After yet another significant injury to his team, Nolan Foote will need plenty more games like this one.
Foote scored twice, including the winner early in the third period, as the Kelowna Rockets defeated the Prince George Cougars 3-2 on Saturday night at Prospera Place in WHL play.
The win came in Kelowna’s first game since learning Liam Kindree would be sidelined with a shoulder injury four to six weeks, meaning he’ll be gone for Kelowna’s upcoming six-game swing through Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Foote said everyone needs to elevate their game to make up for the veteran’s absence.
“Right before this road trip, it’s not good, but guys, they played their roles tonight and stepped up huge,” he said. “That’s got to continue into this road trip because it’s going to be a hard swing. We’re going to need everyone.”
Sean Comrie also scored while Kaedan Korczak and Jadon Joseph had two assists each for Kelowna. Roman Basran made 19 saves. Josh Maser and Connor Bowie scored for Prince George. Taylor Gauthier faced 26 shots in the P.G. net.
The Rockets appeared destined for an easy victory after establishing a 2-0 lead in front of 5,656 fans. But a couple of penalties late in the second period allowed Prince George to grab some momentum.
“I really feel like it changed the game,” Kelowna coach Adam Foote said. “That’s where we’ve got to keep growing and working on our mindset. We can’t get that rattled and get that frustrated and take two penalties.”
The Rockets controlled the scoreboard, shot clock (10-2) and faceoff circle (14-6) in an opening period they led 1-0.
Foote opened the scoring 8:34 into the game on a power play that would go 2 for 6 on the night. He collected a Korczak pass at the top of the left faceoff circle and leaned into a slap shot that beat Gauther over the blocker.
The goal triggered Kelowna’s Teddy Bear Toss celebrations. Kelowna had plenty of chances, but nothing beat Gauthier. P.G. was kept from Kelowna’s end most of the period. The Cougars had a couple of isolated chances, often thanks to turnovers behind the Kelowna net.
Any control the Rockets had in the first was erased in the second, despite an early goal.
Comrie, who was very good in the first period, was rewarded a minute into the second. He took a drop pass from Mark Liwiski and beat Gauthier from the high slot to double Kelowna’s lead.
The Kelowna defence on the whole has elevated its game in the last six games, in which the Rockets have five wins and a shootout loss.
They’ll be tested even further heading on the road next week.
“We’re going to be playing a simple game,” Comrie said. “We’re going to be missing some offensive pieces, but we’re a really deep team, so I think our other guys will do the job, too.”
As good as their game was against Prince George through the first half, however, P.G. seemed to wake up for the second half. The Cougars really got to work after Liwiski took a boarding penalty midway through the second.
Ethan Browne spotted Maser with position in front of Basran, and more bounced the puck off his teammate than passed it to him for a power-play goal (P.G. went 1 for 3 on Saturday).
Less than three minutes later, Mitchell Kohner charged into the Kelowna end and fired a shot on Basran. Bowie raced in behind the play and cleaned up a juicy rebound, and suddenly it was 2-2.
Leif Mattson took a cross-checking penalty late in the second to stall Kelowna’s progress.
But as much as P.G. earned some puck luck, it was the Rockets who got a fortunate bounce in the third.
Cougars defenceman Ethan Samson tried to clear the puck, but shot it over the glass for a delay of game penalty.
Twenty seconds into the power play, Foote one-timed a Korczak pass into the top corner. It was a goal Gauthier would rather forget. Foote scored from along the boards at the top of the left faceoff circle. There was barely a screen in front.
That unfortunate penalty turned the tide, Cougars coach Mark Lamb said afterward. P.G. took three minor penalties in the final frame.
He said he’s lost count of how one-goal games the Cougars have played this season, but estimated it was 16 (it’s actually 12). When your team is that close, any mistake is magnified.
“I didn’t like our first,” said Lamb. “In the third period, it’s a game, and then we get into penalty trouble. … We don’t score a lot of goals. We can’t take penalties in the third period like that.”
AFTERBURNERS — The three stars were Foote, Korczak and Maser. … F Alex Swetlkoff was named Kelowna’s player of the month for November. … Kelowna scratched F Kindree (shoulder, 4-6 weeks), F Kyle Topping (LBI, 9-15 weeks), F Pavel Novak (suspension), and D Cayde Augustine. … Kelowna recalled F Deegan Mofford from the West Kelowna Warriors for one game. ... PG F Nikita Krivokrasov is the son of erstwhile NHLer, Sergei (Chicago, Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim). … The WHL honoured referee Steve Papp for officiating his 650th game. In 14 seasons, he’s officiated six WHL finals, two Memorial Cups, the 2014 World Juniors and more. … It took nine minutes 20 seconds to clean up five pickups worth of stuffed animals tossed onto the ice. The Rockets are to donate them to Kelowna General Hospital Sunday. … The 50-50 was $7,587.50. … The Rockets leave early next week for games in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Brandon, Winnipeg, Regina and Moose Jaw. Kelowna returns home Dec. 18 to play Vancouver.