By Larry Fisher
The Daily Courier
Brett Bulmer’s natural hat-trick might have been more memorable to the fans in the stands. But, make no mistake, Mitchell Chapman’s Gordie Howe hat trick left an equally big impression on the players in the Kelowna Rockets’ dressing room.
Bulmer scored three straight goals in the second period, while Chapman ground out the first rare feat of his WHL career — goal, assist and fight — through 40 minutes, as the Kelowna Rockets rolled to a 5-2 victory over the visiting Spokane Chiefs at Prospera Place on Wednesday night.
With the win, Kelowna (15-19-2-3) avenged a 4-1 loss to the same Chiefs (17-13-2-3) last Tuesday, halted a three-game losing skid and gained two valuable points in Western Conference standings ahead of a six-game road trip that starts with a double dip in Victoria on Friday and Saturday.
There, the sixth-place Rockets will face the eighth-seeded Royals (13-23-2-2), with five rather than three points separating the two B.C. Division rivals.
“Tonight, we took steps in the right direction,” said Rockets acting head coach Dan Lambert, following his final game in charge before Ryan Huska returns from his stint as an assistant coach with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. “We did a lot of great things tonight, but it’s one game and now we need to go to Victoria and do a job there because they are another team that’s had our number.”
Kelowna was winless in two tries against the Chiefs prior to Wednesday, also falling 5-1 at Spokane on Oct. 8. But Chapman was a man possessed in the first period, more than fulfilling his leadership role as an assistant captain in ensuring history wouldn’t repeat itself.
A veteran defenceman known more for physicality than offensive prowess, Chapman flashed a bit of both in the early going. He opened the scoring just two minutes 38 seconds into the contest when his point shot found its way through a screen and the five-hole of Chiefs goalie Eric Williams. Then, midway through the opening frame with Kelowna still leading 1-0, Chapman squared off after a whistle with Chiefs captain Darren Kramer, last season’s penalty-minute and fighting-major leader. Chapman more than held his own in the spirited scrap, drawing cheers and perhaps earning the decision with a late punch that sent Kramer’s helmet sailing.
“Mitchell had a strong game for us,” Lambert said of the second star, behind Bulmer. “When Mitchell’s on his game, he can do a lot of different things. Scoring isn’t usually one of the things he does, but when you get pucks on net and you got traffic, good things happen and that was an example of that. He was physical and he had to drop the gloves at one point, and that probably was important for our team. It was great for Chappy to step up, that’s not an easy thing to do, but he did it and it really helped us out.”
Chapman’s not one to keep track of personal statistics, perhaps because there’s not a lot to track with only three goals and nine points, plus 80 penalty minutes, in 38 games this season. But he was quick to note this was his second two-point performance, after confirming his first Gordie Howe hat trick.
“I’m pretty pumped about that,” Chapman said. “It’s always nice for me when positive things like that happen. I’m not a guy who’s very skilled. I try to step up when the team needs it and do whatever I can to help the boys on the ice.”
After Spokane drew even on a goal from 16-year-old defenceman Jason Fram at 15:43, Chapman came close to restoring Kelowna’s lead. He uncharacteristically jumped into the rush and wound up with the puck on his stick at the top of the crease, but Williams got a toe on that well-placed shot to keep it tied through 20 minutes.
Colton Heffley put Kelowna ahead 2-1 with a power-play marker early in the second period, before Bulmer took the game over in flashing his all-world skill-set.
Another of Kelowna’s assistant captains, who started this season with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and almost cracked Canada’s world-junior roster, Bulmer netted back-to-back-to-back highlight-reel goals to blow the game open at 5-1.
“Brett’s a special player,” Lambert said. “When he gets opportunities to score, he can bury it. He showed us what he can do . . . and, again, another 19-year-old that steps up and does a good job for us.”
Bulmer’s first was a backhand shelf job at 6:26, followed by a stick-twirling, Jaromir Jagr-esque saluting celebration. The next was a breakaway deke while being chased by a Chiefs defender that subsequently chased Williams from Spokane’s crease at 10:16. And last but not least, Bulmer patiently tucked a rebound past replacement netminder Mac Engel on a power play at 15:42.
“I just wanted to work hard and bury all my chances,” said Bulmer, who bagged his 15th, 16th and 17th goals of the campaign. “To contribute on the ice and get some excitement going for this team is huge for us because we’ve been struggling lately.”
Kramer cut the deficit to 5-2 with the lone goal of the third period, but Chapman and the Rockets got the upper hand on this night after getting outscored 11-2 in their previous three games since the Christmas break.
“Our team’s been a little shaky lately and especially losing two games to these guys already, we really needed to step up tonight and we did perfectly,” Chapman said. “The chemistry on the ice and on the bench was just great.”
And Chapman’s efforts were not lost on Bulmer, who added “He’s a huge leader for this team. It’s nice to see him chip in in all areas.”
Adam Brown, with 24 saves, including a breakaway stop on Mitch Holmberg just prior to Kramer’s goal, was the game’s third star. Williams stopped 11 of 15 Kelowna shots in his second start with Spokane since being acquired from Prince Albert on Dec. 28. Engel blocked 10 of 11 in relief for the fifth-place Chiefs, now only four points up on Kelowna.
ICE CHIPS: Kelowna scratched D Jesse Lees (Under-17 Challenge), D Madison Bowey (U-17), C Tyson Baillie (U-17), D Damon Severson (upper-body, 4 weeks), C Spencer Main (upper-body, 2-3 weeks) and RW Austin Ferguson. . . . Spokane scratched C Dominik Uher (World Junior Championship, Czech Republic), D Tanner Mort (upper-body, 1+ month) and D Connor Chartier. . . . Shane McColgan was named Kelowna’s player-of-the-month for December. He had two assists in the game, as did Zach Franko.
Rockets 5, Chiefs 2
KELOWNA — WHL Wednesday night:
1. Kelowna, Chapman 3 (Martin, McColgan) 2:38
2. Spokane, Fram 4 (Holmberg, Stewart) 15:43
Penalties — Kramer Spo, Chapman Kel (fighting), Hauptman Spo, Rigby Kel (roughing) 11:34, Smith Kel (delay-of-game) 19:02.
3. Kelowna, Heffley 3 (Smith, Vasko) 3:37 (pp)
4. Kelowna, Bulmer 15 (Franko, Chapman) 6:26
5. Kelowna, Bulmer 16 (Franko) 10:16
6. Kelowna, Bulmer 17 (Bell, McColgan) 15:42 (pp)
Penalties —Gal Spo (goaltender interference) 1:39, Johnston Kel (holding) 12:27, Baldwin Spo (kneeing) 15:27, Valcourt Spo (hooking) 18:49.
7. Spokane, Kramer 13 (Gow, Holmberg) 1:13
Penalties — Kichton Spo (checking-from-behind) 5:53, Astles Kel (interference) 13:42, Vandane Spo (checking-to-the-head) 20:00.
Shots on goal by
Spokane 5 10 11 — 26
Kelowna 9 11 6 — 26
Goal (shots-saves) — Spokane: Williams (L, 8-17-1-2)(15-11), Engel (10:16 of 2nd)(11-10); Kelowna: Brown (W, 12-16-0-1).
Power plays (goals-chances) — Spokane: 0-3; Kelowna: 2-5.
Referees — Brett Iverson, Matt Thurston. Linesmen — Wade Pateman, Alex Teichroeb.
Attendance — 6,071.