Just when you thought the Kelowna Rockets had put the injuries behind them, they watched two vital pieces of their recent surge limp off the ice Wednesday night.
Kyle Topping and Trevor Wong were both sent to the dressing room early — both thanks to hits by Victoria Royals’ defenceman Jacob Herauf — in a 3-2 WHL loss in front of 4,780 fans at Prospera Place.
“This one is going to sting for a bit,” Rockets forward Mark Liwiski said. “It was a four-point game … I feel we had a slow start. The second period we came on a bit. In the third period, they had a quick first goal and they just kind of built off the momentum. We had it on a golden platter there at the end, we just couldn’t capitalize.”
A four-point night because the Rockets were chasing Victoria for second place in the B.C. Division. Kelowna (29-28-3-3) trailed the Royals (32-24-6-2) by six points coming into the game. Now, with five to play in the regular season, Victoria is eight points clear of Kelowna.
Brayden Tracey, Tarun Fizer and Gary Haden scored for the Royals, who got 22 saves from Adam Evanoff.
Matthew Wedman and Ethan Ernst scored for the Rockets. Roman Basran faced 33 shots for Kelowna.
“I think we did it to ourselves,” Rockets coach Kris Mallette said. “We had some success, and we just swayed away from it. We had a game plan going in tonight, and in spurts you saw our team successful doing it.
“And then we just started forcing plays and turning pucks over, and it came back at us. … Through the neutral zone, they just ate us up.”
Victoria was the more consistent team through 60 minutes, and killed the final 88 seconds of the game as Kelowna skated with a 6-on-3 power play.
After Herauf was ejected for kneeing on the Wong hit, Will Warm took two minutes for high-sticking. Kelowna was all over the Victoria net, but could not score.
Kelowna was 0-for-4 on the power play Wednesday while the Royals were 0-for-1.
“That was kind of ugly at the end, but we’ll take it,” Victoria coach Dan Price said. “It was gutsy and gritty, coming from behind and that big penalty kill at the end. It wasn’t pretty by any means. But I think in the playoffs, especially this time of year against a good team like Kelowna, it’s the ugly stuff that wins.”
Haden scored the game’s first goal the only way Victoria scored all night—by letting the Rockets do it. He beat Kelowna to the puck behind Basran and centered it. The puck deflected off Devin Steffler’s skate, off Basran’s skate and into the net.
Ernst tied it on a terrific pass from Pavel Novak. The Czech rookie beat the defence to a puck behind Evanoff, and sent a backhand pass quickly into the slot where Ernst one-timed it into the net.
A similar play worked for Kelowna’s Jonas Peterek—also a Czech rookie—less than four minutes after that. He worked hard behind the Victoria goal line and finally hit Wedman with a pass in the high slot. Wedman’s wrist shot took enough of a deflection off a defender that Evanoff had no chance to stop it and Kelowna led 2-1 after two.
It didn’t stay like that for long.
Fizer tied it 22 seconds into the third period again thanks to an awkward bounce off Basran.
The goaltender tried to clear a pass coming from behind the red line, but instead redirected it straight to Fizer, who had no trouble scoring.
Victoria retook the lead, and again they needed help from Kelowna. After a bouncing puck deflected off a Rockets defender at Kelowna’s blue line, three Royals charged at Basran. The puck skipped into the corner, and Tracey threw it out front where it seemed to bank off Basran and in for a 3-2 lead with less than nine minutes to play.
Wong was caught in the trolley tracks late in the game. He tried to jump out of Herauf’s way, but instead took a heavy crack to the body and stayed on the ice for several minutes in obvious pain.
Mallette—who said he didn’t see anything dirty about the play—did not have an update on Topping or Wong’s status after the game. Kelowna next travels to Kamloops on Friday night before hosting the Blazers on Saturday.
AFTERBURNERS — Kelowna scratched D Sean Comrie (UBI, 15 weeks), D Jake Lee, F Nolan Foote (LBI, week to week), F Michael Farren (UBI, indefinite) and F Liam Kindree (UBI, 5-6 weeks).