The Kelowna Rockets waited more than a month into the WHL season to name Madison Bowey their team captain.
Bowey sported that 'C' on his jersey for the first time in a weekend series against the Prince George Cougars at CN Centre and he might as well have been wearing an 'S." The on-ice heroics of the 18-year-old defenceman were right out of a Superman comic.
The teams were skating 4-on-4 midway through the second period Saturday when Bowey, a second-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals in 2013, took advantage of some loose defensive-zone coverage to find some open ice and skated in with the puck to put a backhand deke past a sprawling goalie Brett Zarowny, the winning goal in a 4-1 Rockets' victory.
Bowey admitted his captaincy gave him some added incentive. He picked up three assists in Friday's 7-6 shootout win over the Cougars and in both games was the best player in a Kelowna uniform.
"Having Colton Scissions as captain the last two years, he never took a night off and I think that's what I have to focus on this year, not taking any nights off and trying to be the best player on the ice every game," said Bowey, a native of Winnipeg. "As long as I'm working hard, hopefully the guys will follow."
Bowey quarterbacked the power play, made accurate breakout passes, was tough in front of his own net, and on more than a few occasions exemplified why he's one of the WHL's top defencemen.
"I think he wanted to show us that we made the right decision in selecting him as captain," said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. "He was with us as a 16-year-old, so this is his third year and that's part of the reason we chose him as the captain. We have some older players who could have worn the 'C' but we had a feeling Madison would be our guy and we wanted to see if he would be able to handle the pressure as we got into more games. We're hopeful we'll get him back next year and he can be an even better leader."
In sharp contrast to Friday's wild wide-open contest, a game in which the Cougars fought back from a four-goal deficit late in the second period to force overtime, the rematch was more a defensive battle and a lot more evenly played. If not for some bad puck luck on the power play and a lack of finish around the net, the Cougars could easily have been the team protecting a lead in the third period.
Bowey's goal came two minutes after Cougars winger Carson Bolduc had tied it 1-1 with a shot from the slot, the only puck to beat Jackson Whistle, who made 29 saves as the Rockets outshot the Cougars 40-30.
Ryan Olsen had the only goal of the opening period, lifting the puck in over Zarowny's outstretched leg while Olsen was falling at the side of the net. Kris Schmidli and Zach Franko, into an empty net, completed the scoring late in the game. The Cougars looked gassed in the third period and were outshot 17-6 in the final 20 minutes, no doubt feeling the effects of playing four tough games in five nights.
"We've had a few games in a row and maybe we were tired this last game here but we definitely need a better effort than that and we need to pull more points away from teams like that when we're at home," said Cougars captain Troy Bourke.
The game was lost in the second period when the Cougars failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 power play for 81 seconds. They moved the puck around well but David Soltes missed a gaping net from close range and his linemates Troy Bourke and Zach Pochiro were equally snakebitten trying to improve on the league's worst power-play statistics.
"We have to do a better job being stronger on those sticks and getting pucks at the net," said Cougars head coach Mark Holick. "But I was encouraged by the attempts at the net and that's the first part of trying to fix your power play is the amount of pucks and the amount of movement you get to the net."
As badly outplayed as the Cats were in the third period, it brought out the best in Zarowny. Still looking for his first victory this season, the 18-year-old from Edson, Alta., made a series of difficult saves to keep the score close. He's been yanked out in three of the six games he's started this season, and was called in for mop-up detail Friday after Ty Edmonds allowed three goals on six shots.
"It's obviously frustrating that I can't get that win and seal it but I got a lot of a confidence back," said Zarowny. "At the start of the year I was doubting myself and this week really brought me back to where I should be. It brought my spirits up."
The win improved the Rockets' record to 11-2-0-2 atop the B.C. Division. The Cougars (7-9-1-3) earned five of a possible 12 points in their six-game homestand and now head on the road for eight of their next nine, including a Friday stop in Kelowna.