Rockets edge feisty Hurricanes

When the Lethbridge Hurricanes last blew into Prospera Place in the Okanagan Valley, the host Kelowna Rockets dispatched the visitors by a 7-4 count in November.

This time around, the Hurricanes arrived following a roster overhaul, primarily due to Western Hockey League trade deadline deals that have changed the nucleus of the current group. The new look edition produced a gritty, tenacious performance in Kelowna, taking the top team in the Western Conference to extra time before succumbing 4-3.

Cal Foote, OT Game Winner

“We play them in about a week’s time,” Rockets defenceman Cal Foote said when asked about the overtime win. “So we’re going to see that team again and we’re going to want to bring it on the road. A little bit of motivation there, for sure.”

Indeed, the Rockets will run through Alberta next week for three games, including a rematch in Lethbridge on Jan. 24.

In Kelowna, on a night when the Rockets welcomed back Dillon Dube, his first game back since a bout with the flu following Team Canada’s gold medal win at the World Junior Championship, the Calgary Flames prospect’s presence in the building had an enormous impact on the energy and the outcome.

“He didn’t miss a beat, he was flying out there,” said Foote of his Team Canada team mate. “You can definitely see that (Dillon) has a lot of speed and he uses that through the neutral zone. Obviously it helped to get him back.”

Lethbridge made an early statement, opening the scoring 42 seconds in when Dylan Cozens and Jordy Bellerive turned a hard forecheck into a loose puck along the half wall. Bellerive, the ‘Canes team captain who is signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, collected a loose puck and beat Rockets starter Brodan Salmond with a quick wrist shot.

With goaltenders James Porter and Roman Basran currently on the shelf with injuries, Salmond got the nod between the pipes for his first start since a 4-2 loss on Nov. 4 in Victoria. Salmond, said to be recovered from a lower body injury, was solid on the night, turning away 31 of 34 shots.

Reece Klassen, 30 saves

The Rockets equalized at 8:08 when Dube carried the puck into the attacking zone, moved into the slot and snapped his 19th of the season high stick side past goaltender Reece Klassen.

While Dube’s presence had the entire building fired up, the star of the show on this night was the ‘Canes rookie netminder. Klassen, 18, looked dialed in during the first frame, blocking 14 of 15 Kelowna shots. Overall Klassen made 30 stops and kept the game close.

On at least three occasions, Klassen made incredible saves of the variety that will surely reside in league highlight packages for some time, including a little leather larceny in the second stanza on a Nolan Foote effort. (view beginning at :19 mark in video below)

The Rockets scored twice in the second period before the midway mark.

At 4:05, Kole Lind took a feed from Bradyn Chizen and ripped a slapper from inside the ‘Canes blueline. The puck deflected off a defender in front, and found its way past Klassen. It was Lind’s 22nd of the season.

Connor Bruggen-Cate, 11th goal

The ‘Canes won a faceoff cleanly in the Rockets zone while on the power play, but defenceman Calen Addison could not control the puck at the blueline. Connor Bruggen-Cate beat Addison to a puck at centre ice, skated in on Klassen and deposited his 11th goal of the season at 8:52. It was the Rockets fourth shorthanded goal of the campaign.

Lethbridge narrowed the gap at 13:27. West Kelowna product Brad Morrison, who joined the ‘Canes at the trade deadline, worked the puck into the Rockets zone and found defenceman Tate Olson streaking in from the point. Olson’s shot was redirected by a Rockets defender past Salmond. Morrison and Olson, both 20, were team mates in Prince George with the Cougars early on in their respective WHL careers.

Brodan Salmond, 31 saves

The ‘Canes made things interesting at 12:27 of the third period when Taylor Ross and Addison broke into the Rockets zone two-on-one. Ross held on to the puck and shot from about ten feet out. Salmond got a big piece of the shot, but the puck just trickled over the goal line to make the score 3-3.

In the dying seconds, Cal Foote was thumbed for delay of game when he and a ‘Canes forward ran into the goal post and dislodged the net. The minor penalty gave the ‘Canes a power play to start overtime and Morrison nearly ended the game, but his shot hit the goal post behind Salmond.

Dillon Dube, 2 points

With the teams at even strength in the 3-on-3 extra period, the Rockets sent Lind, Dube and Foote on to the ice.

Shortly after, Foote won a race to a loose puck in the corner of the ‘Canes zone, wheeled out front to the hash marks and ripped the winner past Klassen low stick side. It was Foote’s eighth of the season.

Rockets Fuel…The Rockets have won 15 of their last 16 at home and sit atop the B.C. Division standings at 28-13-2-1, three points ahead of the Vancouver Giants. The Rockets have one game in hand…Kelowna is 23-1-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes…Three stars were Dube, Klassen and Cal Foote…Announced attendance was 5,103, which brings the Rockets total on the season to 105,489 according to the WHL website. Through 21 homes games, that’s an average of 5,023…Rockets scratched Erik Gardiner, Liam Kindree, Kelvin Hair, James Hilsendager (ill), Porter, Basran…Backup goaltending duties were handled by Cole Tisdale, coincidentally, from Lethbridge where he plays for the Headwater Hurricanes (19-3-3) in the Alberta Minor Midget AAA Hockey League. He is the Rockets eighth round pick from the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft…The Rockets travel to Seattle on Friday, return home to face the Victoria Royals on Saturday at 7:05pm, then head to Alberta for games in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer.

Post Game Interview: Cal Foote click here

Post Game Interview: Jason Smith click here

(DUBNetwork thanks Kevin Bain and the Kelowna Rockets for its audio/video production)