It looked as though the Rockets were ready to fizzle, before they blasted off Tuesday night at Western Financial Place.
Down for 50 minutes of the game, Kelowna scored three unanswered goals in a 3-1 come from behind victory over the Kootenay Ice.
Tyson Baillie scored twice as the Rockets earned a win on their first of a five-game road trip throughout the Central Division.
The Ice, in turn, lost their second game in a row and will regroup before hitting the road themselves for four games to close out their schedule before the Christmas break.
Wyatt Holfin stood in goal for the Ice, turning away 30 shots, while Jordan Cooke, who manned the crease for Kelowna, made 29 saves.
Kootenay had five power play opportunities, scoring on only one, while the Rockets capitalized once in three chances on the man-advantage.
It was a homecoming for Rockets’ head coach Ryan Huska, who was born in Cranbrook and raised in Trail. It was also the first time former Ice player Dylen McKinlay returned to his old barn after getting traded to Kelowna following training camp in September.
“I don’t think we played our style in the first two [periods], but the third—definitely that us,” said McKinlay, who was held pointless, but got into some fisticuffs with Austin Vetterl early in the game. “We’re a working team, don’t try to be too fancy but if we don’t work we’re not going to be successful.”
Huska noted that his team seemed to get their feet under them in the final frame after a poor start.
“We were really sluggish to start this game tonight, but I thought Kootenay played really well early on,” Huska said. “I thought we got our legs going as the game went on and for the first two periods, I don’t think we were normally the team we usually are. The third period, I thought we were better.”
It was a scoreless first period, but both teams had their chances. Kelowna led the attack with some early pressure but got into penalty trouble near the end of the period.
Erik Benoit nearly put the Ice on the boards when he split the Kelowna defence and cut in all alone on Cooke, however, the puck slid just wide of the post after he deked out the opposing netminder.
Kelowna had their best chance when Carter Rigby drove to the net on a partial breakaway, however an Ice defenceman was able to get in the way and prevent a shot.
Kootenay took the lead less than two minutes into the second period on the man-advantage, as Collin Shirley lifted the puck over Cooke just outside the crease.
Hoflin kept cool inside the crease as the Rockets worked to answer, even going full splits from post to post to make a succession of saves during a stint of heavy pressure by Kelowna.
However, things crumbled for the Ice in the latter half of the final period.
Tyson Baillie redirected a pass from the point while driving to the net on a Kelowna power play to pull even with 8:12 left in the game.
Roughly 90 seconds later, Colten Martin collected the puck in the high slot and fired a low shot under Hoflin’s glove into the corner of the net.
The Ice began gearing up for a big push in the final few minutes to look for the equalizer, but it was the Rockets who lit the goal lamp as Baillie got his second of the night after picking up his rebound on a wrap-around.
Benoit couldn’t have bought a goal during the night, as he was robbed again on another breakaway by Cooke, who sprawled across the crease to get an arm on the Ice forward’s backhand.
Jaedon Descheneau also missed the net by a hair after taking a feed from a teammate on a shorthanded two-on-none rush to the net.
The Ice were without defencemen Joey Leach (upper body) and Tanner Muth (upper body), while Brock Montgomery (upper body) was absent in the forward corps.
Kelowna was missing star forward Colton Scissons, who is currently recovering from an injury, however, he would have been in Calgary at the national world junior selection camp if he was healthy, anyway.
Kelowna’s management told McKinlay that there’d be high expectations on him when he arrived, and the overage forward has responded while playing alongside Colton Scissons and Myles Bell, as he is tied for third in points on the team, with 27.
“It’s definitely easy when you got players of that calibre,” said McKinlay, “and I think our role is to lead by example and be those workers every night and obviously put some points up and help our team do anything to win.”