Sometimes, a trade needs a bit of time to have an effect. Almost two months into the Marek Tvrdon experiment, the Kelowna Rockets are getting some payback.
The No. 1 team in the WHL picked up the 20-year-old Slovakian in an early January swap with the Vancouver Giants. Wednesday night in Kelowna he logged his third multi-point game while wearing the Ogopogo logo in the Rockets’ 9-5 win over the visiting Prince George Cougars.
“I get points finally and I can score,” Tvrdon said following a one-goal, three-assist performance. “It’s better game to game, I know the team and how they play.”
He admitted to struggling out of the gates, returning to the WHL from a brief stint in the AHL and ECHL to start the season. Now that he’s found his sea legs, Tvrdon’s linemates, Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier, are reaping the benefits.
“Yeah, we got buzzing in the second and third, and we got the bounces tonight,” Merkley said, noting the line was put together only yesterday in practice.
“It seems to be working.”
Seems? The 16-year-old bagged two goals last night, banging in a Tvrdon rebound off the post for his first and then burying the puck on a 2-on-1 with the 6-foot-2, 220-pound left winger. Chartier collected three assists.
“He has a big body and he protects the puck well," said Merkley. "His vision is unreal, so it’s good playing with him.”
Merkley confessed, however, that inconsistency continues to haunt the Rockets. They kept giving the Cougars opportunities to get back into last night’s game, sitting back on their heels and forcing themselves to wake up. “We gotta sharpen up,” Merkley said. “We can’t be doing that against good teams.”
The Rockets got goals from six players, including a hat trick from Tyrell Goulbourne, two from Merkley and singles from Damon Severson, Kris Schmidli, Justin Kirkland and Tvrdon. Todd Fiddler, Sam Ruopp, Klarc Wilson and Troy Bourke scored for the Cougars. Fiddler added three assists, leaving him with 89 points in 60 games, fifth in the scoring race.
The Cougars started Ty Edmonds in net and Goulbourne scored on the first shot of the game, 47 seconds in. Edmonds was yanked 2:41 into the second period after Merkley had picked a corner on him just 16 seconds into the period and Severson found the net on a screened shot that put the Rockets up 3-1. Brett Zarowny came in to relieve Edmonds in his first game action since injuring his groin in the warmup Dec. 6 and gave up a goal on the first shot he faced off the stick of Tverdon.
The Cougars responded with power-play goals from Fiddler, his 42nd of the season, and Wilson, but the Rockets scored three more in the period before Bourke snuck a rebound past Jordon Cooke just before the intermission.
Edmonds returned to the game to start the third period and was under siege right away, forced to make several quality stops before Goulbourne added two more. The Cougars were outshot 48-32.
With the loss, the Cats remained ninth in the Western Conference, one point behind the Tri-City Americans, who host the Rockets tonight in Kennewick, Wash. Heading into that game, the Americans had four games in hand over Prince George. The Rockets (49-90-4) sport the best record in the WHL, five points ahead of Portland.
The Cougars (26-32-3-5) have six games left. They'll play host to the Victoria Royals Friday and Saturday at CN Centre.
With Portland only five points behind in the race to the regular- season finish, the Rockets will find themselves in a jam if they can’t put together a 60-minute game.
“There aren’t too many teams that aren’t inconsistent from time to time, especially in junior hockey,” Huska said. “The challenge is to make sure the inconsistent part of your game shouldn’t be the defending side and that’s our concern.
Jordan Cooke kicked aside 27 shots for the Rockets, who visit the Tri- City Americans tonight.
— with files from Citizen staff
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