By Larry Fisher
The Daily Courier
The Kelowna Rockets needed to win on Saturday night — plain and simple.
Not for the standings or the playoff picture, where they are all but assured to qualify as the Western Conference’s sixth seed — 13 points behind the fifth-place Spokane Chiefs but 16 points ahead of the seventh-and eighth-place teams, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Victoria Royals. But from a confidence and momentum standpoint, the Rockets needed those two points — not just one but both of them once Saturday’s game against the visiting Red Deer Rebels stretched to a shootout.
Marred in a five-game home losing skid and six-game overall slide, Kelowna (25-27-3-5) was on a slippery slope heading into this week’s four-game Alberta road trip. The Rockets gained a little traction, though, when Damon Severson scored in the seventh round of the tiebreaker to secure a well-deserved 4-3 victory in WHL action at Prospera Place.
That resulted in a pleasant sendoff from the capacity crowd, which remained supportive despite the Rockets suffering their worst home defeat in five seasons to start the weekend, a 7-1 beating by the Calgary Hitmen on Friday night.
“That’s one of those games you just have to forget about and put it in the past. We just wanted to move on and get back to the simple things that make us successful,” said Rockets forward Brett Bulmer, who scored twice in regulation against Red Deer and had several chances for the hat-trick goal. “We wanted to respond, obviously, at home, and I thought the crowd was really into it tonight and that helped us out a lot. It’s great to get two points going into the road trip.”
Rockets goaltender Adam Brown stopped Turner Elson on Red Deer’s final attempt in the seventh round of the shootout, only allowing one goal on seven shots in the extra session after making 28 saves through regulation and overtime. This, after Brown was beaten twice in the first period and pulled in his two previous starts against Calgary and the Eastern Conference-leading Edmonton Oil Kings, a 6-3 doubling last Wednesday.
“We showed a lot of heart tonight,” said Shane McColgan, Kelowna’s leading scorer, who also scored in Saturday’s shootout before Severson netted the winner. “We battled back (from a 2-0 first-period deficit). It was a solid effort by the whole team and Brownie came up big for us.”
Brown and the Rockets won’t have to wait long for a shot to avenge those lopsided losses, opening their Alberta tour in Edmonton (38-14-3-4) on Wednesday, followed by stops in Lethbridge (23-36-0-1), Medicine Hat (36-20-2-2) and Calgary (35-22-2-1) on the weekend.
“They’re all good teams,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “Calgary is a very good team, Edmonton is obviously a very good team and Lethbridge is a team that competes very hard now as well, and Medicine Hat is always dangerous in that building. It’s not an easy trip by any stretch of the imagination. We’re going to have to keep our game simple and work the way we did here (on Saturday).”