust up at the Rockets bench occupied the attention of several T-Birds players and that would allow Colum McGauley to skate in alone at 3:41 of the second period. He would snap a shot past Hughes for his second of the season to give Kelowna a commanding 3-0 lead.
It was a momentary lapse of focus and one that summed up the evening for Seattle.
“It was stupid, there’s no other way to describe it,” O’Dette said. “The whistle didn’t blow and you have to keep playing. Obviously, you want to stick up for your teammates but that’s not a smart play, that’s a new one, I don’t think I’ve seen that before.”
Seattle’s troubles would continue and the Rockets made it 4-0 with their third power-play goal, this time on nice play in close by Mattson at 10:53.
The Rockets would add another power-play goal at 10:44 of the third period when Twarynski would score again to finish a tic-tac passing play. Seattle would score goals from Hamaliuk and Strand to make it 5-2 in the last five minutes of the game. Mattson would be credited with his second goal on a play where Strand threw his stick at the puck to keep it from going in the empty Thunderbirds net in the waning seconds.
That would wrap things up as Seattle will move on to play Portland on the road Saturday night.
“We have to play our game,” O’Dette said. “It’s a game of momentum and when you’re going to the box, you’re not creating any. Respond, we’re looking for a bounce back game. It’s not going to be easy and we’ll see what kind of character we have.”
• Newcomers Owen Williams and Jaxan Kaluski both made their Seattle debuts Friday night with neither figuring in the scoring.
• Hughes made his sixth straight start while making 36 saves as the Thunderbirds were out shot 42-25 on the night.
• Strand’s marker was his 14th and puts him second in the WHL among defenseman goal scoring.
• Friday was the first night back in the lineup for Kelowna’s Cal Foote after winning gold for Canada at the World Junior Championships. Fellow gold medal winner Dillon Dube was a scratch for the Rockets, as he is dealing with the flu.