More often than not in sports big games never live up to their hype.
Friday night's heavyweight tilt between the Kelowna Rockets and Portland Winterhawks at Prospera Place certainly did - and more.
But, in the end, despite a frantic final six minutes, the Rockets comeback bid fell just short in a 5-3 loss to the Western Hockey League's number one team.
The loss ended Kelowna's 23 game home ice winning streak - one short of tying the franchise record set 20 years ago.
The Rockets fell behind 4-0 after 40 minutes before mounting a furious charge in the third period.
Goals from JT Barnett on a power-play, Cody Fowlie and Colton Sissons with just 78 seconds left in regulation time pulled the Rockets to within a goal, however, Brendan Leipsic hit the empty net with 34 second left to season the victory.
Despite the score after 40 minutes the Rockets played stride for stride with the league leading Winterhawks and perhaps deserved a better fate than being down four.
"I liked the way we played tonight. I think early on the difference was they capitalized on their chances and we weren't able to," says Rockets head coach Ryan Huska.
"I think that was a big part of the 4-0 lead that they had but it didn't feel like a 4-0 game."
The Rockets had several chances to score in the opening 40 minutes.
Tyrell Goulbourne had two grade A chances in the opening period but couldn't beat Mac Carruth and Ryan Olsen found himself alone in front of the net in the dying seconds of the first period but couldn't find the handle.
In the second, Sissons had four or five quality chances including a pair while the Rockets were shorthanded.
In the end, the opportunistic Winterhawks were able to bury the chances they had in front of Jordon Cooke.
Portland jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead 2:21 into the first when Taylor Leier gobbled up a clearing attempt by Jesse Lees and hit the wide open net with Cooke scrambling to get back into position.
They doubled the lead 12 minutes later when Preston Kopeck deftly tipped home Adam De Champlaine's wrist shot off the right wing.
Replays showed Kopeck was clearly about a stride offside ahead of the rush.
"It's frustrating when, on two of their goals you get apologized to by the other people on the ice that they made a mistake," says Huska who admitted the linesman apologized to him after the period for missing that call.
He says he also heard from the officials after a questionable tripping call on Colton Heffley late in the second period that led to Leier's second of the night on the ensuing power-play.
Sissons says he was very proud of the way his teammates battled and battled and never gave up.
"We knew we were in tough against the Winterhawks. We were prepared and they got off to a little bit of a lead which took a little bit of the wind out of our sails for a little bit," says Sissons.
"But, like I said we came back hard and I'm extremely proud of that. That shows a lot of character."
Following the game the Rockets players gathered at centre ice and raised their sticks in a salute to the fans.
"We've had a pretty good run here, the fans have been spectacular. It's been awesome and they deserve it. That's why we did it," says Sissons. who admits Tyrell Goulbourne's knockdown of Winterhawks tough guy Joe Mahon during a spirited second period fight was the loudest he has ever heard it at Prospera Place since he's been with the team.
Goulbourne threw at least a dozen or more punches at Mahon who holds a six inch and 15 pound advantage before decking the Winterhawk forward with a right to the button.
Portland outshot Kelowna 34-32 over the course of the contest.
With the teams set to meet again Saturday night at Prospera Place Sissons says the third period was important for momentum heading into Saturday's contest.
"It was huge for us. We didn't want to lay off, we wanted to stay on them, stay physical and not let them off the hook to lead into tomorrow nights's game," says Sissons.
"We almost did it."
Friday's loss also represented the Rockets first two game losing streak since dropping back-to-back games in Tri-City in the middle of November.
They haven't lost three straight since the beginning of the season.
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