Nolan Foote scored twice, once in the shootout, and added two assists as the Kelowna Rockets upset the Prince Albert Raiders 4-3 on Saturday in front of 5,204 thoroughly entertained junior hockey supporters at Prospera Place.
It was a hard night for Foote, who now leads the Rockets with 22 goals. The 18-year-old was a frequent target as the Raiders made a point to bump and grind on the six-foot-three, 188-pound forward from start to finish.
“I’m fine with that,” said Foote, who was visibly elated with the outcome. “I think it’s a good thing to have a target on my back. It was a fun game to play in and I’m glad they (Raiders) played hard. I thought I played through the hits and it was a good game.”
The Raiders (39-5-2) are the Western Hockey League’s top team. The win came one day after Kelowna defeated the Everett Silvertips 2-0 on Friday; the ’Tips are the WHL’s second-best team. Any hope of two straight shutouts, however, ended early.
Prince Albert pounced on the hosts, producing pressure early. Aliaksei Protas, from Belarus, opened the scoring at 4:51 when he chipped a loose puck over Rockets starter Roman Basran for his ninth of the season.
The Rockets (19-22-3-1) responded at 12:36 when Kyle Topping muscled his way to the net and swiped the puck with one hand past Raiders goalie Ian Scott. Four minutes later, Topping created a loose puck for Foote, who wired his 22nd of the campaign past a stunned Scott to give Kelowna the lead after 20 minutes.
Prince Albert tied the tilt at 1:42 of the second stanza when Dante Hannoun beat Basran cleanly glove side.
The 20-year-old Hannoun is undoubtedly comfortable on the ice at Prospera Place. Acquired by the Raiders from the Victoria Royals on Jan. 3, the five-foot-six, 160-pound whirling dervish from Delta is a savvy veteran of well over 300 WHL games. The majority have been played against B.C. Division rivals. Hannoun, who also added an assist, was clearly the best Raiders forward on the night.
Parker Kelly, who is signed by the Ottawa Senators, put Prince Albert ahead at 7:52 of the final frame, setting the stage for perhaps the best half-period of hockey produced at Prospera Place this season.
With the teams each playing a man short, Lassi Thomson took a feed from Foote inside the Raiders blue line, waited for an opening then rifled a shot high glove past Scott at 14:51. Basran, who alertly head-manned the puck to Foote, earned an assist on the tally that sent the building onto an absolute frenzy.
As the clock ticked down, head coach Adam Foote and his staff took advantage of rather a unique luxury, which in part enabled the team to protect a valuable point in the standings.
With Dalton Gally and newcomers Schael Higson and Matt Barberis in the lineup, Kelowna was able to rotate in three 20-year-old defencemen during the late going.
“It was real calming,” the head coach said of his veteran group. “They’re all buying into the role. Those guys have been around and all three are smart to communicate with the coaching staff. They’re great leaders.”
The Rockets outshot the Raiders 4-1 in overtime, but it didn’t matter.
In the shootout, Nolan Foote was Kelowna’s second shooter. Inexplicably, he almost blew a tire after crossing the blue line but managed to reset and sneak a shot past Scott. The Raiders could not solve Basran and the Rockets earned the win along with a crucial extra point in the race for a post-season berth.
“I’m proud of the team,” Foote said after potting the game-winner. “I mean, to come out and beat Everett last night and get back late and play I think our best game of the year against the number one team, it’s a huge achievement and I think it’s well deserved.
“Every guy in there played unbelievable. I’m just so proud of everyone.”
Ice Chips: With the two unlikely victories on the weekend, the Rockets are now seven points ahead of both Kamloops and Prince George in the division standings… The Raiders outshot Kelowna 33-30... Three stars were Foote, Basran and Hannoun… The Rockets went 1-for-3 on the power play. Raiders were 0-for-4… Rockets scratched D Cayde Augustine… Next home game is Friday when the Victoria Royals come calling. Game time is 7 p.m.… Kaedan Korczak, Foote and Thomson have left Kelowna for Red Deer, Alta., where the trio will participate in the CHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday night. Adam Foote confirmed he will be able attend, in his familiar role as a “hockey dad.” The game will be televised on Sportsnet… Prior to puck drop, the Rockets honoured alumni Josh Gorges. The 34-year-old from Kelowna announced his retirement from the National Hockey League earlier this week. The assembled were treated to a host of video messages from Gorges’ former teammates while the Raiders current coaching staff also looked on. Prince Albert head coach Marc Habscheid and assistant Jeff Truitt were part of the 2004 Memorial Cup team, which was captained by Gorges.