Kelowna Rockets take on Tri-City Americans tonight at Prospera Place
Important as it was impressive, the Kelowna Rockets may have turned a corner on Friday night by earning their second win of the season, hanging on for a 3-2 victory over the Tri-City Americans on the road in Kennewick, Wash.
Following it up with another strong outing in tonight’s rematch at Prospera Place — puck-drop is 7:05 p.m. — would go a long way in righting the ship after the Rockets (2-8-0-0) got off to their worst start in franchise history.
Perhaps sparked by a couple of trades this week — sending the message that roster spots are no longer safe — and surely motivated to face Tri-City for the first time since the Americans swept the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs back in March, Kelowna jumped out to a 2-0 lead and played from ahead throughout.
The Rockets were full marks for this effort and deserving of the result after outshooting the hosts in every period for a 37-22 overall advantage.
Kelowna got goals from Dallon Wilton, with the first of his WHL career to open the scoring, Libor Zabransky, with his first of the season, and Kyle Topping, with his third of the campaign making it 3-1 at 5:30 of the third period and standing up as the game-winner.
Roman Basran made 20 saves for his first win of the season, a solid performance that included a few late stops when Tri-City pulled its goaltender for an extra attacker and a two-man advantage after Zabransky was penalized for holding with 1:45 remaining in regulation.
Erik Gardiner blocked a shot in the final minute and Kelowna’s penalty-killers got the job done in front of Basran to halt a four-game losing skid.
Now, the Rockets will aim for their first home win of the season after an 0-5 start at Prospera Place that included a wild 9-6 loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Wednesday.
Kelowna’s only other victory came in Prince George on Sept. 29, a 5-2 win that was followed by a 5-0 shutout loss at home to the Vancouver Giants on Oct. 3 — the same day that the Rockets were awarded hosting rights for the 2020 Memorial Cup to end next season.
The Americans (3-3-0-0) fell to .500 with Friday’s loss. Tri-City got goals from Isaac Johnson, with his third of the season and second power-play marker of the campaign, and Blake Stevenson, with the first of his WHL career to match Wilton’s milestone.
Goaltender Beck Warm finished with 34 saves in defeat.
ICE CHIPS: Kelowna scratched over-age RW Lane Zablocki (lower-body, 10 days), over-age RW Ryan Bowen, RW Michael Farren, LW Wil Kushniryk, RHD Devin Steffler and LHD Kyle Pow . . . . Over-age LHD Dalton Gally made his Rockets debut, pairing with Lassi Thomson after being acquired from the Medicine Hat Tigers on Wednesday for a 10th-round pick in the 2020 bantam draft . . . . Farren, the most recent trade addition, is expected to debut tonight after arriving in Kelowna on Friday. The Rockets landed Farren on Thursday from the Saskatoon Blades for a third-round pick in 2020.