If you weren’t there, the statistics from Kelowna’s 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings on Wednesday night don’t paint a pretty picture. Yet, on the whole, it wasn’t that ugly of a loss.
And, believe it or not, it could have been uglier had it not been for a game effort from the home team.
Yes, it’s been a strange season for the Rockets, one filled with ups, downs and twists, such as a battered roster of late that had a hand, or lack thereof, in Wednesday’s loss. The team was missing no less than six players — seven if you count Cody Chikie, who had just returned from the injury list and wasn’t playing at 100 per cent. While injuries are part and parcel of sports, having to field a bandaged roster against one of the top teams in the league, well, you didn’t need a crystal ball to forecast the outcome.
As expected, the Oil Kings proved to be the better team, especially on the power play, with the visitors collecting four goals on five power-play chances. Notably, three of those four goals were scored with three different 16-year-old rookie Rockets sitting in the penalty box. Take away those young mistakes — not that you can, because winning in sports is predicated on mistakes — and the result suddenly looks a lot different.
Three mistakes, three goals and a three-goal margin of victory.
Factor in a healthy, older roster — Kelowna was missing a 20-year-old (Brett Lyon, sixth game of a six-game suspension), two 19-year-olds (defenceman Mitchell Chapman and centre Spencer Main) and three 18-year-olds (captain Colton Sissons, Filip Vasko and Jessey Astles) — and maybe the Rockets score a different result. Then again, maybe not, as Edmonton was consistently good over the final 40 minutes, while the Rockets have been consistently up and down.
Regardless, while I’ve roundly criticized this team for its lack of consistency this season, it can’t be criticized for losing to Edmonton, or its lack of effort. In fact, during Wednesday’s game, Oil Kings general manager Bob Green said in the press box that Kelowna, once healthy, will be a dangerous team.
While that’s a possibility, Kelowna won’t be fully healthy for some time, not with Sissons and Main out with concussions and Chapman out with an undisclosed injury. So it won’t be a fully stocked team Kelowna (24-26-3-5) will field tonight against the visiting Calgary Hitmen (33-22-2-1) and on Saturday night against the Red Deer Rebels (25-26-1-4). Both games at Prospera Place are 7 p.m. starts.
“Calgary has been one of the better teams in the league of late, and Red Deer always play tough; they like to grind it out,” said Rockets forward Zach Franko, who scored a hat trick against Edmonton with a penalty shot and two power-play goals. “Those are two good tests for us, and hopefully we get our feet going in the right direction.”
That Franko scored his ninth, 10th and 11th goals of the season didn’t surprise the team.
“You could almost sense it was coming,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “His last few games, he’s been around the net, he’s been working harder and he’s been getting some chances from inside. So I was happy for him that he was able to get the three goals; that’s a nice thing for a player to have, and he should be able to build off that confidence.”
The Rockets will need every ounce of confidence they can muster tonight. Kelowna lost 2-0 to Calgary on Jan. 1, and the Hitmen have a solid road record of 17-11-2-0. Kelowna’s home record? 12-15-0-2, including a four-game home-ice losing streak.