Three weeks between games? No problem for Trevor Wong and the Kelowna Rockets.
After spending two weeks in COVID isolation waiting out a team quarantine, they made up for lost time and went right to work exposing the defensive weaknesses of the Prince George Cougars.
It took just 23 seconds from the opening puck-drop for Wong to score his first of four goals in the game and the Rockets were off to the races in what turned out a 7-5 win Saturday night in the WHL hub in Kamloops.
Rookie centre Kyren Gronick had two goals to lead the Cougars’ offence.
In only their third game of the season, the Rockets (2-1-0-0) scored three shorthanded goals, one short of the WHL record, to hand the Cougars (4-4-1-1) their sixth loss in 10 games. Special teams were a bit of a nightmare for both teams and the Cougars scored twice while on the penalty kill.
Ty Young drew the start in goal for Prince George, the first-ever WHL action for the 16-year-old rookie from Coaldale, Alta., and he was victimized by an errant pass that was picked off at the blueline which led to Wong getting his stick on a bouncing pass into the slot he pushed through the legs of Young.
Young had a busy night and gave up six goals on 34 shots but nobody was blaming him for the loss. His teammates abandoned him at critical times and left him to face Kelowna shooters and he made some difficult saves to give the Cats a comeback chance.
The Rockets scored two shorthanded goals during the same minor penalty kill early in the second period to pull ahead 4-1. Kaeden Korczak started the rush in his own end and Mark Liwiski unleashed a shot from close range on Young. The rebound kicked out to Korczak and the Vegas Golden Knights draft pick popped it in for his first of the season. About a minute later, Wong took a breakout pass from Prince George native Scott Cousins, playing in his first WHL game, to set up a 2-on-1 and Wong wired a high shot into the corner over Young’s blocker for his second of the game.
The Cougars responded at the 10:33 mark with a shortie of their own and it was a keeper for Prince George minor hockey product Fischer O’Brien. With Cougar captain Jack Sander off for holding, O’Brien stole the puck from Sean Comrie along the centre ice boards and used his speed to break free, finishing with a backhander between the legs of goalie Cole Schwebius – a memorable first career WHL goal for the 18-year-old rookie winger.
The Rockets restored their three-goal lead with five minutes left in the second. Wong was standing in the slot and redirected Jake Poole’s centring pass for his third on the night.
The Cats had nearly five minutes of power-play time to work with to begin the third period but once again were exposed by the Rockets’ penalty-killers. Wong stripped the puck from Sander at the blueline and took off on a breakaway. His shot from the slot found a sliver of net in behind Young’s blocker for goal No. 4.
Down 6-2, the Cougars made a game of it in the end. Keaton Dowhaniuk muscled a shot that got through Schwebius and ticked off a Kelowna player as it slid into the net. Gronick tipped in a Sander pass into the slot for a power-play goal with about six minutes left and scored the Cougars’ second shorthanded goal to narrow the gap to 6-5, utilizing his breakaway speed along the right side to get into the clear. But Liwiski ended the suspense with a long shot into the empty net that ticked off the stick of Cats’ defenceman Majid Kaddoura.
LOOSE PUCKS: The Cougars will get back at it again on Monday in Kamloops when they take on the Vancouver Giants. The Cats have a winning record head-to-head against the Giants this season winning two in regulation time and losing one in a shootout… Young was playing his first game since Nov. 12, when he suited up for the Lethbridge Hurricanes U-18 triple-A team in Alberta. The six-foot-four Young was the Cougars’ eighth-round draft pick in 2019…. The Cougars have given up the first goal in nine of their 10 games so far this season… Cats freshman Koehn Ziemmer took advantage of a turnover in the Rockets’ end and scored his fourth of the season to tie the game 1-1 in the first period. Andrew Cristall, the ninth-overall pick in the 2020 WHL draft, restored the Kelowna lead later in the period on a tip-in for his first careerWHL goal… Gronick, a 17-year-old from Regina, now has four goas and seven points in 10 games and ranks third in Cougar scoring… Cougar leftwinger Davin Griffin had to be helped off the ice midway through the third period after he lost his balance in a footrace with Liwiski and slid on his knees hard into the end boards… Saturday’s scheduled Spokane Chiefs-Tri-City Americans game in Kennewick, Wash., was postponed when one of the Americans’ players had a positive COVID-19 test.