The Kelowna Rockets (8-12-0-0) and Portland Winterhawks (12-6-0-1) completed their back-to-back games on Sunday night in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Portland took game two 4-2, giving them their fifth straight win. Cody Glass and Joachim Blichfeld were once again on their game as the duo combined for five points and a plus-six on the night.
Sunday was the second game in a row where Portland put over 40 shots on the opposing goalie and Mason Mannek said, “We carried it right over from last night. We had over 40 shots again, that is the staple to our game right now.” Mannek opened the scoring after 15 minutes of scoreless action, “any time you have a 0-0 game the first goal is huge. If the road team gets it, it can be hard on the home team. I thought it was good for us to score first.”
Mannek’s goal leveraged some of what he worked on in practice with skills coach Tomas Pacina. “There wasn’t much going for me being a 1-on-2. I used the defenseman as a screen and threw it on net. Tomas Pacina and I worked extra on that stuff, so I thought I would put it to use.” At the end of the first period Kelowna trailed 1-0 for the second night in a row.
Despite the deficit, Kelowna’s head coach Adam Foote was pleased with how his team responded from Saturday, “We can build off that for sure. I thought we played way better and actually had offensive zone chances as our structure went well for us.”
The second period saw each team score twice. Joachim Blichfeld and Reece Newkirk for Portland and Kyle Crosbie and Mark Liwiski for Kelowna. For Liwiski, it was his first WHL goal and after the game described the moment, “Finally got the monkey off my back. I got a nice chip from (Conner) Bruggen-Cate there and saw an opening and took it. The defenseman was backing off towards Bruggen-Cate and I just slid it under him. I got pretty excited.” Foote described the goal, “Liwiski used his speed and it was an amazing goal. It should build his confidence for sure.”
Foote spoke more about what the former Everett Silvertips third round draft pick brings to the game, “He just goes, he’s a motor, plays with a lot of energy and is bringing that. Mark plays on the edge and as he gets older he will learn how to control that. He gets excited which is normal and plays with that edge. He scores that goal and gets so excited. For us, he is doing everything we want him to do, just have to tame him a little bit.” Liwiski’s goal brought the Rockets within one until the 8:12 mark of the third period.
Joachim Blichfeld and Cody Glass led a 3-on-2 rush and Portland’s dynamic duo successfully executed a give-and-go. Blichfeld sent a pass to Glass and kept driving the net. Just as Glass got below the faceoff circle, he returned the pass back to Blichfeld who one-timed his shot by Roman Basran. Blichfeld’s second goal of the night, and Glass’ third assist, pushed the Winterhawks lead to 4-2. Despite tailing by two goals Kelowna never pulled Basran for the extra attacker.
In the third period, 16-year-old Cross Hanas made a play not found on the box-score. He tracked the offensive pressure by the Rockets and got into the shooting lane. The blocked shot got the entire Portland bench on their feet. Mannek said, “This was another thing we were working on in practice. For a 16-year-old to do that shows what all of us are willing to do.” Newkirk said the block, “got all the guys on the bench fired up.”
Shane Farkas was strong in net for Portland after not giving up a goal on Saturday. Gustafson said post-game, “It was a great bounce back opportunity for him and he made the most of it. If you would ask him with the Spokane game that wasn’t his best effort. For him to come back and bounce back the way he did and get the shutout. He looked more poised, confident, and under control all night. For us it was an easy decision to go back to him tonight and he held his own tonight.”
With the victory, Portland moves to within three points of U.S. Division leading Everett Silvertips, their opponent on Wednesday night. Mannek and Newkirk both said, “we need to play our game and keep up with the game plan.” Kyle Gustafson added, “We haven’t seen them in a little while now, but they are hot and are rolling. As we told the guys, and Mike [Johnston] was quick to tell our players, the last couple of opponents we’ve had whether it is Victoria or Kelowna, they were playing their best hockey until we had them.”
For Kelowna, they begin a 14 hour bus trip to take on fellow B.C. Division rival Prince George on Wednesday night. Foote was thankful they don’t have to play until Wednesday with the 3-in-3 this weekend and then the bus trip. He spoke about the plan the next three days for the Rockets, “We will have a night on the bus, get there, and then two nice sleeps. We will recharge and be ready to go.” Foote’s message to his team on Sunday was positive, “I said to them, ‘you guys we can fix some things, but the effort was there for 3-in-3.’ Our team is really going to build from a game like tonight; it was a closer game than the score indicated.”
– Kade Nolan was the sixth defenseman for Portland on Sunday. Gustafson felt, “Right away you see how hard his game is, he is good in the defensive zone. He is a guy who will close quick and kill the cycle. Along the boards he will squeeze guys off. I liked his decisions with the puck for the most part tonight. I thought a couple of times he was a little soft, but for the most part, I thought he had a really good game. He was reliable and was able to get him on speciality teams to kill some penalties.
– Jarvis should return in time to make the trip to Everett on Wednesday
– Portland went 0/10 on the power play this weekend against Kelowna, but the momentum generated has led to several goals.