|Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender Calvin Pickard focuses on the puck during WHL action against the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place in Kelowna, B.C., on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Pickard made 32 saves as Seattle won 2-0.|
Calvin Pickard couldn’t help but smile. Meanwhile, Ryan Huska couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Riding a three-game winning streak, the Kelowna Rockets derailed themselves by stumbling to a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Wednesday night at Prospera Place. Pickard certainly played a major role in Kelowna’s setback, earning first-star status with a 32-save performance. Yet, at the same time, Kelowna was equally inconsistent in suffering its third shutout loss of the season.
The loss baffled Huska, who, after watching his team post an impressive win in its last outing, a 4-1 road victory over Prince George on Saturday, figured the team’s season-long consistently inconsistent ways were behind them.
“It’s guys buying in (to our plan),” said Kelowna’s head coach. “That’s the challenge that we have with our group. We seem like we’re getting the steps in the right direction, then it’s one (step) back again. We have to get back to the same things that we’ve been doing and get them to understand that the only success we’re going to have is when we play as a group.”
On Friday, the Rockets slid by Prince George 2-1, with Huska challenging his team’s youth to play better. They did, and followed suit last night. But not everyone did.
“We have some older guys in our lineup and I thought they were our worst players on the ice,” said Huska. “Our younger guys weren’t the issue tonight, I can tell you that.”
Seth Swenson and Colin Jacobs scored for Seattle (19-32-1-1), which led 2-0 midway through the third period after good-paced, but scoreless action for the first 40 minutes. Both goals were scored on the power play. The last time Seattle won was Jan. 27 in Kelowna, a 2-1 victory in which Pickard made 30 saves. The T-Birds now lead the four-game season series 2-1, with the fourth meeting set for Feb. 14 in Kent, Wash.
Asked if he’d like to play Kelowna more, Pickard, understandably happy after earning his 11th career shutout, said yes.
“That’d be fantastic. I love playing in a rink like this,” said the Winnipeg product who turns 20 in April. “The crowd is great and there’s such great tradition here. And it seems we play well here. It’s been nice.”
Kelowna (24-24-2-4) had a three-game winning streak come to an end while also suffering its first regulation-time loss in seven games (5-1-0-1). During that seven-game span, the Rockets played in three shootouts, winning all three. Jordon Cooke made 28 saves for Kelowna, which was handed its third shutout loss of the season, with all three coming on home ice.
Pickard credited Seattle’s defence in helping pitch the shutout, stating “when we’re playing well, we’re boxing out and not giving up a lot of rebounds, and that’s the key to success. That’s what we did tonight.”
“You’re not going to score goals from Pickard on the outside,” said Huska,” and that’s the way we were for most of the night.”
ICE CHIPS: Kelowna’s scratches were D Mitchell Chapman (upper-body injury), RW Filip Vasko (knee), C Spencer Main (concussion), RW Brett Lyon (2nd game of 6-game suspension) and LW Jessey Astles (upper-body injury). Seattle’s scratches were D Jared Hauf, D Evan Wardley and RW Connor Sanvido. . . . Kelowna was 0-for-5 on the power play; Seattle was 2-for-3.