(Kelowna, British Columbia) Friday evening marked the 50th game of the season for the Portland Winterhawks (36-7-3-4) and Kelowna Rockets (23-24-1-2).
The teams dropped the puck for the third time this season and first at Prospera Place. Both teams entered the night looking to snap three-game losing streaks.
Portland got back in the win column thanks to a 7-3 victory.
Jaydon Dureau commented after the game saying, “We were struggling a bit there and weren’t capitalizing in overtime or shootouts these last few games. It feels great to be back in that win column and get the two points.”
Seth Jarvis led the way for the Winterhawks with two goals and one assist.
Portland jumped out to a fast start scoring on three of its first four shots.
Jack O’Brien made a heads up play at the blue line waiting to touch the puck until after he touched up on what would have been an offside call. Once outside of the zone, the 16-year-old rookie poked the puck ahead to Jarvis.
Jarvis, the reigning WHL Player of the Month, dodged a Roman Basran poke check and tucked the puck in on his backhand for his 27th goal of the season.
“We are all buying and doing all the little things right to put the puck in the net,” Dureau said about his line’s performance on Friday. “I think everyone is determined right now that we should be winning these games and what we are capable of.”
A few minutes later, another 16-year-old rookie for Mike Johnston’s Winterhawks drew a penalty in the offensive zone, sending Portland’s power play to the ice.
As successful as the Winterhawks power play has been of late — a goal in six straight games entering the night — the Rockets penalty kill has been in a funk.
In two games against the Spokane Chiefs last weekend, Kelowna allowed eight power-play goals on 15 attempts.
Jaydon Dureau made it 9-of-16 when he beat Basran low to the glove side after toe-dragging around a defender at the top of the circles.
Dureau and Jarvis have been a dominant duo of late, and they connected again for the third goal of the game. While Dureau’s attempt at a wraparound missed, the puck ended up being a perfect pass to Jarvis.
The 2020 NHL Draft top prospect was waiting alone to the right of the net and simply tapped in the puck for his second of the period.
Rockets head coach Adam Foote replaced Basran with Cole Schwebius after Portland scored on three of its first four shots.
With under three minutes to play in the opening period, a turnover by the Winterhawks in their own end led to a scramble play in front of netminder Hofer. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, native stopped the first couple of attempts before the puck popped out to the slot. Kaedan Korczak whistled home his ninth goal of the season.
27 seconds later the Rockets got within one, again on a shot by Korczak. This time Hofer made the initial save, but Ethan Ernst was ready for the rebound and scored his third goal of the season and second against the Winterhawks.
Despite giving up two goals in quick succession, Dureau expressed, “You have to respect every team in this league. The game is never over until the 60 minutes is all done. They pushed back and we stood together and stood strong. I think we brought ourselves together and said, ‘just relax, we are still playing well, get it going here.’ We then just took off from there.”
Five goals were scored in the opening 20 minutes, and another three found the twine in the middle frame.
Robbie Fromm-Delorme converted on his own rebound chance shortly following a Kelowna player falling in the offensive zone. Schwebius made the initial save, but the 2002-born winger made no mistake with his second opportunity.
As Portland continued to apply pressure in the Kelowna zone, Kade Nolan found the puck on his stick. The 18-year-old from Rouleau, Saskatchewan, walked the blue line and sent a wrist shot at a perfect height for a deflection. Sure enough, Klassen was in the right place at the right time to redirect home his seventh goal.
The 2003-born rookie joined the Winterhawks from the Prince Albert Mintos during the season and showed he belongs in the WHL. The five-foot-ten, 161-pound centerman now has 11 points in his first 22 WHL games.
Kelowna’s offense was mainly generated from the back end on Friday night.
Conner McDonald one-timed a Jake Poole pass off the boards. The goal marked the overager’s fourth goal of the year and second as a member of the Rockets.
Through 40 minutes, the Rockets penalty kill stepped up and did not allow another power-play goal despite four more penalties. In fact, Trevor Wong had the best two opportunities while shorthanded, one of which came on a breakaway. Hofer and Jarvis combined to prevent the rookie from scoring the Rockets’ seventh goal of the season while down a man.
Kelowna got its first power play 1:41 into the third period but was unable to convert. The Winterhawks penalty killers remained perfect against the Rockets this season.
When the teams regrouped following the media timeout, Portland extended its lead courtesy of 19-year-old Mason Mannek. Ludvig hit the Utah native in stride at the blue line. While skating at full speed, the five-foot-eight forward hit the top portion of the net and sent the water bottle to the end boards.
Ludvig then had his turn to match Mannek’s shot on the power play. Reece Newkirk got the primary assist, finding Ludvig in the slot for his 16th of the season. Among defensemen, only Alex Cotton of the Lethbridge Hurricanes has as many goals as the Florida Panthers draft pick.
Hofer was not very busy in the third period as Portland’s defense only allowed six shots in the final twenty minutes.
Friday marked the third this season against the Rockets for the Winterhawks. Dureau expressed, “They are hosting a Memorial Cup, so you really want to base them off other teams you are going to play in other divisions. You really want to win these games against them coming down the stretch as you might meet these teams later in the playoffs. You want to make sure you get the wins.”
The win gives Portland 36 wins on the season and 79 points to keep pace with the Everett Silvertips who defeated Tri-City in Kennewick, Washington.
Saturday is the fourth and final regular season meeting between the Winterhawks and Rockets.
– Joel Hofer picked up his 50th win in the WHL.
– Alex Swetlikoff went a game high 14-of-17 in the faceoff circle.
– In relief, Cole Schwebius stopped 25-of-29 Portland shots.