The Kelowna Rockets were so sick and tired of watching other teams skirt punishment for dangerous hits — and then celebrate in the aftermath — that they took matters into their own hands.
At least that’s the official explanation for a fight-filled, 7-2 loss to the Kamloops Blazers on Saturday at Prospera Place.
The teams combined for 18 major fighting penalties, four 10-minute misconduct penalties and seven game misconducts — all in the final four minutes 42 seconds.
Overall, the officials called 204 combined penalty minutes in the game.
On Monday, the WHL handed out additional punishment. Kelowna will pay a $3,000 fine and defenceman Kaedan Korczak will sit three games; Kamloops must pay a $1,500 fine.
“This is something we’ve been attempting to eliminate in our game,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said Monday.
Korczak was suspended because he returned to the ice after being ejected.
Kelowna Rockets coach Adam Foote singled out Ryley Appelt’s boarding penalty at 12:49 of the second period for setting the tone. The Kamloops defenceman drove Liam Kindree into the wall, knocking the Rockets forward out of action for what could be another extended period.
Kindree had just returned in December from a month on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
It was a bitter pill for the Rockets to swallow, especially since their own Pavel Novak was ejected and suspended eight games earlier this season for a boarding call against the Blazers’ Kyrell Sopotyk. The refs gave Appelt two minutes on Saturday. Foote had a list of what he called dangerous hits against his players that have gone nearly unpunished all season.
“They’re laughing at us,” Foote said. “Their coach is standing on the bench playing their top power play at 6-2. If he wants to do it, then he wants to do it, but I think our guys just saw them laughing and they felt like they had to do something.
“If the ref had maybe called the right call on the boarding call on (Appelt), it probably could’ve controlled the whole thing.”
Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton backed his coach, and said the Blazers are resorting to trash talk and “yapping” too often.
“We got tired of a lot of lip service we were taking,” he said. “We don’t see that very often anymore. We don’t need that in our game anymore.”
However, Hamilton also took some blame. He said the Rockets are making life miserable for themselves. Kelowna gave up 10 power plays in a 4-1 loss to the Blazers in Kamloops on Friday.
In Saturday’s rematch, Kamloops went 4 for 8 with an extra man. Hamilton said he’s made it clear to everyone within the organization that they must be in control at all times.
“Everybody that’s at the games can see that,” he said. “That starts right at the top, from me on down, and that message has been communicated.”
Life may get worse before it gets better.
Korczak is Kelowna’s best defenceman, and he won’t play Friday against the Everett Silvertips (26-11-2-1) or Saturday and Sunday in Portland against the Winterhawks (29-6-2-3).
The Rockets were already missing regular defenceman Sean Comrie (upper-body injury, 2 weeks).
The road trip into the U.S. Division this weekend will be challenging, to say the least. Nolan Foote, the team’s captain and leading scorer, missed Saturday’s game for an undisclosed injury.
He was to see doctors on Monday.
Trevor Wong blocked a shot and is living with a bone bruise while Mark Liwiski is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
While both should play this weekend, the Rockets will now lose Kindree.
The team’s other veteran forward, Kyle Topping, is likely another two weeks away from returning after needing surgery to repair a broken ankle, although he was a full participant in Monday’s practice.
To ensure they have a full lineup, the Rockets called up Jarod Newell from the AJHL’s Camrose Kodiaks, forward Dylan Wightman (Okanagan Rockets) and goalie Cole Tisdale, also of the Kodiaks. The Rockets signed Wightman on Monday.
“I’ve never been into this many affiliated players,” Hamilton said.
There is hope, the GM said, that by this time next week, the team will look better.
“We’ve got to get through this weekend,” he said. “And then we’ll see light at the end of the tunnel. ... We’ve got to get healthy.”
AFTERBURNERS — In its midterm ranking released Monday, NHL Central Scouting ranked Novak the 89th forward for June’s draft in Montreal. It means they predict him to be a third-round pick. Novak, 17, has appeared in 33 games with Kelowna, posting 16 goals and 31 points to go along with 23 penalty minutes.