Rock­ets head out on the road af­ter 4-point week­end

Rookie goalie con­tin­ues to shine as cap­tain scores game-win­ner

The Daily Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By LARRY FISHER

Don’t look now, but James Porter and the Kelowna Rock­ets are on a three-game win­ning streak.

Al­beit, just as they head out on a tough three-game road trip — start­ing Wed­nes­day in Ken­newick, Wash., with a rub­ber match against the Tri-City Amer­i­cans (9-4-2-0), who the Rock­ets beat 4-3 in over­time on Fri­day at Pros­pera Place af­ter falling 2-1 in Ken­newick on Oct. 17. That will be fol­lowed by a week­end dou­ble­header in Vic­to­ria against the B.C. Di­vi­sion-lead­ing Roy­als (124-1-0).

Still, three straight wins is an im­pres­sive feat for Kelowna (7-5-1-1) — a first for this sea­son, cul­mi­nat­ing with Satur­day’s 4-2 vic­tory over the vis­it­ing Prince Ge­orge Cougars (5-6-2-2) in front of 4,708 fans.

“That was a huge four-point week­end for us,” said Rock­ets cap­tain Cal Foote, the first star on Satur­day. “Our team needed that . . . three in a row and we’re run­ning in the right di­rec­tion right now.”

That made for a suc­cess­ful home­s­tand, win­ning three of four af­ter drop­ping a 3-1 de­ci­sion to the Port­land Win­ter­hawks last Fri­day be­fore aveng­ing that de­feat with a 7-2 blowout the next night.

The tri­umph over Tri-City snapped a six-game win­ning streak for the Amer­i­cans, who also lost 3-2 in over­time at Kam­loops on Satur­day night.

Kelowna fol­lowed up by im­prov­ing to 3-0 against the Cougars this sea­son, hav­ing pre­vi­ously scored a pair of over­time vic­to­ries in Prince Ge­orge, 7-6 and 4-3 on Oct. 6 and 7.

“We’ve been play­ing good for the past three games and it’s def­i­nitely show­ing,” said Porter, the sec­ond star in mak­ing his fifth straight start as a 17-year-old rookie goal­tender. “We’ve been work­ing hard as a team and our chem­istry has been go­ing up. We’re feel­ing good about our game right now.”

That much was ev­i­dent in their play from the crease out, and the Rock­ets will be tak­ing plenty of pos­i­tive mo­men­tum on the road as the cal­en­dar turns to Novem­ber.

What a dif­fer­ence a week makes — re­mem­ber, this is a team that had lost five in a row and four straight at home prior to thump­ing Port­land, which had won three con­sec­u­tive games against the Rock­ets and ar­rived in Kelowna as the CHL’s top-ranked club.

“It’s im­por­tant, just to stop the slide we were on,” Rock­ets head coach Ja­son Smith said of the re­cent suc­cess, a turn­around sparked by Porter’s per­for­mances be­tween the pipes. “We had some stretches of games where we weren’t as good as we need to be, and I don’t think we played as well as we need to tonight, but we were able to win the game. “We just have to keep get­ting bet­ter as a group.”

Leif Matt­son, with his third goal in as many games, Kyle Top­ping, with his sev­enth of the sea­son on a night he was named Kelowna’s player of the month for Oc­to­ber, Cal Foote, with his fourth stand­ing up as the game-win­ner, and Carsen Twaryn­ski, with his team­lead­ing ninth and his sixth over the course of this win­ning streak, sup­plied the of­fence for Kelowna.

At the other end, Porter was the dif­fer­ence again. He stopped a penalty shot with the game tied 1-1 in the sec­ond pe­riod and pre­served the win by turn­ing aside another short­handed break­away with three min­utes re­main­ing in reg­u­la­tion.

“I’m feel­ing good, just got to keep it up,” Porter said. “Keep mak­ing the big saves and the key saves for our team.”

Vladislav Mikhalchuk, with an equal­izer late in the first pe­riod, and Josh Maser, to pull Prince Ge­orge within one early in the third pe­riod, replied for the Cougars, who got 26 saves from Tay­lor Gau­thier.

Porter pre­vailed in the bat­tle of first-year net­min­ders, fin­ish­ing with 27 stops.

“He’s come up huge for us a num­ber of times, even when we weren’t win­ning. He’s been awe­some and he con­tin­ues to step up ev­ery night,” Cal Foote said of Porter, who has taken over the starter role for Kelowna — at least tem­po­rar­ily — since in­cum­bent Bro­dan Sal­mond fal­tered and then left the team to have an in­jury as­sessed back home in Cal­gary.

Sal­mond re­turned to the fold for the week­end, but the Rock­ets stuck with the hot hand in Porter. Sal­mond served as backup both nights, though Smith was re­luc­tant to de­clare Porter the new No. 1.

“It’s a process. He’s a young kid and ob­vi­ously Bro­dan has been out with an in­jury and took some time, but he’s back now and he’s worked hard in prac­tice,” Smith said. “We’ll move for­ward and we’ll see where we’re at, and we’ll make de­ci­sions as we go.”

Porter was sharp early against Prince Ge­orge in an evenly-played first pe­riod, stop­ping Cole Moberg in all alone at 2:40 and then deny­ing Kelowna prod­uct Max Kryski of a qual­ity chance at 6:30. Kryski, a 17-year-old rookie left-winger, is the younger brother of for­mer Rock­ets for­ward Jake Kryski.

Af­ter Dil­lon Dube hit the post on Kelowna’s first power play, Matt­son opened the scor­ing for the Rock­ets on a de­layed penalty, fend­ing off a slash on a par­tial break­away and slip­ping the puck be­tween Gau­thier’s legs at 12:13.

