Junior hockey: Kelowna Rockets fall 5-1 to Seattle as T-Birds take 3-0 series lead

For 45 minutes, all was going well for the Kelowna Rockets.

Then came a three-minute stretch early in the third period, and the game quickly changed, with Seattle scoring three times.

And just like that, a 1-1 game turned into a 4-1 lead for the Thunderbirds en route to a 5-1 decision — and a commanding 3-0 series lead for Seattle.

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“We imploded, unfortunately,” Rockets head coach Kris Mallette said following the game.

The turning point came four minutes into the third, when Rockets forward Mark Liwiski was tagged with a five-minute penalty for checking to the head following a hard hit along the penalty-box boards.

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A brief fight ensued following the hit, with Seattle’s Jeremy Hanzel chasing down Liwiski. Hanzel was given two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, while game officials gathered to discuss Liwiski’s punishing hit.

Liwiski was given the gate — a decision he angrily disagreed with while leaving the ice — resulting in four-on-four play for two minutes, followed by a three-minute power play for Seattle.

“It’s a real tough one,” said Mallette. “I can’t, unfortunately, go out onto the ice and say, ‘Hey, don’t run that guy through the boards with your elbow,’ or, ‘Hey guys, don’t do this.’

“I can only try and guide them down the road, and these decisions that we’re making … it’s the youth within our group. They’re young men and they’ll learn. It’s such a bad time. It really is.

“It’s the season on the line and an opportunity to make a series out of this, and now we’re fighting. I just hope that room can figure it out.”

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At 5:57, Kevin Korchinski scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, a shot from the slot following a turnover in the Rockets’ corner.

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Then, with Seattle on the power play, Lukas Svejkovsky made it 3-1 at 7:12, with Korchinski pushing the T-Birds’ lead to 4-1 at 7:29.

Samuel Knazko rounded out the scoring at 13:41. Reid Schaefer had Seattle’s first goal, a power-play marker at 5:07 of the second.

Kelowna’s Jake Poole opened the scoring at 18:22 of the first on a penalty shot. He beat Seattle netminder Thomas Milic with a great glove-side deke before scoring with a backhand shot into a partially open net. Milic also gambled by trying a stick-check, but came up short.

“Scoring first, albeit on a penalty shot … you don’t get those opportunities if you’re not doing something right,” said Mallette. “So credit to Jake Poole on being able to get open on that.”

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The first-round series continues Wednesday night with Game 4 in Kelowna. The Thunderbirds have outscored the Rockets 18-4 and can sweep the best-of-seven set with a win.

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Jari Kykkanen stopped 41 of 46 shots for Kelowna, with Milic turning aside 27 of 28 shots.

Notably, of Seattle’s 18 goals, 10 have come on the power play. In fact, the T-Birds’ power play is 10-for-19 for an astounding 52.6 per cent.

Currently, Winnipeg has the best playoff power-play percentage at 58.3, having scored seven goals on 12 chances. But Seattle is the only team to have double-digit power-play goals.

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Further, Seattle’s penalty killing has surrendered just one goal in 14 shorthanded chances. That translates into a 92.9 per cent penalty-killing scenario.

On the flipside, Kelowna’s power play is struggling at just 7.1 per cent, with one goal in 14 power plays. And the Rockets’ penalty killing has also seen better days at 47.4 per cent.

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For comparison, the Winnipeg Ice had the best power play during the regular season at 27.4 per cent (70-270) while the Edmonton Oil Kings were tops in penalty killing at 84.3 per cent (51-324), though Seattle was second at 83.4 per cent (48-290).

During the regular season, Kelowna’s power play was ranked sixth at 24.4 per cent (53-217) while the Rockets’ penalty killing was 15th at 77.8 per cent (59-266).

Monday’s result

  • Kamloops 5, Spokane 1
  • Kamloops leads series 3-0

Tuesday’s results

  • Edmonton 4, Lethbridge 1
  • Edmonton leads series 3-0
  • Moose Jaw 3, Saskatoon 2
  • Moose Jaw leads series 3-0
  • Red Deer 3, Brandon 1
  • Red Deer leads series 2-1
  • Winnipeg 10, Prince Albert 1
  • Winnipeg leads series 3-0
  • Portland 2, Prince George 0
  • Portland leads series 3-0

Wednesday’s games (all times PT)

  • Red Deer at Brandon, 5 p.m.
  • Winnipeg at Prince Albert, 6 p.m.
  • Moose Jaw at Saskatoon, 6 p.m.
  • Everett at Vancouver, 7 p.m.
  • (Series tied 1-1)
  • Portland at Prince George, 7 p.m.
  • Seattle at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.

Thursday’s game (all times PT)

  • Edmonton at Lethbridge, 6 p.m.


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