James Porter was the first star on a night of firsts for the Kelowna Rockets in their 2-0 victory over the Everett Silvertips on Friday.
For starters, it was Kelowna’s first win of 2019 — bringing an end to a six-game losing streak to start the calendar year — and it came on the strength of Porter’s 40-save shutout.
The 18-year-old goaltender from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, has faced the Silvertips three times this season and been one of the three stars following each game — twice the first star and once the second star, but this was also his first win over the ’Tips.
Porter previously stopped 40 of 42 shots in a 2-1 loss on Nov. 24 for second-star honours in Everett, then matched that save total again in a 4-2 defeat at Prospera Place last Wednesday when he was named first star in a losing effort.
Porter’s third straight 40-save performance was enough to warrant the first star again on Friday, this time in Everett.
As for the rest of the firsts, Michael Farren scored his first goal as a Rocket — and just his second of the season, ending a 27-game drought — while recent additions Schael Higson, an over-age defenceman, and Alex Swetlikoff, a rookie forward, recorded assists for their first points as Rockets.
For Swetlikoff, who hails from Kelowna and had been playing with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers before being acquired by the Rockets on Dec. 6 and debuting on Dec. 28, it was his first career WHL point.
Mark Liwiski netted the 2-0 goal for the Rockets (18-22-3-1), his third of the season but his first against his former team. Liwiski was a third-round pick for Everett in the 2016 bantam draft, but Kelowna acquired him from the Silvertips this past June in exchange for a third-round selection in 2019 and a conditional fifth-round pick this year.
Liwiski has been a source of energy and grit for the Rockets throughout his first full WHL season — as evidenced by dropping the gloves just 45 seconds into Friday’s game, fighting a former teammate in Dawson Butt. Liwiski played 10 games with Everett last season and Butt played 45 when both were rookies for the Silvertips.
Both Kelowna goals came in the second period, with Farren opening the scoring and Porter making that tally stand up as the winner.
The other first for Kelowna was the debut of Matt Barberis, another over-age defenceman, who drew into the lineup for the first time since being claimed by the Rockets at the Jan. 10 roster deadline — having previously played for the Vancouver Giants, serving as an assistant captain for them the past two seasons.
Barberis didn’t factor into the scoring Friday, but broadcaster Regan Bartel awarded him with the hit of the night for a check on Everett’s Wyatte Wylie.
Dustin Wolf stopped 18 shots for the Western Conference-leading Silvertips (33-10-1-1), who lost at home for only the fifth time this season.
The Rockets return home to host the Canadian Hockey League’s top-ranked team and WHL-leading Prince Albert Raiders (39-5-0-1) tonight, 7 p.m. at Prospera Place. The Raiders were also winners on Friday, defeating the Kamloops Blazers 4-1.
The Rockets will be honouring Josh Gorges prior to tonight’s puck-drop. The Kelowna product, who captained the Rockets to a Memorial Cup win on home ice back in 2004, announced his retirement from professional hockey earlier this week following 13 seasons in the NHL.
Tonight will also be a reunion of sorts at Prospera Place since Prince Albert is coached by Marc Habscheid and Jeff Truitt, who were both behind Kelowna’s bench for that Memorial Cup triumph.