Pavel Novak was five minutes from finishing another great game Friday night when he ran into Thunderbirds’ tough guy Cade McNelly — hard.
The Seattle defenceman caught the Kelowna Rockets rookie — and leading scorer — high with a blindside hit at centre ice.
Novak popped up, but went straight to the dressing room and missed the final buzzer on Kelowna’s 6-0 win over the Thunderbirds in front of 4,733 fans at Prospera Place.
The good news, Novak wasn’t permanently damaged and is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Rockets host the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“He’s fine,” Kelowna coach Kris Mallette said. “A hard hit by a big guy and he lost his wind a little bit.”
To add insult to injury (almost), Novak couldn’t accept first-star honours after the game. He left Kyle Topping to pick up his gift during post-game celebrations.
“You never want to see that,” Topping said of the collision. “Especially on a mean-nothing, third-period shift. It’s unfortunate, but I think he’s looking OK. It’s not nice to see that, ever.”
Before he left the game, Novak scored twice and added an assist. Alex Swetlikoff, Devin Steffler, Ethan Ernst and Matthew Wedman scored singles. Topping, the second star, had three assists while Conner McDonald and Kaedan Korczak each had two. Roman Basran made 19 saves for his second shutout this season; he was the third star.
Seattle’s Roddy Ross allowed five goals on 14 shots and was pulled at 14:18 of the second period — after Swetlikoff made it 5-0. Rookie Blake Lyda came into the game and made seven saves.
Seattle right-winger Keltie Jeri-Leon, a Kelowna native, said his club needs to forget Friday’s result as soon as possible. The Thunderbirds face another difficult road game tonight in Everett against the Silvertips.
He said a string of penalties in the second period was Seattle’s undoing.
“It kind of took the life out of us a bit,” he said. “But we’re the type of team with a lot of character. We should be able to bounce back from that. I think we will (tonight), for sure.”
The win snapped a two-game slide for the Rockets (28-27-3-3) with seven games to play in the regular season. Seattle (23-31-4-3) was sloppy in its own end and never got going. The T’Birds have now lost four straight.
The two points also guaranteed Kelowna a playoff berth. The Rockets are now seven points back of both the Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals in the B.C. Division standings.
If they keep playing like they did Friday, the Rockets stand a chance of improving their lot.
Wedman is certainly playing at a different level.
With a man on his back, he circled behind Ross into the left faceoff circle 4 ½ minutes into the game. He slammed on the brakes, turned and fired a puck on net. It caught Ross by surprise, and may have banked into the net off his leg pad for a 1-0 Kelowna lead.
Ernst made it 2-0 about 10 minutes later on a carbon copy play. He, too, circled behind Ross into the left dot. With no defenders pressing him, he had time to turn and pick his spot over Ross’s right shoulder.
Novak made it 3-0 on a two-man power play six minutes into the second period.
Conner McDonald set him up with a one-timer from — where else? — the left faceoff circle.
The rout was on just before the 13-minute mark with two goals in 74 seconds.
Steffler scored his first of the season when he whipped a wrist shot from the left point that went straight into the net with Trevor Wong providing the screen.
Swetlikoff cut from the right wing into the high slot and sniped a snap shot over Ross’s left shoulder for a 5-0 lead at 14:18.
That spelled the end of Ross’s night.
The Rockets finally got more from the power play. They scored once on three chances in the second period (they finished 1-for-4). Seattle was shorthanded — twice by two men — from 4:27 to 7:01 of the middle frame. The T’Birds went 0-for-2 with the extra man.
Kelowna gave Lyda time to acclimatized, but finally put one past him 5 ½ minutes into the third. Novak was camped out in front and tried to redirect a Topping pass. It went off his leg past Lyda to make it 6-0.
Rockets pay tribute to Evans
Don Evans, a longtime president of Kelowna Minor Hockey who helped spearhead the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League, died Feb. 29 following an acute respiratory illness. He was 75.
Evans was the first former player to lead KMHA, a post he held from 1994-2004. He began coaching and managing following his four seasons with the Kelowna Buckaroos.
Evans also helped establish deeper minor hockey tiers to ensure the youngest and oldest KMHA players had a place to play. Evans was also a proponent of better-trained officials.
Evans is survived by ex-wife Rose Evans, sons Jordan and Sean and five grandchildren.
A celebration of life is scheduled for March 14, 2 p.m., at Rutland Centennial Hall.