The Cougars re­sponded in the fi­nal minute of the open­ing frame, with Mikhalchuk de­posit­ing a re­bound off the rush at 19:25 af­ter Porter stopped the ini­tial shot by Bro­gan O’Brien — a for­mer Rock­ets’ prospect and ban­tam draft pick from 2012 who is now an over-ager in the WHL.

Porter shook that off in the in­ter­mis­sion and stoned O’Brien on the afore­men­tioned penalty shot at 5:23 of the sec­ond pe­riod, kick­ing out his left pad to foil a fancy deke at­tempt.

“I went down a lit­tle too early and he had me, so I knew I had to do some­thing. It worked out well,” Porter said of the game’s turn­ing point.

The Rock­ets surged thanks to that save, with Top­ping pounc­ing on a re­bound of Nolan Foote’s shot for the go-ahead goal at 9:04. Kelowna’s lead­ing scorer Kole Lind started that se­quence by cir­cling Prince Ge­orge’s net and cen­ter­ing for Foote, whose shot was stopped by Gau­thier with the re­bound squirt­ing out to Top­ping at the far post.

Then, at 18:58, the Rock­ets got a late goal from Cal Foote to make it 3-1 through 40 min­utes. Jack Cow­ell made a ter­rific feed to Kelowna’s top blue­liner and he did the rest — fak­ing a slap­shot, step­ping around a de­fender and fir­ing a wris­ter that eluded a screened Gau­thier.

Cal Foote was quick to credit as­sis­tant coach Kris Mal­lette for the ad­vice in that sit­u­a­tion.

“He told me to fake and shoot short-side,” Cal Foote re­vealed. “I just tried to get a shot on net and it found its way.

“What­ever shot it is, it’s im­por­tant to get it on net,” he added. “Maybe at those times, the wris­ter is a lit­tle bit quicker. It’s just a faster shot (to get off), and with the traf­fic, good things can hap­pen.”

Maser cut the deficit to 3-2 at 3:19 of the third pe­riod, redi­rect­ing O’Brien’s shot in front of Porter on P.G.’s first full power play of the night.

Con­ner Bruggen-Cate came close to restor­ing Kelowna’s two-goal lead at the seven-minute mark, blast­ing a shot off the post on an odd-man rush. How­ever, he took a hold­ing penalty in the of­fen­sive zone on his next shift, at 10:38, which made for a tense cou­ple min­utes.

For­tu­nately for Kelowna, the Foote brothers com­bined to kill it off, with Cal sacri­fic­ing his body to block a shot and Nolan later win­ning a board bat­tle to clear the puck.

Then, with Kelowna on its fifth power play but Prince Ge­orge prov­ing dan­ger­ous while short­handed all game long, Porter was forced to stop another break­away as Kody McDon­ald came streak­ing in from cen­tre ice. He also opted for a deke, but Porter stretched out to make the clutch save.

“They got three or four (short­handed) break­aways and we made a mis­take on ev­ery one of them, that al­lowed the break­away,” Smith said. “Ob­vi­ously James did a great job in net and they didn’t score, but we need to be bet­ter . . . .

“(Porter’s) played well. From the be­gin­ning, we’ve talked about com­pet­ing and mak­ing saves at the right time and giv­ing us a chance to win games. That’s what he did here tonight again.”

Mo­ments later, on the same man ad­van­tage, Bray­dyn Chizen hit Kelowna’s third post of the game on a point shot through a maze of bod­ies.

Seem­ingly not get­ting any luck, Twaryn­ski’s fin­ish­ing touch was fluky in Kelowna’s favour, with the over-age for­ward sim­ply try­ing to dis­rupt a neu­tral-zone pass when the puck changed course af­ter con­tact­ing his stick blade and drifted into Prince Ge­orge’s empty net at 18:32 — shortly af­ter Gau­thier headed to the bench for an ex­tra at­tacker.

“I don’t think we played a full com­plete game and our power play failed to ex­e­cute at the level we want it to, Smith said, “but it’s nice to fin­ish off the home­s­tand with a win, and now we’ll look for­ward to go­ing and play­ing on the road.”

“It’s go­ing to be a big game again (on Wed­nes­day),” Porter added. “We’re go­ing to have to come ready to play and just bring the same things we’ve been bring­ing for the past three games here.”

ICE CHIPS: Kelowna scratched G Ro­man Bas­ran (af­fil­i­ated player), RHD Kelvin Hair, RHD Kon­rad Bel­court, C Ted Bren­nan, LW Wil Kush­niryk and LW Colum McGauley . . . . Prior to puck drop, Top­ping was gifted a new suit from MacDer­mott’s for earn­ing the monthly award. Com­ing into Satur­day, Top­ping had 12 points (four goals, eight as­sists) in 10 Oc­to­ber games. He has been cen­ter­ing Lind and Nolan Foote among Kelowna’s top-six for­wards. The other go-to line has fea­tured Dube be­tween Twaryn­ski and Matt­son since the lat­ter re­turned from in­jury four games ago . . . . Twaryn­ski also scored twice, in­clud­ing the OT win­ner, on Fri­day against Tri-City af­ter net­ting a hat trick in rout­ing Port­land the pre­vi­ous Satur­day . . . . O’Brien as­sisted on both Prince Ge­orge goals and was named the game’s third star.


Kelowna Rock­ets cap­tain Cal Foote cel­e­brates his sec­ond-pe­riod goal against the Prince Ge­orge Cougars dur­ing WHL ac­tion at Pros­pera Place on Satur­day night.The Rock­ets won 4-2.



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