Given how few healthy bodies the Kelowna Rockets have, Saturday night’s 7-2 loss to the Kamloops Blazers was stunning for its audacity. The WHL game degraded into a farce better reserved for bad Hollywood movies than modern hockey.
That Kelowna was already missing five regulars — and the remaining players decided to drop the gloves with such frequency — should prove to everyone that the Rockets are sick of being taken advantage of, head coach Adam Foote said after the game.
The teams combined for 18 fighting majors and 11 misconduct penalties in the final five minutes. With 2:14 to play, all 12 players — with goalies Roman Basran of the Rockets and Dylan Garand of the Blazers at centre ice — were fighting.
It seemed that every ensuing faceoff led to another fight.
Foote said his players were caught in a no-win situation: the Rockets felt the officials missed penalties that put them into dangerous situations, and then watched the Blazers laughing as the first power-play line scored four times.
“Our guys probably, I think, just got fed up with the way it was going,” Foote said.
Kelowna started the game without captain Nolan Foote, who was injured in a 4-1 loss on Friday night to the Blazers in Kamloops. There’s no word on his return or his injury.
They also lost Trevor Wong to an injury to go along with three other regulars that were already on the shelf.
It left Kelowna to call up 15-year-old Rilen Kovacevic for the game and ask 16-year-old defenceman Noah Dorey to play forward.
Despite allowing the first goal, and leading just 3-2 late in the second, Kamloops feasted on the young lineup.
Josh Pillar, shorthanded and on the power play, Logan Stankoven, Ryley Appelt, Zane Franklin, Connor Zary and Orrin Centazzo scored for Kamloops. Garand made 22 saves for the Blazers.
Alex Swetlkoff and Jonas Peterek — playing his first Kelowna game since being traded from Calgary on Friday — scored for Kelowna while Cole Schwebius faced 27 shots through two periods before being replaced. Basran came into the game to start the third and made 14 saves on 15 shots.
The Blazers were 4 for 8 on the power play while outshooting Kelowna 43-25. Kelowna was scoreless in three power-play chances.
Foote said he thought his team was holding its own against the first-place Blazers when Liam Kindree was thrown into the boards.
Kaedan Korczak jumped in to defend his teammate at 12:49 of the second, and was sent off for roughing along with Appelt for boarding.
The coach said he thought that precipitated much of the shenanigans at the end of the game.
But he also said after Kelowna’s Pavel Novak was suspended eight games for a check-from-behind on the Blazers’ Kyrell Sopotyk on Nov. 11, the Rockets have watched numerous similar calls go nearly unpunished.
“The league’s got to take a hard look at how their refs are letting it get out of control,” Foote said. “I talked to a league official before the game. I said, ‘They’ve let three hitting from behinds go, and they let 23 (Appelt) board a guy.’ They call the right call there to control the game … Our guys, I never promote that stuff, but I think they just got fed up.”
Kelowna’s Matthew Wedman and Franklin started fight night at 15:18 of the third, and both were ejected. Two minutes later, Kelowna’s Dallon Wilton and Montana Onyebuchi dropped the gloves.
Thirty seconds after that, the line brawl erupted. Appelt and Tyson Feist, another new Rocket acquired at the trade deadline, squared off after the next whistle before Rockets forwards Ethan Ernst and Jake Poole decided to end the game by fighting Blazers Brodi Stuart and Matthew Seminoff.
Wedman didn’t blame everything on perceived missed calls, even saying the Rockets “were shooting themselves in the foot” at times.
“Fighting is part of the game, and it’s a way to settle the score,” Wedman said. “You never want to see it, but it happens. You’ve got to stick up for your teammates.”
The win widens the 26-11-2-1 Blazers’ lead atop the B.C. Division. Third-place Kelowna (21-17-1-2) has now lost two straight.
Kamloops coach Shaun Clouston happily admitted his club was happy to be leaving Kelowna.
“It was a hard-fought game,” he said. “Obviously the emotions and tempers got high and kind of boiled over. … It’s pretty obvious to people who watched. I’m just going to leave it at that. I don’t think it was a penalty. I don’t think it was anything like that.
“We played hard. The guys played well. We went on the road and won a hockey game. That’s the most important thing.”
Kelowna should’ve opened the scoring shorthanded five minutes into the game. With Elias Carmichael off for tripping, Dillon Hamaliuk created a turnover near centre ice. He charged down the left wing before feeding Wedman alone on the right side. Wedman had as close to an open net as possible, but Garand stretched post-to-post and stoned the big Kelowna forward.
Conner McDonald and Peterek showed them how it’s done two minutes later, however.
McDonald’s pass deserves highlight of the night consideration. He took the puck at the left wing and zipped it across the ice through two Blazers where Peterek deflected it past Garand from the high slot.
In case Kelowna needed reminding it can’t get into penalty trouble against Kamloops, the Blazers tied it midway through the first period. Franklin held the puck deep into Kelowna territory before feeding Centazzo in the slot. The high-scoring Blazer forward had all day to pick his spot over Schwebius’ shoulder.
Kamloops took the lead three minutes before intermission thanks to Pillar’s shorthanded goal. He created a turnover at his blue line and charged the length of the ice, deking backhand to take a 2-1 lead after one.
Zary made it 3-1 five minutes into the second, cleaning up a rebound with Kelowna struggling to clear the zone. Zary had position at the right post when a shot skipped off Schwebius right to him.
Zary double-clutched to gain room in tight and scored on a wrist shot.
Swetlikoff pulled one back for Kelowna at 15:34 of the second. After a Blazers defenceman blew a tire in his own zone, Pavel Novak knifed in, carried it deep and passed across to Swetlikoff at the far post. He one-timed it to draw within won.
But for every step forward, the Rockets took two backward.
Swetlikoff and Kaedan Korczak followed each other to the box in the final 3 ½ minutes of the second.
Franklin scored on a snap-shot from Schwebius’ right and Pillar fluffed on a one-timer from the goal line only to watch it flutter off the goalie’s skate for a 5-2 Blazers lead.
Appelt piled on eight minutes into the third. He took the puck at the point, glided into the high slot and beat Basran cleanly with a wrist shot to make it 6-2.
Stankoven scored a late power-play goal the officials missed, but replay called down to alert refs they needed to take another look.
Kelowna is back in action next weekend when they face the Seattle Thunderbirds and Portland Winterhawks (twice) on the road.
Who is in the lineup will depend on the fallout from Saturday’s circus.
AFTERBURNERS — Sean Comrie (UBI, 1-3 weeks), Trevor Wong, Mark Liwiski (upper body, day-to-day), Kyle Topping (LBI, 2 weeks), and Nolan Foote. … Kelowna called in Kovacevic from the Okanagan Rockets for his first WHL game. He played on a makeshift fourth line with Dorey and Poole. … The 50-50 was $8,352. … The three stars were Zary, Max Martin and Hamaliuk.