A great way to start the second half of the season this wasn’t.
After finishing the first half on a high note, posting a 5-1 road win over Saskatoon on Dec. 17 prior to the annual Christmas break, the Rockets flopped on Tuesday night, falling 4-1 to the visiting Spokane Chiefs.
Yet, at the same time, Kelowna’s result was somewhat predictable.
The Rockets were missing seven players, including three who are competing at the World Under-17 Challenge in southwestern Ontario. Though teams hate to use injuries and/or missing players as a crutch, seven is quite the roster hit. Yet, at the same time, Tuesday’s setback is in stark contrast to that Saskatoon victory.
So, the pressing question is, what gives?
That query is also stumping the Rockets’ coaching staff.
“We weren’t sharp at all,” said Rockets interim head coach Dan Lambert. “We didn’t compete very hard and we got outbattled pretty much all night. We took some weak penalties and they capitalized on a couple of them. It could have been a lot uglier had it not been for Adam Brown.”
Mitch Holmberg, with a three-point night with two goals and an assist, Marek Kalus and Collin Valcourt scored for Spokane (16-11-2-3). Reid Gow and Steven Kuhn also had two assists each. Brett Bulmer replied for Kelowna (14-17-2-3).
Mac Engel made 22 saves for the Chiefs, who led 1-0 and 3-1 at the period breaks. At the other end, Brown stopped 33 of 37 shots, including 14 in the opening period.
Spokane was 2-for-8 on the power play, while Kelowna went 0-for-5.
In regards to Kelowna’s fill-in-the-blanks roster problems, there’s not much the team can do, other than use midget call-ups and hope they help seal the cracks.
“Before we went on the (Prairie) road trip, we weren’t competing very hard at home,” Lambert said. “I didn’t think our last three games at home were very good (2-1 loss to Victoria, Dec. 2; 3-2 loss to Prince George, Dec. 3; 5-2 win over Lethbridge, Dec. 7).
“Then we go on the road and we proved that when we play and compete, we’re able to play with teams. For some reason — and I don’t know why, maybe the guys think they have to put on a show for the fans, or what — their legs just don’t move the same way as they do on the road. That’s definitely a concern, because we’re supposed to have home-ice advantage with our fans that come here in droves every night. You’d think that would be an advantage. Maybe because it’s we’re young . . . I don’t know. But, regardless, this is something that has to change.”
ICE CHIPS: Kelowna’s scratches were D Jesse Lees, D Madison Bowey and C Tyson Baillie (all at World U-17 Challenge) plus D Damon Severson, C Tyrell Goulbourne, C Spencer Main and C Colton Heffley. . . . The Chiefs had three scratches: Jason Fram, C Anthony Bardaro and C Dominik Uher (WJHC, Czech Republic). . . . Up next for Kelowna is a Thursday, 7 p.m. road game against the Tri-City Americans (27-7-0-0). . . . In other WHL action from Tuesday, Alex Kuvaev scored the shoot-out winner as Vancouver beat Kamloops 4-3. The win was Vancouver’s third in a row, a result which moved the Giants three points behind Kamloops for first place in B.C. Division standings.