The last thing Leif Mattson and the Kelowna Rockets wanted was a special-teams shootout against the high-flying Medicine Hat Tigers.
It’s a wonder, then, why the Rockets put themselves squarely in that situation Friday night at Prospera Place.
The Rockets matched up well with the visitors, but let heated emotion and poor decisions get the better of them in an 8-5 loss in their WHL encounter.
The Tigers scored three goals on five power-play chances, and limited Kelowna to a goal on two opportunities. The penalties were poorly timed (aren’t they always?) and made life miserable for the Rockets, whose captain was ejected for a check to the head near the midway point of the game.
When they did play hockey — and they played a lot of it — it was entertaining.
Mattson scored twice as Michael Farren, Alex Swetlikoff and Kobe Mohr had singles for the Rockets. Sean Comrie and Kaedan Korczak each had two assists and Roman Basran made 33 saves in goal.
Eric Van Impe into an empty net, Corson Hopwo, Trevor Longo, Tyler Preziuso, Bryan Lockner, Jonathan Brinkman, Daniel Baker and Brett Kemp replied for Medicine Hat. Mads Sogaard faced 33 shots. Brinkman and Preziuso also had two assists each.
Mohr opened the scoring six minutes into the game on the power play. Planted in front of Sogaard, he was there to gently redirect a puck into the net after the Rockets zipped it around the Tigers’ zone.
It was a clever play given the Danish goalkeeper is six-foot-seven.
He could only watch the puck slip past him across the line, however. But Mohr’s heroics were erased eight minutes later when Kemp tied it, also on the power play.
They were playing four-on-four after offsetting roughing penalties. Mohr was then whistled for hooking in the neutral zone, and the Tigers made him pay.
With more than a minute of four-on-three power-play time, Kemp picked up a loose puck and fired it under Basran’s blocker. They appeared headed into the first intermission tied before some last-minute excitement.
Kelowna’s Dillon Hamaliuk and Korczak charged into the Tigers zone two-on-one. Hamaliuk held Sogaard as long as he could before passing across to Korczak. But Sogaard stretched post-to-post and stoned Korczak’s one-timer. As seems to happen in these situations, 10 seconds later the Tigers took the lead.
Brinkman picked up a loose puck, drove into Kelowna’s zone and fed Baker, who zipped it over Basran’s glove for a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Swetlikoff wasted no time tying it 2-2 less than a minute after they re-emerged from the intermission. He won a faceoff in the Tigers’ zone back to Comrie at the point. Sogaard kicked out Comrie’s shot, Pavel Novak tipped it to Swetlikoff and he buried the rebound.
That’s when trouble landed squarely in Kelowna’s lap.
Medicine Hat scored three times in four minutes, made all the worse by more bad penalties and Foote’s ejection.
Mohr was saddled with the only penalty after a scrum, and Brinkman made it 3-2.
Lockner added Medicine Hat’s fourth, and that may have forced Foote to try and spark his team.
He picked up the puck behind his own net, lugged it through centre and dumped it into Medicine Hat’s zone. As he did, he crashed into a Tigers forward.
At six-four, and on skates, Foote towered over his opponent, so it was awkward collision. But officials also saw Kelowna’s captain take a swipe at the Tiger and ejected Foote for checking to the head.
On the ensuing five-minute power play, Medicine Hat’s Preziuso tipped a point shot past Basran for a 5-2 lead, deflating much of the energy from the crowd of 5,223 — at least temporarily.
Two minutes later and still killing the major penalty, Farren dragged a puck into the heart of Medicine Hat’s zone and shot. Sogaard coughed up a rebound, and Farren beat two defenders to the puck and swept it past the goalie. It was a wonderful individual effort from a player who has flashed exceptional skills all season.
It led to another display of high skill.
Korczak lifted a high touchdown pass the length of the ice and off the boards behind Sogaard.
Liam Kindree won the race and centred to Mattson, who scored his own rebound after the goalie blocked the deflection for a 5-4 score after two periods.
It added a whole lot more tension to a game that appeared headed in the wrong direction.
Mattson scored his second when he redirected Comrie’s shot to make it 5-5.
But the Tigers (13-5-1) flexed ample offensive muscle and scored three more — including an emtpy-netter — to salt away victory and rub salt in Kelowna’s wounds. Medicine Hat has won four of its last five games.
The Rockets (9-6-2) will get no chance to rest.
Kelowna boards the bus today for a game in Spokane against the Chiefs. They play the Blazers, too, in Kamloops on Monday for Remembrance Day. Kelowna is now third in the west after Kamloops and the Vancouver Giants both won Friday.
AFTERBURNERS — Medicine Hat called up 15-year-old Teague Patton of Kelowna for his first WHL game. The Tigers invited him to camp this fall, and signed him in September from the Okanagan Rockets. … The three stars were Brinkman, Preziuso and Mattson. … The 50-50 draw was $7,430.