The Kelowna Rockets are closing in on a milestone. Dylen McKinlay reached one on Thursday night.
Tyson Baillie scored twice for Kelowna as the Rockets crowned the Victoria Royals 6-1 in WHL action on Thursday night and moved to within two wins of equalling a franchise record. Meanwhile, McKinlay, who is playing out his last season of junior eligibility, played in his 300th WHL game and recorded two assists.
"He's been a pleasant surprise," Rockets head coach Ryan Huska said of McKinlay, a 20-year-old forward from Langley, whom Kelowna acquired in mid-September from the Kootenay Ice. "I talked to Todd Johnson, who was my roommate in Kamloops and he was an assistant coach in Kootenay last season, when we were trying to decide on who we were going to go after. (Johnson) told me that (McKinlay) would be the guy to go get.
"(Dylen) jokes about having a hard time scoring, that he gets so many chances and that they don't always go in for him. We've seen that, and we joke with him about that, but the one big thing that he's brought is that he's been consistent with his work ethic. No matter what we've asked of him so far this season, he's done all the little things - whether it's penalty killing, which is pretty much new to him this season, power-play time, five-on-five with whoever in the lineup . . . he's one of those players who says 'I'll do whatever you need.'
"He's been a breath of fresh air for us," continued Huska, whose squad visits Vancouver tonight, then hosts the Giants in a return game on Saturday. "And the other thing that he brings is his speed and quickness, and that helps our team. He plays with a lot of pace in his game, and he gets on defencemen quickly and forces them to make plays under pressure."
"The guys gave him a nice little salute in the dressing room after the game, and he made a nice statement after the game, and then a little joke about feeling really old."
Zach Franko, Tyrell Goulbourne, Jesse Lees and Colton Sissons also scored for Kelowna (38-10-3-1), which recorded its 22nd consecutive home-ice victory. The Rockets' longest winning streak at home is 24 games, set in 1992-93. Kelowna's next three home games are a bookend of sorts, as it hosts the league-leading Portland Winterhawks next Friday and Saturday after the league-worst Giants.
Jamie Crooks replied for Victoria (27-18-1-3), which trailed 3-0 and 6-1 at the period breaks and was outshot 34-29. Patrik Polivka made 28 saves for the Royals, while Jordon Cooke stopped 28 shots for the Rockets.
Kelowna is 23-2 at home this season. In Western Conference standings, the Rockets, with 80 points, are five behind the front-running Winterhawks (41-7-1-2) and 54 in front of the Giants (13-38-0-0).
Thursday's victory pushed Kelowna's record in January to an impressive 12-0-2-0, including a perfect 8-0 mark at home.
Baillie opened the scoring at 5:35 of the first period with his 18th goal of the season. Five minutes later, Franko, with his 21st goal, made it 2-0 at 10:23 on the power play. Then, at 14:40, Goulbourne pushed Kelowna's lead to 3-0 with his seventh goal.
In the second, it was more of the same, with Kelowna tallying three more goals. Lees made it 4-0 at 1:48, though Crooks, with his 23rd goal, put Victoria on the board at 5:47. But Sissons, with his 18th, plus Baillie's second of the night rounded out the scoring.