The 2020 Memorial Cup hosts are in town to face a red-hot Portland team for back-to-back games.
On October 3, 2018, the Kelowna Rockets (21-19-1-2) were awarded the rights to host the CHL’s most prestigious event.
Saturday marked the first of four meetings between Kelowna and the Portland Winterhawks (32-6-2-3).
Prior to the game, the Winterhawks recognized Joel Hofer for his gold medal at the World Junior Championship. The 19-year-old from Winnipeg, Manitoba, made six appearances for Canada and posted a 1.30 goals-against average and 0.946 save percentage.
Once the pregame ceremonies were completed, Seth Jarvis and Dante Giannuzzi led the way in Portland’s 7-0 shutout victory.
The shutout was Giannuzzi’s first in the WHL.
Similar to the team’s last home game, Portland scored within the opening minutes. Jarvis, who missed the last two games while attending the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, fired a wrist shot from the left circle high blocker.
Jarvis said, “I think we really took it to them right off the bat, scored a minute and a half into the game. We just started off on the right foot and played fast and physical.”
Portland controlled the puck for the majority of the game’s first 20 minutes. Mike Johnston’s group had 16 of the first 19 shots.
Rookie Jack O’Brien scored his seventh of the season after redirecting a Jarvis pass. O’Brien drove the net and beat a backchecking Rocket for the second goal of the night.
Only five Rockets shots hit the target in the frame. However, Matthew Wedman had Kelowna’s best opportunity of the first period, hitting iron.
Giannuzzi was equal to the task all night.
The second period was more of the same for Portland — puck possession.
Clay Hanus and Reece Newkirk converted on two of the 24 Winterhawks shots in the middle frame.
The 18-year-old defenseman from Excelsior, Minnesota, scored his first goal since December 14 against Tri-City.
Cross Hanas continued his hot play, spotting Hanus trailing the two-on-one rush.
Winterhawks assistant general manager and associate coach Kyle Gustafson was glad to see Hanus get rewarded. “Clay gets a lot of chances throughout a game if you watch how many shots he gets on net whether it is on the power play or five-on-five. It was good for him to cash in. I thought early he had a lot of good looks that didn’t fall, good that he stayed with it.”
The Portland forwards pinned Kelowna’s defenders in the zone on several shifts, often times requiring a line change as soon as they cleared the zone.
The Rockets nearly had their first goal when the puck went high in the air and behind Giannuzzi. With help from Matthew Quigley, the puck stayed in the blue paint, never crossing the goal line.
Giannuzzi appreciated the effort from his defenseman, “That was a crazy play. Definitely wouldn’t have gotten the shutout without Quigley there. The guy took a shot, it took a weird bounce off my blocker, and Quigley was there and made the goal-line save.”
On Friday, Newkirk saw his 17-game points streak come to an end. Saturday was a new day, and perhaps the start of his next streak.
Overage forward Jake Gricius won a faceoff to the left of Cole Schwebius. Positioned at the top of the circle, the New York Islanders draft pick netted his 20th of the season.
After 40 minutes of play, the Winterhawks not only led 4-0, but also outshot the Rockets 42-12.
With Giannuzzi not facing many shots, he did whatever he could to stay mentally focused. “I liked to squirt the water bottle and track the drops. Also stretched, but it is just the little things, keep my eyes going, just try to stay in the game however I can.”
Adam Foote — Kelowna’s head coach — elected to replace Schwebius with Cole Tisdale to start the third period.
The 17-year-old was called up when starter Roman Basran was sidelined with an injury.
Portland was unfazed and scored three goals within 1:37.
Jake Gricius, Tyson Kozak, and Seth Jarvis all brought 5,668 fans to their feet to chant TNT.
Gricius had to wait a little longer than the others as his goal went to review.
Tyson Kozak scored his second of the three-in-three, deflecting Simon Knak’s shot into the six-by-four net.
Just as the action resumed, Dureau and Jarvis teamed up for the seventh and final goal of the night.
“Seeing him back here was fun,” Jarvis commented about Dureau after missing the last two Portland games. “When we got on the ice together again we were joking around. When we got into the game we had the same mindset. We both like playing fast and using our skill – which showed again tonight. He used his speed like he always does and took everyone wide. I somehow got lost in the mix, but I guess he knew where I was going and found me. I simply had to put it in.”
When the final horn sounded, the Winterhawks poured off the bench to congratulate Giannuzzi.
Being congratulated meant a lot to Dante. “We are a really, really tight group here. To be able to spend that experience with the boys was really nice. Seeing a lot of the guys and getting the congratulations was really cool.”
Gustafson said getting Giannuzzi the shutout was a key focus of the third period. “There was a sense on the bench that the last period we were going to do it for Dante. You could tell by the save he made towards the end, and also Quigley going hard into the net making sure the puck doesn’t cross the line. He is a good guy in our locker room, has a lot of friends here. He went back and got a little more seasoned. When he came back he has been rock solid.”
Jarvis, a childhood friend of Dante smiled ear-to-ear when asked about the shutout. “So awesome, he was unbelievable. There was a couple of moments there when everyone was a little scared with pucks laying behind him. Everyone buckled down for him and he played a great game. It was big for him, we made sure we got him the puck.”
Portland’s puck possession was the story of the night as the final shot counter read 57-17 in favor of the Winterhawks.
The two teams meet again tomorrow night at 5:00. Gustafson expects Kelowna to respond after Saturday’s game. “They are a little banged up, but I would expect a big push coming from them (Sunday). Any time it is a two game series, it fells like a playoff series.”
– Kelowna is battling significant injuries to several key members of its roster. Sean Comrie, Trevor Wong, Mark Liwiski, Kyle Topping, Liam Kindree, Nolan Foote, and Roman Basran were all scratched due to various injuries.
– Defenseman Kaedan Korczak served the second of his three-game suspension. The 2001-born blueliner will also miss Sunday’s game against the Winterhawks.
– Both teams failed to convert on the power play. Portland was 0-for-5 while Kelowna didn’t score on three attempts.