Friday night at Prospera Place had the feel of a playoff game.
And why not. The Kelowna Rockets and Vancouver Giants came in separated by just four points in the Western Conference.
The bad blood between the two teams was evident throughout the game as liberties were taken, scores settled and names taken for future battles.
When the dust finally settled the Kelowna Rockets skated away with a 4-1 victory to climb to within two of the sixth place Giants.
"It's a team we've had some battles with throughout the year. We haven't seen them often but we're going to become real accustomed with them," said head coach Kris Mallette.
"I liked the push, I liked the animosity. It had as good feel to it and our guys were feeding off it."
The Rockets spotted the Giants a 1-0 lead during a sleepy, lacklustre opening period. The only goal of the period glanced off the skate of Connor Levis.
Samuel Honzak was denied by Jari Kykkanen on a breakaway but stuck with the rebound and threw the puck toward Levis at the front of the net. Officials took a look at the play to ensure Levis had not kicked the puck into the net.
The goal stood.
The Giants barely had a sniff the rest of the way.
The Rockets put this one away with a dominating second period in which they scored four times while holding the Giants without a shot the entire period.
Andrew Cristall netted a natural hat trick to give the Rockets a 3-1 lead before Luke Schelter closed out the scoring with a low wrister as the trailer on a three-on-two break.
For Cristall, goals 32, 33 and 34 accounted for his third career WHL hat trick and the first natural hat trick in memory.
His first two came with the Rockets enjoying a man advantage. He drove down Main Street on the first before making a pretty deke to the backhand.
The second was a low shot from the left circle that went post and in. The third, another wrist shot somehow squeezed through Brett Milwald in the Vancouver net.
It was a night when the power play was clicking and Cristall, who many times looks pass first, looked to shoot whenever the found his stick.
"I definitely wanted to come to the game and shoot a lot of pucks," said Cristall.
"Maybe the defences are thinking I'm going to pass so the shot is sometimes there and I thought I would take it."
The game degenerated into a series of scuffles and fights over the final minutes as the teams combined for 92 penalties in the third period including six misconducts as the officials tried to keep a lid on things.
The Rockets have now won four of five meetings between the two team with number six seven days from now at the Langley Events Centre.
Kelowna is two back of Vancouver and just seven behind both Victoria and Wenatchee with 11 games left to go.
The Rockets get back at it Saturday night when the Western Conference-leading Prince George Cougars come to town.
The Kamloops Blazers gave up three first-period goals Friday at Sandman Centre en route to a 5-1 loss to the Western Conference-leading Prince George Cougars.
Ashton Ferster scored the lone Kamloops goal. Ondrej Becher, Terik Parascak (2) and Borya Valis (2) scored for Prince George.
The Cougars led 1-0 late in the first when Parascak and Valis scored twice in the final three minutes to put the Cougars up 3-0. Ferster scored the only goal of the second and Prince George added two more in the third to make it 5-1.
Jesse Sanche made 34 saves on 39 shots in the Kamloops net. Ty Young stopped 31 of 32 Kamloops shots to earn the win for the Cougars.
Prince George scored twice on four power-play opportunities. The Blazers were scoreless on four chances.
Announced attendance at Sandman Centre was 4,411.
The loss moves the Blazers to 18-32-3-2 on the season, 10th out of 11 teams in the WHL’s Western Conference. The Cougars sit atop the conference standings, now 39-15-0-3 after Friday’s victory.
The Blazers are back in action on Saturday, when they take on the Vancouver Giants in Langley. Their next home game is on Feb. 28, when the Spokane Chiefs visit Sandman Centre.
The Kelowna Rockets will rock some specially designed jerseys Saturday night for their annual Nickelodeon night for the Children's Miracle Network.
The Rockets have selected special themed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles jerseys for the second annual game. They wore SpongeBob SquarePants jerseys last season.
The specially designed uniforms are being auctioned off with proceeds supporting the BC Children's Hospital.
The auction runs until Feb. 29.
Click here to view the auction page.
“Getting kids back to being kids is why we do what we do,” says Adam Starkman, president and CEO of Canada Children’s Hospital Foundations.
“And I can’t think of a better way to showcase that then a night filled with games, video and music featuring hockey and the Nickelodeon characters kids know and love."
Funds raised at this event help support child centred programming for kids while they are in hospital, and leading-edge treatment to help them get back home as soon as possible.”
The Western Conference-leading Prince George Cougars provide the opposition Saturday.
It's the seventh meeting between the BC Division rivals this season. The Cougars have won four of the first six.
The Rockets will host Vancouver Friday. Kelowna trails the sixth place Giants by just four points heading into the weekend.
Tij Iginla showed his flair for the dramatic may be a chip off the old block.
Iginla scored his sixth game-winning goal of the season but none quite as dramatic as Monday's game winner.
With the game tied 2-2 and overtime looming, Iginla skated onto a long clearing pass from Ethan Mittelsteadt, got behind the Tri-City defenders who were changing and beat Kyle Kelsey with a deke to the backhand.
His 38th of the season sealed a 3-2 victory over Tri-City on a Family Day matinee before nearly 5,700 fans.
Coming on the Family Day holiday may have been even more appropriate since his dad, Hockey Hall of Famer Jerome Iginla also had a flair for the dramatic, scoring 101 game winners during his NHL career.
Michael Cicek and Luke Schelter also scored for the Rockets who never trailed as they snapped a four-game losing streak. Hiroki Gojsic assisted on both those goals.
The game was deadlocked 1-1 after one with the Rockets holding a 2-1 lead after 40.
Jari Kykkanen turned away 34 shots to earn the victory.
The Rockets finished the day one for four with the man advantage while Tri-City went scoreless on their three opportunities.
The win leaves the Rockets four points in back of sixth place Vancouver and seven behind the falling Wenatchee Wild in the Western Conference.
They'll host Vancouver and Prince George this coming Friday and Saturday.
More WHL articles
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