It was like going back in time on Tuesday night: Prospera Place was sold out and fans briefly did the wave during the third period.
in a highly entertaining game before a standing-room-only crowd of 6,407.
Kelowna’s rink seats 6,007, and the last time there was a crowd exceeding 6,400 was May 13, 2015, when 6,428 watched the Rockets blank the Brandon Wheat Kings 3-0 to sweep the WHL championship series 4-0.
In that game, Leon Draisaitl had a goal and an assist for Kelowna.
Fast forward to Tuesday night, and hockey’s youngest star was in the house: Connor Bedard.
The game was sold out in advance, such was the demand to see the North Vancouver, B.C., product who’s projected to be the No. 1 pick at next year’s NHL draft.
Bedard didn’t disappoint and showcased why he’s the consensus top choice. In fact, during the third period, some fans could be heard wishing the game would go to a shootout, wanting to see him play longer.
The five-foot-10 centre had other plans, though, as he set up the game-winning goal, a slapshot on the power play at 3:07 of overtime. It was his only point of the game, though his presence created openings for his teammates.
“It was a special-teams battle,” said Rockets head coach Kris Mallette.
“We made it through 60 minutes — 60 minutes of keeping him off the scoreboard. I thought anybody who was on the ice against him did a real good job.
“You give some good players opportunities, and they’re going to make you pay.”
Mallette said Bedard is a really shifty player – “he can turn on a dime, change speed, and it doesn’t take him much to get his shot off, either.”
Yet as well as Bedard played, he had company in Rockets forward Andrew Cristall, who tallied two goals and two assists, including the game-tying goal that made it 5-5 at 19:08 of the third. That marker, his 18th of the season, came on a 6-on-3 power play.
Bedard is the league’s leading scorer, with 54 points (22 goals, 32 assists), while Cristall is second with 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists).
“Historically, (standing-room crowds) come during the Christmas season, where everybody’s excited about being home for the holidays,” said Hamilton.
“Last night was special because they got a chance to see a young phenom. And the young phenom on our team gave (Bedard) a run for his money.”
The game started slow, and was tentative, but quickly ramped up in the second following several big hits and good plays. Play elevated, which likely was good for the 60-plus NHL scouts in attendance.
“There’s a whole bunch of scouts who aren’t watching Bedard because their team will have no chance (at drafting him),” said Hamilton. “But guys like Cristall and (defenceman) Caden Price, they’re guys scouts are following now.”
Notably, Bedard was given a penalty for goaltender interference early in the third. And for a short spell, a few fans tried taking selfies with Bedard in the penalty box. Quickly, security put an end to that.
Looking ahead, the Pats are in Kamloops for a Wednesday night tilt against the Blazers. They close out their five-game B.C. road swing on Friday in Prince George, though the Pats will also visit Edmonton on Sunday.
Regina’s next home game will be Saturday, Dec. 10 against Calgary.
The Rockets, meanwhile, will head south this weekend for a three-game U.S. Division road trip against Spokane, Tri-City and Everett.
Kelowna’s next home game will be Friday, Dec. 9, against Victoria.
“It was great to see a player of that calibre catch the interest and imagination of the people,” said Hamilton. “We hope people are excited about coming to games.
“And it’s not just the game. It’s about the environment of being out together and socializing.”