Rockets battle Royals

Kelowna Rockets forward Mark Liwiski battles for position with Victoria Royals defenceman Ralph Jarratt in front of Royals goalie Griffen Outhouse during WHL action at Prospera Place on Friday night. The Rockets lost 4-3.

If there is one thing consistent about the performance of the Kelowna Rockets this season, perhaps it has been inconsistency.

Coming off a pair of huge momentum-building wins last weekend against two of the Western Hockey League’s powerhouse teams, the Rockets dropped a 4-3 decision to the Victoria Royals at Prospera Place on Friday night.

“We had a slow start,” said Rockets head coach Adam Foote. “I thought we let in a couple we shouldn’t have. I thought we outplayed them after the first 10 minutes.

“Our players played really hard, especially our big players. It was a good game, a good fight. I liked how we played, other than the first 10 minutes.”

The Royals (24-20-1-0) built an early 2-0 lead less than four minutes into the contest.

Defenceman Scott Walford, a draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, sifted a point shot through traffic that eluded a screened James Porter at 3:39.

Just 10 seconds later, Tanner Sidaway pounced on a turnover by the Rockets in the neutral zone, gained the blue line and ripped a shot high glove past Porter.

Kelowna narrowed the gap at 7:45. Kyle Topping bulldozed his way into the Royals’ zone and took the puck hard to the net where Nolan Foote batted a rebound past Victoria goalie Griffen Outhouse. It was Foote’s team-leading 23rd tally of the season.

Early in the second stanza, Victoria regained its two-goal cushion. Kody MacDonald and Walford worked the puck to Igor Martynov, who buried a one-timer on the power play at 4:15. The assist was Walford’s 100th career point.

Both teams have been tough to reel in when leading this season.

Victoria is now 13-2 when leading after one period and 17-1 when ahead at the second intermission.

When the Rockets lead after 40 minutes, they are a stout 14-1-1-1, but only 1-19-2 when behind heading into the final frame.

Lassi Thomson breathed some life into the building with his 11th of the season, taking a pass from Leif Mattson and beating Outhouse high glove at 3:02 of third period.

Victoria answered quickly, just 32 seconds later, when Martynov banged a rebound past Porter, restoring the Royals two-goal lead and ending Porter’s night. Roman Basran came on in relief and stopped the four shots he faced.

Foote added his second of the affair — and 24th of the campaign — on the power play at 14:31 to make it close, but Victoria shut the door and claimed an important two points in the division standings.

The Rockets (19-23-3-1) are now 4-2 against Victoria this season but trail the Royals by seven points for second place in the B.C. Division. Kelowna has struggled against the other divisional foes this season, compiling a 7-15 record so far.

It does not get any easier for the Rockets as the division-leading Vancouver Giants come calling tonight. Game time is 7:05 p.m. at Prospera Place, with a rematch in Langley on Sunday at 4 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Kelowna outshot Victoria 27-21. . . . The three stars were Foote, Martynov and Walford. . . . Both teams went 1-for-2 on the power play. . . . Topping and Mattson chipped in with two assists each. . . . Porter stopped 13-of-17 shots. . . . Rockets scratched C Ted Brennan, who would have been appearing in his 100th career WHL game. . . . This weekend marks the third time this season the Rockets play three games in three nights. They do it again in early March. . . . Attendance was 4,528. Through 21 home games, average attendance is 4,728. . . . For trivia aficionados, forward Carson Miller appeared in his first game in Kelowna as a member of the Royals since being acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders on Jan. 3. While he did not hit the scoresheet, Miller is a notable part of Rockets’ league championship history. When Kelowna acquired Leon Draisaitl at the 2015 WHL trade deadline, they sent a 2017 first-round pick to the Raiders. Prince Albert selected Miller, who has appeared in 165 WHL games.