The Western Hockey League served up a preseason appetizer between the Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals that turned into a full-meal deal for the hearty junior hockey supporters at Prospera Place.
Alas, it was a tough loss to stomach for Rockets fans after 10 goals in regulation, a scoreless overtime session and a prolonged shootout — capped by an Alex Bolshakov tally that earned the visitors a 6-5 victory.
Upon reflection, it was the second period that was hard to swallow.
“There’s going to be some mistakes,” said Rockets head coach Jason Smith. “There’s a lot of young guys and guys that haven’t played with each other. It’s not an excuse, it’s about how you deal with a little adversity.”
Kelowna opened the scoring late in the first frame when Jack Cowell corralled a loose puck and stuffed it past goaltender Dean McNabb.
While the territorial play was balanced during the fateful second stanza, the Royals dominated on the scoresheet.
Before the period was a minute old, the Royals took the lead with a pair of shorthanded goals.
Rookie import forward Philip Schultz from Denmark gained the Rockets’ zone from the faceoff at centre ice and snapped a shot past James Porter just six seconds in. Then 24 seconds later, when the Royals forced a neutral-zone turnover, D-Jay Jerome walked in alone on Porter and lifted a backhander high glove side to put the visitors ahead 2-1.
“Obviously, you have a power play and give up two shorthanded goals, it’s a combination of not paying attention to the details and not being ready to go,” said Smith.
“We can take some key learning points and move forward from that.”
The Rockets evened the score when Cowell took a slick feed from Liam Kindree and beat Brock Gould in the Royals’ net, but Victoria would strike for two quick goals late in the period.
Schultz notched his second of the night, splitting the defence before shovelling the puck under Rockets netminder Cole Tisdale at 18:50. Then 39 seconds later, with the Rockets standing around in their own end, Tyler Lees slipped the Royals’ fourth goal of the period past Tisdale.
Trailing 4-2 after 40 minutes, the Rockets outscored Victoria 3-1 in the third period.
At 1:20, a fortunate bounce off a Royals defender allowed Ted Brennan to hammer the puck past Gould. Then Jackson Desouza sifted a shot through traffic and Kindree banged in the rebound to tie the affair 4-4 at the 5:16 mark.
Victoria took the lead again at 12:05. Schultz, who was the best Royals player on the ice, carried the puck deep and worked it back to the point. Mitchell Prowse blasted a shot on Tisdale and Bolshakov chipped in the rebound.
Cayde Augustine pulled the Rockets even again at 16:51 when his point shot through traffic surprised Gould.
Overtime solved nothing, then Bolshakov scored the winner in the sixth round of the shootout.
“Most of all, it’s compete,” Smith said when asked about how the coaching staff views preseason play and preparation. “We’re going to start to implement some structure and detail and how we want to play in our defensive zone.
“We’ll work on our forecheck and how we want to transition the puck and see how the guys are taking that in. We want to pay attention to those details to complete the game plan.”
ICE CHIPS: The Rockets outshot the Royals 39-38. . . . With 29 players still in camp, veterans Erik Gardiner, Kaedan Korczak, Braydyn Chizen, Nolan Foote, Kyle Topping, Roman Basran, along with new Finnish import Lassi Thomson, did not dress. . . . Gardiner will be wearing jersey No. 11 this season to honour his friend Jacob Leicht, who was killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash on April 6. Leicht and Gardiner played minor hockey together in Humboldt. . . . Both teams used two goaltenders on the night, with the switch made at the 11:09 mark of the second period. . . . The Royals will play five preseason games, all on the road. . . . The Rockets host the Prince George Cougars tonight, 7:05 p.m. at Prospera Place, in their second of four exhibition games (three at home).