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.