Dylen McKinlay had a big night, but it was just another night at the office for the Kelowna Rockets.
McKinlay tallied two goals and four points as the Rockets rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to defeat the visiting Tri-City Americans 6-3 in WHL action at Prospera Place on Friday night. And with that result, Kelowna's winning streaks continued - 17 in a row on home ice, 15 consecutive for goaltender Jordon Cooke and eight straight overall since the Christmas break.
"It's something special here at home," McKinlay said after his first-star performance in front of 5,475 fans. "I don't know what it is . . . but we get pumped up to play here. We have great fans and it's fun to play in front of a full rink."
In the big picture, the Rockets (31-10-1-1) pulled four points ahead of the Kamloops Blazers (28-12-2-2) for the B.C. Division lead as Prince George blanked the Blazers 1-0 thanks to Brett Zarowny's 44-save shutout on Friday night. Those two teams rematch tonight in P.G., while the Rockets visit the last-place Vancouver Giants (11-32-0-0).
Kelowna then hosts the Spokane Chiefs (27-13-1-0) on Wednesday, with the Rockets shooting for a franchise record-tying 18th straight home win.
Those streaks appeared to be in jeopardy as the Rockets fell behind 2-0 midway through the first period before battling back for a 2-2 tie after 20 minutes.
Michal Plutnar opened the scoring with a harmless looking point shot that eluded Cooke through a crowd at 2:18, then Beau McCue took a feed from Justin Feser and slid the puck past Cooke at 12:18. But just over a minute later, rookie defenceman Riley Stadel got the Rockets on the board by scoring into an open net after over-age forward J.T. Barnett corralled a loose puck at the side of the goal and set him up in the slot at 13:35. Then, with one second left on a Kelowna power play, fellow rookie Rourke Chartier fired a rebound into another empty cage at 16:23 to draw even.
McKinlay then staked the home team to a 4-2 lead with consecutive goals to start the second, but Connor Rankin replied for the Americans to make it a one-goal game through two fairly even frames.
Tri-City had a five-minute power play to start the third, as Rockets leading scorer Myles Bell was hit with a checking-from-behind major, but Kelowna weathered the storm - thanks to some clutch saves from Cooke - and Ryan Olsen scored shortly thereafter for a 5-3 spread at 5:58.
Madison Bowey added an insurance marker at 8:16 to round out the scoring, and Cooke finished with 26 stops for the victory. Ironically, Cooke hasn't lost since dropping consecutive 3-2 road decisions to the Americans on Nov. 16-17.